Church Socials

I recently read an article that said, “the days of backyard barbecues are over.” Another heartbreaking item said: “The pandemic killed potlucks.”

Say it ain’t so.

As a boy I was a perpetually chubby redhead with rosy cheeks and a T-shirt that never quite covered his belly. My favorite place in the world was a covered-dish supper at the Methodist church, Baptist church, holy roller church, or any congregation where people pronounced “Lord” as “Lowered.”

Oh, I miss tiny potlucks held in old community halls. When I close my eyes, I can still see linoleum floors, water stains on the ceiling, and I can still hear 50-some people talking over each other.

I can see the card tables, draped in red-and-white gingham. I see crockpots of chicken and dumplings, Mrs. Martin’s Chicken Divan casserole, and Mrs. Wannamaker’s godawful ambrosia.

I could talk about the food all day, but I won’t. I’ve already covered potlucks in approximately 126,498 columns. Because I am smitten with them. Also, because there is a lot more to potluck than mere food.

Such as the seating arrangements. Have you ever noticed how people find their seats at a church social? It’s a beautiful process. There is no class hierarchy, and no seating chart at a potluck. Everyone just finds a chair.

Nine-year-old girls sit next to 89-year-old men. A young widow sits next to the preacher’s wife, who sits beside a construction lawyer, who sits beside a pipe welder, who sits beside a random fourth-grader, who sits beside an elderly man who once did time in Draper, who sits beside a chubby redhead whose T-shirt doesn’t cover his belly.

That’s what I miss.

I also miss the way people made money trees for special occasions. Have we forgotten money trees? A money tree was for when someone got married, graduated, or retired. It was a barren hickory branch, standing upright with clothespins on its twigs. People would clip dollar bills to the tree for the recipient.

Soon the tree would become weighted with ones, fives, tens, and sometimes hundred-dollar bills. After the social, someone would count the slew of money and announce the total. People would clap and you’d hear folks shout, “GLOW-ree!” Or “Praise’a Lowered.”

People took great personal pride when the dollar-count was high. I don’t know why.

I remember one particularly large social, held for a widower with four kids who married a divorced woman with four kids. Their money tree had nearly $1000 dollars pinned to it.

When the preacher’s wife announced the total we all gave a standing ovation. People were actually crying happy tears over the money. The chubby redhead was clapping with all his heart, somehow never letting the chicken drumstick leave his hand.

But of course I’m skipping over lots of stuff that happens at covered-dish socials. Behind-the-scenes stuff. For example, the ladies in bib-aprons who wash an Everest of dishes. My mother always made me help with dishes.

Often I could often be found in the kitchen, wearing an oversized apron, standing on an overturned crate near the sink. I’d dry plates with a dishrag beside three or four kindly older women who would oversee me, telling me their ancient stories.

These older women would usually tell me about the potlucks of THEIR youth, which sounded infinitely more interesting than our potlucks.

For starters, they had no electricity, which meant no electric fans and no lightbulbs. So when the weather was nice, they all went outside into the breeze. Kids went swimming in the creek. Young men wore shirtsleeves and wide hats. Someone played fiddle.

Young women wore poofy dresses. Most everyone smoked or chewed when nobody was looking. Even the preacher dipped snuff.

After doing dishes, I’d wander into the hall to find the old men doing their part. They’d fold chairs, collapse tables, pushbroom floors, talk.

Some old guy would always tell a rotten joke you weren’t supposed to tell in church. The other men would laugh when they realized their wives hadn’t heard it. So would the redhead.

There were always stragglers who never wanted to leave the hall. So they wouldn’t. They’d sit at a lone table after work was done, sipping coffee. A few of these people would sneak outside, returning with the faint scent of Camels and breath mints. They were probably out there praying.

And when the night was over, they STILL wouldn’t leave. They would simply meander into the darkened parking lot, talking until someone finally stretched out a yawn and said, “Tomorrow’s a busy day.”

And that was how it all happened. That’s what we did. Sometimes I think about those people, and all the things they held dear. And I wonder whether they would care for smartphones, social media, and Zoom calls. Somehow I doubt it.

I miss the things they loved. Also, I miss that chubby redheaded kid with the T-shirt that exposed his pale belly. But hands down, it’s potlucks I miss the most.

Please, Lowered, don’t let them disappear.


  1. PMc - March 31, 2021 6:35 am

    It’s simmering on the back burners. And It’ll be ready soon. 🙏

  2. christina - March 31, 2021 6:52 am

    I can smell it down the hall already. Miss those sweet times!

  3. Wes Storm - March 31, 2021 10:13 am

    Wow – thanks for the great memories!!

  4. Susan - March 31, 2021 10:55 am

    Thanks for bringing back the memories! Church pot lucks were the best!

  5. Amanda - March 31, 2021 10:59 am

    A better world for sure.

  6. joan moore - March 31, 2021 11:00 am

    Ah yes, Mac and cheese to the refrain of “Showers of Blessings”! Pass the gravy!

  7. Deborah Johnson Jones - March 31, 2021 11:01 am

    Every. Morning. That’s the truth. Every morning you start my day off right, no matter what other circumstances I am dealing with. Praise’a Lowered!

  8. Harriet - March 31, 2021 11:34 am

    What PMc said…

  9. Joyce - March 31, 2021 12:04 pm

    Our Sunday School class potlucks have turned into brown bag gatherings, but we are ready to resume potlucks as soon as the church kitchen doors open!

  10. Jan - March 31, 2021 12:23 pm


  11. Leigh Amiot - March 31, 2021 1:04 pm

    Agree with you on ambrosia, Sean. Someone else can have my lifetime share.
    And also agree with PMc…it won’t be long. It might feel like it, but pandemics don’t last forever!

  12. Karen Holderman - March 31, 2021 1:15 pm

    You just took me back to some wonderful memories.💖

  13. Tammy Troutman - March 31, 2021 1:47 pm

    My family grew up in rural GA and churches typically shared preachers so you might only have church service once a month or maybe twice. In the summer you had covered dish after each one. In fact, most churches built large tables outside (fancy rich people had covered tables) they were cement blocks lime washed white with timber across the top. You can still see these relics at old churches all over the south…. so many memories wash over me when I see them..thank you for bringing that vision back to me .. we also made cookbooks and sold them for Lottie Moon from the most popular recipes 😉

  14. Helen De Prima - March 31, 2021 1:59 pm

    Our little lakeside community (think camping trailers and cabins with screen houses) has a fabulous potluck at summer’s end. The association supplies the basics, soft drinks and a dozen garbage-can roasted turkeys, with members bringing all the sides and desserts. Some dishes are to-die-for, with recipes requested, while a few go begging with only a few scoops missing from the serving dishes. My favorites: three different versions of corn pudding, made with fresh New Hampshire corn. It didn’t happen last year, but the Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise, we’ll be wallowing again in homemade delicacies come this Labor Day.

  15. sharon suleski - March 31, 2021 2:25 pm

    Oh yes My heart aches for the potlucks to come back Those gatherings helped me get thru life with all the challenges raisings a family I am a widow now my church has a gathering called a Cup of Comfort masks small group etc they are helping me thru this life change My church will open soon with assigned times etc I always took lots of deviled eggs to the potlucks never any leftovers

  16. Bebe - March 31, 2021 2:28 pm


  17. AlaRedClayGirl - March 31, 2021 2:41 pm

    Yes, I miss our church’s potlucks… all those bowls and pans of goodness where the calories and cholesterol don’t count because it is a church meal. Hoping they come back soon.

  18. Bex - March 31, 2021 2:54 pm

    Sean, reading your stories every morning takes me back to the world of my youth, when people were more aware of others than themselves. A time when people gave whatever they could to help anyone in need. Church, prayer meetings and phone calls to the sick and lonely meant something and God smiled. God is smiling now after reading your column! So am I – keep writing so we remember what is no longer considered good; so we remember a world before WiFi, IPhones and PC’s. So we remember to thank the Lowered! God bless!

  19. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - March 31, 2021 3:30 pm

    We had this homemade table on the lawn outside Shannon First Baptist. I swear it was 6 ft high & long as an aircraft carrier. Although I never saw it, I’m sure it took 2 tractor trailers to haul in all the food. Sometimes there were accordions & singers & plenty of praying.
    Those were really the days.

  20. Ken P - March 31, 2021 3:54 pm

    Blessed to have been raised that way. Wouldn’t want it any other way!! Thankful for the memories.

  21. Linda Moon - March 31, 2021 5:41 pm

    Backyard BBQs are not over with my family. Potlucks for Wednesday night church have been put on hold. You have written approximately 2,345,629 words in your columns, including those 126,498 about potlucks. I’ve read most of them. I’m not as old as the church people you told us about when you were a redheaded kid. But I hold all that was dear for them and don’t care for social media and social distancing. Overused media and a virus have wedged between young and old alike. Please, Lord, don’t let Sean stop writing. And let us gather with food and hugs and some live events with Sean of the South again. Amen.

  22. Larry Wall - March 31, 2021 7:00 pm

    Oh Lowered, I have also experienced soooo many of these wonderful lunches and dinners at the little country church in Northeast Georgia. Their memories and the faces of the attendees will not be forgotten, along with the smells that would permeate the basement when the weather was bad. And my 74 yr. old frame shows that I could pack more food on those little church plates than most people could carry in a #3 tin washtub.(some won’t know what that item is or looks like 🙂 And that was before I found my way to the dessert table.
    Our city church has meals in its fellowship building today but they lack the same homey characteristics that you described in today’s epistle. Folks sit around tables for eight and as soon as their plates are cleaned they up and leave for the tv set at home. No chitchat during cleanup because those duties are now done by church employees.
    Please pass me the green bean and chicken casserole. And another biscuit.

  23. MAM - March 31, 2021 7:04 pm

    We’ve at least annually had neighborhood potlucks (except for 2020, of course!), but the neighbors who held them on their huge back porches have moved on to other places, including heaven. I hope those who purchased their houses will learn the history and reinstate them! We don’t have the room. My husband always cooked a big brisket to falling-apart deliciousness! Never a scrap left.

  24. Sandi. - March 31, 2021 7:12 pm

    Oh, what a nice stroll down memory lane. I always loved those pot luck meals at church. We called them Family Night Supper, and usually they were held on Wednesday nights or right after Sunday morning services. Good, homecooked food and good fellowship … plenty of both. if anyone left hungry, it was their own fault.

  25. Bob Brenner - March 31, 2021 9:37 pm

    Amen to church potlucks, great memories ⛪️!

  26. Joann Thompson - April 1, 2021 1:31 am

    I had a neighbor who died after battling cancer several years ago. She was a church-going lady, and for her funeral, she requested that all her family and friends have a potluck and memorialize her in that way because she had always loved them so much. I think she had been cremated, so there was no body there in our midst, but we all enjoyed remembering Martha, and the food was great.

    • Bernadette Wyckoff - April 1, 2021 2:45 am

      Yes loved the Chic and rice my mother used to make. Was her signature dish…all of us kids knew if she was cooking it that meant we would see cousins and Aunts and Uncles and have a great time after church. Baptists always called it dinner on the grounds. I’m a Methodist now so sounds like pot luck is the same…a good time for all and plenty of chic and rice for all even if its a little different than mother Lila used to make. Still miss her after all these years…pot lucks too❣🙏 bless you Sean

  27. Kathy Compton - April 1, 2021 1:03 pm

    As a lifelong Baptist until recent years, I, too, attended many potlucks. My favorite ones were in Southeast Missouri in the small town where my grandparents lived. Those people could cook!

    A few years ago, my Mom died, and the little church had a post burial potluck. A lady about 90 was attempting to get her crockpot out of the car, so I offered to help.
    She thanked me by name…even though I had not seen her for many years.

    As we filled our plates, I eagerly took her chicken and dumplings. The years rolled away as I took my first bite because they tasted the same as the ones she made 55 years ago! And they were also like the ones my grandma used to make!

    The table of desserts was amazing, too!

    I miss potlucks!

  28. Robert - April 1, 2021 2:11 pm

    “..pushbrooming.” A new verb! Thank you for that!

  29. Phyllis McBride - April 1, 2021 9:12 pm

    So much of this rings true for me. No money trees in Wellford, SC, though. Half the church members had just gotten running water and were still waiting on the “Lowered” to provide another bedroom for their brood. Dollars were in short supply for the mill workers of our little church.

  30. Shirley - April 5, 2021 1:22 am

    We have started having pot lucks again!! As a matter of fact, we had one at our church tonight! So….they haven’t disappeared. ♥️♥️


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