IT WAS THE FIRST FULL DAY of our annual, family, summer vacation on Hilton Head Island – a 69-square mile piece of land that sits in the low-country region of South Carolina. After a long drive from Washington, D.C., the day before, I was looking forward to a recuperative, lazy Sunday morning of sleeping in and lounging poolside, luxuriating in nothingness, not even pretending to read a book. That was my plan.
Then my sister – much too cheerfully for my taste – announced that she was headed to church. In doing so, she cast a look at me that was equal parts invitation, expectation, and indictment. I really tried to ignore her. But she persisted.
“Oh, I look forward to visiting this church every year,” she beamed. “The people are so warm and welcoming. The pastor is anointed. It is one of the oldest Black churches on the island. And, they are celebrating their 150th church anniversary.” It was 2019.
My sister’s sunny attitude – annoying as it was – won me over. She had enough conviction for both of us. The next thing I knew, I was dressed and buckled-up in the passenger seat of her champagne-colored 2015 Honda, headed to church. I have no idea how that happened. One minute I was cozying under the covers, and the next minute we were pulling up to the jam-packed parking lot of First African Baptist Church, where Reverend Alvin L. Petty was the pastor. My sister, a visitor herself, was delighted to have her own visitor in tow. Me? Well, I was just happy that she was happy.
A special Sunday
It was immediately evident that this was no ordinary Sunday. Even though this was my first time inside this church, I noticed right away that the ladies’ hats were bigger and the suits were brighter, dressed to the nines, as they say. The usher board was stepping a little higher. The deacons and deaconesses were even more distinguished. Everyone was dressed in full celebration mode. The pastor and all pulpit participants were adorned in full regalia. Bits and pieces of the sermon stood out: Saving souls, Christ my redeemer, the healing power of the prayer, fellowship, hallelujahs, Amens and affirmations! There were the “way out of no way” testimonies, hands clapping, the choir rocking, and the side-to-side swaying of a congregation bursting with joy and salvation.
In the twinkling of an eye, I traveled back to my childhood and the many Sundays I spent at Galilee Baptist Church in Marshall, Texas, where my grandfather, a trustee, held the distinct honor of tossing the pastor out of the pulpit after an unforgivable transgression, but I digress. Three long hours later, after the many offerings, altar call, the opening of the doors of the church, and benediction, everyone descended to the Fellowship Hall to continue the celebration.
As we enter the lower sanctuary, we are greeted by the signature sights, sounds, and aromas that are the hallmark of every church feast, including a scurrying, but somehow precise, army of the fine and gracious members of the Kitchen Ministry, you know, the ladies of the church who are a unique and queenly combination of grandmother, restaurant hostess, cafeteria lady and college dean.
Preparing a meal
While the rest of us were upstairs immersed in the word, these apron-wearing worker-bees were busy below neatly setting up row after row of dining hall tables, adjusting plastic tablecloths, arranging chairs and centerpieces. Then they took their places, dutifully “manning” their assigned positions behind the long tables of steaming chafing dishes filled with homemade goodness, serving spoons ready to dish out satisfying meals to the hungry souls that awaited.
The food is blessed. With plates in hand, we're in line patiently and expectantly waiting while laughing and hugging, thankful and grateful for the goodness of God. Our minds couldn’t escape the awakening of our senses and the downright deliciousness headed our way, fried and baked chicken, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, fresh collards, potato salad and iron skillet cornbread topped with melted-butter. Then there were the sweet potato pies, red velvet cakes and pound cakes – the true signature of a highly skilled baker. The line couldn’t move fast enough.
My eyes connected with the serving trays. I could see the goodness that I had inhaled for the past ten minutes. My mouth began to water. And then these words pierced the air, “Here comes the pastor!” The energy shifted immediately. Somebody else followed with, “We have to get the pastor’s plate ready!”
Urgently, “The pastor needs his plate” became the chorus of the kitchen. The members of the Kitchen Ministry kicked into high gear. If you didn’t know before, you knew now that feeding the one that feeds us spiritually is a high priority. The serving line came to a halt. I was mesmerized by the rustling, bustling and hustling as the pastor’s plate passed from station to station, loaded up with extra helpings of everything. And I do mean everything – fried and baked chicken, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, fresh collards, potato salad, that iron skillet cornbread, sweet potato pie, pound cake, red velvet cake. I watched the scene before me with a dawning awareness and crystal-clear clarity: These people really love their pastor! And this food was a shining a symbol of their love for him. Their hearts, like this plate, overflowed with love and respect for him. They were grateful and appreciative of his service and this burgeoning plate was their way of making sure he knew it.
Now as I reminisce about this day, I view this memory through lens of a processed food addict in recovery and I pray that the pastor didn’t eat all of that food at once. I spent decades in confusion, just like this congregation and so many others, consuming massive amounts of food just because it was presented to me and prepared by loving hearts and hands. Then one day I awakened and I learned to make the distinction between food and my feelings. That’s when the scale finally started to move in a different direction. My prayers for peace around food were finally answered.
About the Creator
We all have unique stories that lead us. I speak to organizations, large and small, sharing unique perspectives and my story of hope, healing, and triumph. Need an engaging, thought-provoking, and transformative speaker? Ping me.