Grand Rapids Press

ETHICS & RELIGION TALK

Is a potluck open for even those who don’t contribute?

FROM THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS – THURSDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2019.

ETHICS & RELIGION TALK

Rabbid David Krishef ethicsandreligiontalk@gmail.com

Saul asks, “There was a potluck today, and I brought a lunch because I didn’t know about it. Somebody asked me why I didn’t grab any food, and I explained what I just described. Is it rude to eat food at a potluck when you haven’t brought anything to share?”

We welcome a new Ethics & Religion Talk panelist this week. Chris Curia is a writer and youth director at Fairway Christian Reformed Church. He has authored articles for several online publications, including Sojourners, Relevant and the Network. Curia also curates an online forum called Through the Darkness (chriscuringle.wordpress.com) in which he and his collaborators write about the intersections of spirituality, art, and culture. You can follow him across social platforms @chriscuringle.

Curia responds to Saul:

“I love the practicality of your question! Author Brene Brown correlates clarity with kindness, meaning simply that to be clear is to be kind. I would suggest getting in touch with your potluck host next time and asking upfront what their expectations are. I’m not aware of any formal rule of thumb for providing a dish at a potluck, although different cultures admittedly have different expectations. Those would be important to be aware of, especially if you are a guest of a particular culture with which you may be unfamiliar.” 

The Rev. Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, responds:

“Our church often holds potlucks after our Sunday service. During the service, we welcome everyone to join us, including firsttime visitors. We understand that we may be feeding families that did not, or were not able to, contribute. We want to provide for those who are unable or those who just forgot. For Unitarian Universalists, it is not about getting our fair share equal to what we brought to the meal, but about hospitality, building community and fellowship. It is about sharing a meal together. In my opinion, it is not rude to eat food at a potluck when you haven’t brought anything to share. If this still feels uncomfortable, offer to help clean up after the meal.”

The Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds: “It cannot be rude to partake of a ‘potluck’ supper or lunch, since the very idea is that all who happen to be on hand share whatever has been provided. You should have put the makings of your lunch on the table and shared them with the others, as did the wee lad with his two barley loaves and five small fishes (John 6:9).

“For Presbyterian and Reformed Christians, there is no ‘luck’ involved. God knows who will be there, and he furnishes the table. In God’s providence, there is always enough and often more. When harvesting ‘manna,’ or the bread God gave them in the wilderness, some Israelites gathered more, and others less. But when they measured the haul, ‘he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating’ (Exodus 16:18). Trust in God, enjoy what he provides, and bring what you can to the next ‘potluck.’”

The Rev. Michael Nasser, who writes from an Eastern Christian perspective and is pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian Church, responds: “My guess is that since potluck is, by definition, a shared meal, I’m sure that no one would think you rude for sharing your lunch and partaking of what they brought. One of the often-unnoticed miracles in our community is that even when it seems ‘no one’ brought anything for potluck, there is always enough for everyone.”

Fred Stella, the pracharak (outreach minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds: “This is an easy one. I cannot fathom not insisting that someone in your position partake of the feast if I were in charge. I would even extend that hospitality to someone who was informed about the occasion, but for any reason didn’t bring a dish. Nor can I envision myself not indulging, should I be the one to come empty-handed by mistake. If there is food, I eat.”

The Rev. Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as adjutant judicial vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds: “I remember from the priest who taught me logic that to respond to a question with another question is fallacious. However, if the individual who asked this question did not know about the potluck, why would he/she be culpable for being rude simply because he/she did not bring a dish to pass?

“No, it is not rude to eat food at a potluck when you did not bring anything to share, especially if you did not know about it beforehand. If one has conscience pangs because he/she did not know about the potluck with enough notice to bring any food, then it is possible to either acquire something toothsome from a grocery store that delivers, or even purchase prepared food from a restaurant that delivers or use a delivery service.”