I remember back to my days as a boy that a very familiar part of life within a congregation was the fellowship meal. I don’t remember how often we these events were held but it seemed like fairly often, perhaps monthly. We would meet after Sunday School and Church for what we called a “Potluck meal”. This meant everybody just brought what they wanted and then we all enjoyed together.
My mom was an exceptionally good cook. (Yes, I know everybody’s mom is a great cook!) Every time we had a Potluck meal, mom would prepare several dishes but one was always fried chicken. My parents were not rich but we always ate well. At that time, a whole fryer could be bought in the grocery store for less than a dollar! My mom could take that economical item and turn it into a culinary delight. Because it was so inexpensive, we ate a lot of fried chicken at my house when I was growing up. So much so that when I found out we were having fried chicken for supper, I groaned. Not again!
It was about this time that I learned about this weirdly dressed man who sold chicken at a restaurant called Kentucky Fried Chicken. (That was before the days when “fried” became a bad word.) The TV commercials boasted about a special recipe for making the chicken out of this world. I remember thinking how great it would be to be able to taste this special fried chicken. Soon after this I found out that one of those Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises was going to be opening in the town just 22 miles from where I lived. I remember later driving by the restaurant and thinking how great it must be to get to eat there. I could only dream because we seldom ate out in my family. In fact, eating at a church Potluck was my most common experience of “eating out”.
And then one day the most amazing thing happened. At one of the church Potluck meals, someone brought this huge bucket with the words Kentucky Fried Chicken on it. I couldn’t believe it. I fidgeted and found myself trying to navigate the line to fill my plate in hopes that this special chicken wouldn’t be gone before I got there. When the moment of truth came, I was able to get a piece and I quickly found my seat and dug in. I was eating the world famous Kentucky Fried Chicken! Afterward, my mom was none too impressed with what she saw of this special chicken. I think she was a little annoyed that I was making such a big deal about it.
Being a preacher who has had the privilege of serving Christ in several geographical regions of the country has afforded me with 2 realities: I have been to a lot of Potluck meals and I have eaten a lot of fried chicken. What’s weird is how each region of the country has a slightly different variation on fried chicken. Some fried it in a pan, some fried it in a pressurized cooker, some added ingredients that made it spicier, some included large amount of coating or breading, some had virtually no coating at all. I can honestly say that I haven’t discovered a kind of fried chicken that I didn’t like. But, there is one that I can honestly say that I like best of all. The winner is….my mom’s!
How did this humble girl from Kansas learn how to make what I think is world class fried chicken? She didn’t and it isn’t. In reality, my mom’s fried chicken holds the place of honor with me not because of the chicken but because of several other factors. First, my memory works in such a way that even if I could find a perfect duplicate for her chicken, I wouldn’t remember it in such a way. I have no explanation for this other than this is a common experience when looking backward. Second, the sentimental attachment I have toward my mom is going to cause me to naturally look back at all she did with fondness and perceive it in such a way that makes it grander or better than perhaps it really was. There are probably many other reasons but I will mention one more. Taste, specifically my taste. I liked what I was familiar with. Once I saw how good my mom’s chicken really was, even Colonel Sanders took a back seat!
While I feel strongly about my mom’s chicken, I would never get into an argument about. I think it’s great and if you do too then great. But if you don’t, I’m not upset because part of why I think it’s great isn’t because of the chicken but the other factors I mentioned earlier.
We in the church would be wise to read that last paragraph again but replace the word “chicken” with worship music, versions of the Bible, worship furniture, etc. We all have certain biases that have been formed over time that mean a great deal to us but others, not as much. Part of learning to live in harmony within a congregation or frankly in the broader community is accepting this reality. It’s only when we elevate our personal preferences to the place where everyone must accept our assessment of them that we end up in trouble. We end up being at odds with one another or something as subjective as “fried chicken”.
A better approach is to learn to just celebrate the diversity of fried chicken or in the case of a congregation, the diversity of experience, bias, and the wonderful Savior who knits all of us together into a beautiful tapestry to love and serve Him. Then and only then might we experience the unity within the Body of believers that Jesus so earnestly prayed.