If there will ever be a time in history when good Christians whisper a minor league curse word, it will be when they are told that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ll never again be allowed to have another Dinner on the Grounds.
We’ve been rocked by death and sickness until our knees are sore from prayer. We’ve cried through the night begging for mercy, and now this? Our favorite meal of the entire year? Deviled eggs? Cream-of-something soup casseroles? And no, no! Not the pear salad with a dollop of Duke’s and a cherry on the top! Tell us it can’t be true.
The threat of missing college football is plague enough, and not being able to share a hymnal with our friend from the 3rd grade is harsh. We even feel punished since funerals have been cancelled because there’s nothing that makes us feel better when our friend is gone than to sit and bawl our eyes out until the stranger next to us hands us their hankie — oh wait, we can’t do that now either.
What’s the point of even going to church if eventually there isn’t the reward of the best meal of the year? Piggly Wiggly stocks extra canned soup and bags of sugar just in case the trifecta hits that year when the Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodist dinners collide and take place on the same day, which only seems to happen when the full moon after Pentecost resembles a Chick-fil-A nugget.
Dinner on the Grounds isn’t really dinner and it isn’t really on the ground. But of course, you already knew that. If not, allow us to welcome you the South.
Held after Sunday services and much more than an average buffet, this meal is an opportunity to bring your best before the Lord. Long tables in the fellowship hall are loaded to the point of swaying, or in the country, decades-old cement tables beneath the oak trees are covered with pretty tablecloths and piled high with Southern delicacies. Side by side, hearts and stomachs are fed while men, women, children and teenagers share a meal and make new memories.
“I’ll feed you and you feed me” is what it’s all about. “You’ve loved my children, helped me move to a new house and prayed for my wayward niece, and I’ve thrown showers for your daughter’s weddings . . . (all three).” We share each other’s lives, so it’s natural to share food.
Yet sharing anything at all is now forbidden. Handshakes, hugs and even awkward fist bumps are frowned upon, but don’t you think that sharing a slice of strawberry cake should have some type of heavenly exemption? “These vittles inspected and approved by The Almighty” should be the small print on the bottom of every Pyrex dish dropped off in the Fellowship Hall. Sharing is what we love to do and without it, we’ll surely wither and fade.
Ten years from now, will a robot hand us a plate of germ-free fried chicken while the virtual choir sings in the background?
The common experience of sharing food, worship, music, heartaches, prayer, tears and joyful laughter is just about the best thing in the world. Will we experience a modern-day miracle, or did the COVID-19 even kill Dinner on the Grounds? Keep praying, everyone.
This story first appeared in the AL.com newspapers in Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville, Alabama.