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Sabbath at the Spectrum Café: In Praise of Potluck


This week, Juli Miller in Idaho sets the table for Sabbath at the Spectrum Café. In addition to featuring memorable Sabbath meals, Sabbath at the Spectrum Café will feature guest columnists’ fresh perspectives on food, community, and unique stories surrounding vegetarian cuisine.

After worshipping together with music, prayers, offerings, reading of scripture, and the homily, sharing a potluck tangibly extends the dimensions of the hospitality of the Sabbath and the Kingdom of God for me.

Sitting, standing, and kneeling in the sanctuary, we can appear as two-dimensional brothers and sisters in the family of God to each other. However, during the final slicing of the bread or tossing of the salad in the very small church kitchen and the many conversations that float above the servings of John’s “heavenly eggs,” Cheryl’s baked beans or Yvonne’s lasagne, I have the chance to connect with the other members and visitors in a simple and essential way.

We have many visitors at our church in a mountain resort community. They tell us of their hometowns, church life, families, and slices of their biographies. We discover mutual friends, alma maters, and interests—as well as similar regrets, joys or pet peeves. We exchange recipes or sources for particular foods along with names of favorite books and websites for spiritual development and inspiration; we compare times when we knew God led or protected us. Questions about how God works, the mysteries about creation or sanctification, and aspects of the Sabbath School lessons we didn’t get to are often tossed back and forth, enriching our insights or prompting us to learn more.

Church potluck deepens my connection with regular church members, too. We have the chance to get more background on the prayer request or praise shared during church service. We find out how work, the extended family, and the latest remodel or garden project is doing. The kids can fill us in on their school and after-school activities; we tease, encourage, applaud, and listen. The pastor asks everyone where and when we want to have our next camp-out or church work bee, and his wife describes the kind of dog she is hoping to find at a shelter. We ask each other to pray during the week regarding particular matters of importance to us.

About half of our members come to church alone because they are single or their partner does not share their church affiliation. Potluck extends the interval during the week they are with others of like faith with whom they can share the spiritual journey or just life’s experience in general. Potluck provides a sweet spot for open reflection and supportive companionship. We often send leftovers home with the single folks or those with children, and I always pray they will sense the love of the group for them again when they enjoy some more of the food at home. 

When someone new has attended a few church services and potlucks, we are not shy about suggesting that they are welcome to contribute something to the next potluck. They can bring some juice, a watermelon, fresh baby carrots, or an avocado. No need to be familiar with Ina Garten or Martha Stewart recipes—or Special K loaf and quinoa salads. We are also eager to recruit anyone who will do the dishes or wipe down all the tables and take out the trash. Participation opens so many pathways for deeper connections with the church community. It is often while doing last minute preparations or doing the dishes together that we reveal keen concerns or transformational events. Or a silly but memorable happening. And the shared laughter or tears builds a bridge between us.

Church potluck is a spiritual practice that reliably delivers me a bowl of Grace, a slice of Joy, a cup of Compassion, and a generous serving of Gratitude seasoned with Awe.

 Juli Miller is a marketing and health care consultant in Sun Valley, Idaho.


*Do you have a story about Sabbath meals, vegetarian/vegan cuisine, or thoughts on one of food’s many roles? Please share them in the comments below, or email us here. Thank you for joining us this week at the Spectrum Café.


This week’s recipe for Pesto Pea Salad comes highly recommended by Juli Miller and is adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home cookbook (Crown Publishing Group, 2006). In only two steps, this side dish offers the flavors of spring, yet several of its ingredients can quickly be pulled from the freezer.

Pesto Pea Salad

Total time: 15 min.
Serves: 4


2 c frozen peas
2 tbsp toasted pignolis (pine nuts), toasted*
2 ½ c baby spinach leaves
1 c arugula (or to taste)
4 tbsp pesto, prepared or homemade**


1. Cook the peas in a pot of boiling water for 1 minute. Immediately immerse the peas in a bowl of ice-cold water, and drain when fully cooled.

2. To assemble, place the spinach leaves in a salad bowl. Sprinkle the peas and pignolis over the spinach and arugula. Add the pesto and toss.

*To toast pignolis, place them in a dry sauté pan and cook over medium heat for about 4 minutes, until evenly browned, tossing frequently.

**See Ina Garten’s suggested recipe for pesto here. For a homemade vegan pesto, see Vegan Spoonful’s recipe here.

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