The Awkward Feast of My 'Ideal' Church

Community life—and community eating—is laborious and glorious.
The Awkward Feast of My 'Ideal' Church
Image: Seth Hahne

There is literally no bread to break this evening as we gather together. The serving table, stained with the juices and sauces of potlucks past, is full of pasta. Five pasta dishes, to be exact.

That would be fine if there were more than six families bringing meals for our weekly Friday night potluck.

We are gathered in the Common Building of our intentional Christian community on 180 acres in the rural Midwest. We share the physical and emotional burdens of land, finances, and housing. We make decisions as a community. We come together around the shared value of Christian faith.

To some, this can seem like the ideal church community: living locally and communally, caring for the earth, welcoming the misfit, and crying for social justice and peace. But community is complicated.

And as we are all sagging from the weight of the farm season, our jobs, and nurturing our children, pasta, at least, is simple.

So we sing a song of grace—quite possibly “For the Beauty of the Earth,” “Johnny Appleseed,” or “The Doxology”—and grab the plastic white plates from a stack. They are etched with knife cuts, witnessing to the 30 (or more) years of use they’ve seen, of being washed in the Common Building’s sink by the helpers chosen from a rotating list every week. (Everyone tries to avoid making eye contact with the person calling names for dishwashing—except for Meg, whose servant heart urges her to clean even when it’s not her turn.)

We help our children pile their dishes with vegetable pasta, mac-and-cheese, or spaghetti meat sauce, knowing whatever is heaped on will be scraped off into the compost, half-eaten, in a few minutes when they run outside to play. And we sit ...

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