I grew up a Lutheran. I learned very quickly what a potluck was (long before Garrison Keillor started revealing them to the world). About ten years ago, it was a dream of mine to set the record for World’s Largest Potluck. My plan was to make it an event that would bring awareness to the issues surrounding hunger. The more I articulated my dreams to others, the more people looked at me funny. I even wrote a letter to my Bishop to see if we could do this as a Synod event……. No response…..
I joined Facebook in 2008. Back in the day, it was used more to play games than it was to communicate. Just like every other pastor who was in their office trying to articulate the Word of God, I was building my garden, my zoo, and sending all kinds of crazy things to people over the internet. There was an app that was called “Dishes from the Church Basement”. You could send other people strange potluck dishes (that had some basis in fact). A seminary classmate of mine called me up in December of that year and asked me how we could stop just sending dishes, and use the concept of potlucks to bring awareness to hunger. Eureka!! Someone who will listen to the dream and not mock. From that conversation, a grassroots movement was formed in January 2009, which at that time was called A Month of Potlucks. It would later transition into Potlucks To End World Hunger.
The concept is we ask groups of people to have a potluck. As they gather to eat, remember there are those locally, regional, nationally, and internationally that are not able to eat. During the potluck have an awareness component that sheds light on the issues, both short-term and systemic, that leads to hunger and food-insecurity. We also ask to have information on how individuals can become advocates for the work to combat hunger. We suggest they have connections available that people may contact when they are moved to action on the local, regional, national and global levels. And we also ask that some donation be taken and sent to an organization that works in the area of addressing hunger. We lifted up ELCA World Hunger as our main example, but didn’t require that avenue. We also began setting up regional workshops called “Hunger Huddles”. We bring people together on a regional basis to discuss the on-the-ground issues in a particular location. I have had the opportunity to travel the eastern half of the US attending potlucks and huddles for the last seven years.
I believe the symbol of a potluck serve us well to remind us of how we are to work to end hunger, which is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Throughout scripture, God’s people are always eating, and inviting others to join them. Some argue the action Jesus takes most often in the Gospels is feeding and eating! And you won’t believe who he eats with!! So the potluck is biblical. It is an event where all are invited to come together to share a meal, share time, share love. Everyone who is able brings a little something. Those who are not able to bring something are invited just to come. And we find there is always more than enough for everyone. Shouldn’t this be the model for addressing hunger and food-insecurity?
In November 2013, I turned 50 years old. I decided I would wear a kilt every day for a year, from my 50th to my 51st birthday.
I would do this to raise awareness, advocacy, action and funds for two national organizations, one being ELCA World Hunger. It was a great year as I took the story of the hungry and food insecure to a new level. AND, my kilt collection grew that year from 6 to 13!
I gained a one-of-a-kind Kilted 50 For Charity kilt, handmade by Alt.Kilt. The same kilt maker made me a karate gi kilt!
I still had this dream to break the potluck world record. In January of 2015, I started to put the plan in place. People started seeing the same dream. The date was set for November 21st, 2015. It would be held at a civic center in Cambridge, Ohio. The current Guinness Book of World Records record for World’s Largest Potluck is 1, 240 people set by a church in Chandler, Arizona. So, our target number was 2,000 people sitting down for a potluck.
For the advocacy component, a group of Lutheran clergy and lay people from the Southern Ohio Synod would go to the Statehouse, and see who we could talk to. On Wednesday November 18th, 2015, a group of people held a press conference at the Ohio Statehouse. Several news services attended. The first question asked of me was what if we don’t break the record? I stated that the record was a residual thing. The day won’t be about setting a record. It will be about bring awareness to hunger; advocating for the hungry and food-insecure; food people; connecting people with local pantries to meet their needs; providing items for local pantries; sitting down together around a meal. We then visited with the staffs of six legislators. All in all a good day. The Columbus Dispatch had a two page article in the Friday November 20th edition of the paper.
(Photographs taken by Rev. Aaron Layne)
The day when dreams come true was Saturday November 21, 2015. We gathered early to set up display tables and food tables and to get ready. And people showed up. And they brought food. And they met others. And they talked. And they had a great time.
My former parish, the Pleasant City Lutheran Parish, served as the host congregation for this event. (They endured not only the World’s Largest Potluck idea. But they had to say their pastor wore a kilt every day for a year!)
At the end of the day it was a dream came true! Did we break the record……… no…. But it wasn’t about the record really. At the end of the day 385 came and ate, including residents of a local homeless shelter. There were 12 local hunger organizations present to make a personal connection with the people they serve. 1,442 non-perishable food items were collected for local pantries, $142 was donated to ELCA World Hunger, AND, everyone stated we should do this again next year and every year! Dare we dream??