When coffee hour gets complicated

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I was setting up chairs for Sunday School when I overheard the coffee hour team in the kitchen debating about the urn and how many scoops they should use and why on earth wasn’t the recipe written down somewhere.

And then I heard: “Let’s ask Michelle-she’ll know.”

As little as a year ago, these are not words I ever thought I’d hear in my parish. For the better part of a decade, I’d felt as though I were on the outside of church life looking in, and then, all of a sudden, I became an answerer of questions and a knower of where things belong.

What’s the saying? There’s a place for everything and everything in its place. It makes no difference whether the countertops are chipped laminate or polished granite, this is the central organizing principle of an efficient kitchen. At our church, the cupboards are meticulously labelled: teaspoons; soup spoons; dessert forks; banquet dishes; cups and saucers, etc. But even though the signage is excellent, there is a fair bit of way-finding for newcomers to do, and the kitchen has always been a very intimidating place.

A couple of years ago, one of our churchwardens came back from a conference all fired up about the ministry of hospitality and the impact it might have on us. As in, “Hey folks, we might actually get to know one another!” At some point the decision was made to demystify the kitchen and encourage a rotation of coffee hour volunteers.

This wasn’t a novel idea in Churchland, but it was new for us, and I jumped at the opportunity. As a woman with a fairly intense personality, I thought maybe this was something I could do without offending anyone. Having grown weary of church fundraising committees-and how easy it is to upset people in the ministry of money-the thought of a non-threatening ministry was very appealing.

I don’t remember all of what I served for my first coffee hour, or if it was right then when I hooked up with my partner, Norma, but most memorable of all was that I could actually hear the sound of ice breaking. A decade on the fringe of parish life, and all it took to finally fit in were some egg salad sandwiches and a poker face in the presence of a coffee urn. (You just stare into its beady little red eye and say, “You don’t scare me, Mr. Urn!”)

Soon, coffee hour became a regular ministry for me and my new buddy, Norma, and I’m not ashamed to say that our Sundays were very popular in the parish. We weren’t showing off, but we both love to cook and we were having fun bringing our best. I was also in love with the feeling of having finally found my place within the church.

But it was too much fun for an Anglican to have-I should have known it was too good to last. Soon enough, the foothold of popularity I’d gained with cherry crumble tarts gave way and I came crashing down: coffee hour got really, really complicated.

I won’t belabour all the nitty-gritty details, but, suffice it to say there were about 3,000 emails in January and February that had to do with coffee hour-the nutshell version being that hospitality had ballooned to epic proportions and gotten out of hand. Simplicity was the key to making it work-that “some people” would have to tone it down so that “other people” wouldn’t be so hesitant to take a turn. That’s when The Napkin Decree was sent out from on high: if it didn’t fit on a napkin, it was out of the question. And, most heretical of all in my view, the crustless sandwiches were banned. There was even an announcement in church: No sandwiches!

I hosted my last coffee hour this past March, which is now called “coffee time.” I suppose the rebrand was to signal the dawning of a new day and that Sunday treats would be simpler, more standardized and much, much, humbler.

On the morning of my final engagement, the fateful day I would turn out the lights in the parish kitchen one last time, my husband saw me trimming the crusts from a stack of white bread sandwiches.

“I thought they said no sandwiches?” he asked.

“They did,” I replied, wiping egg salad from my blade.

Was it petty and rebellious? Yes. Was it un-Christian? Quite possibly.

I wish I were a spoon, because if I were, I’d know exactly where to go. But I’m not a spoon…which leaves me back at the beginning: way-finding, navigating, trying to find a place where I fit in.

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Michelle Hauser
Michelle Hauser is an award-winning freelance columnist and freelance writer. Her work includes contributions to The National Post, The Globe and Mail, The Kingston Whig-Standard and numerous other publications. She and her husband, Mark, live in Napanee, Ont., with their son Joseph, and worship at St. Mary Magdalene. She can be reached at mhauser@hotmail.ca

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