As a Baptist, I grew up associating food and religion. There was nothing better than a potluck after church—we would always have fried chicken, of course, and a table filled with desserts. I loved the way the smell of the meal permeated the sanctuary, along with the sounds of people working in the kitchen and preparing the fellowship hall. Something about those days just seemed more holy. It makes sense as I think about the many times Jesus taught around the table, or shared stories that dealt with food. The celebrations of many faiths are built around “feast days” where the faithful come around the table to share, to remember, and to be in community.
There is something about gathering around the table—when sitting, we are on the same level. We see the eyes and the smiles of friends, and the weight of the daily cares fall away. We can stop our busyness and preparations and enjoy a different rhythm of time. Our senses are engaged as we pass the bowls and smell the meal. Our mouths water in anticipation and laughter fills the space as we talk with one another. Food that is shared always tastes better.
When I think of a feast, the food is central, but it is more than just the eating; it is the act of gathering together, the anticipation of celebrating a day out of the ordinary with friends. Virginia Baptist Women in Ministry’s annual Feast event is a beautiful example of this. On Friday, I attended my third such Feast. Upon arriving at Grace Baptist Church, I was welcomed into the space by friends on VBWIM’s Board. The tables were being set (as “setting the table” was this year’s theme). The perimeter of the room was an art gallery showcasing the work of many hands through photography, needlework, painting, and other arts and crafts. I was struck by the many ways we perceive and share God’s beauty in our world. But even more lovely were the opportunities to connect and reconnect with other women in ministry. Though we are separated geographically and by different ministries, it is always renewing when our paths and stories intersect. We are all bound by our calling and our shared struggles and successes. I was able to talk in person with those I’ve only “known” through Facebook, and even spend more quality time with close friends than our schedules normally allow.
As we gathered around the tables, our hunger was sated by the Word shared through liturgy, song, scripture, and sermons. Judith Bledsoe Bailey, Pam Durso, Betty Pugh Mills, and Mandy England Cole preached messages about the women who had set the table before us so that we could find our places. Through the stories of women, both named and unnamed, we were filled with the important legacy that has been created through their words and acts of service. And we were made aware that we continue to make places for other women at the table, those who will follow us and continue to advance the standing of women in ministry.
I always leave Feast filled . . . with good food, yes, but also with affirmation and support from my sisters in ministry and by the many others who offer their encouragement. It is a time of spiritual renewal, a creative outlet, and an event of unparalleled hospitality where I don’t have to question where I stand, but know that my place has already been lovingly set for me at the table.
Jenny Call is university chaplain at Hollins University, Roanoke, Virginia.