I belong to a church which holds an event we call Freezer Sale on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. From late June through November, a dedicated crew of parishioners spends every Saturday in the church kitchen preparing hundreds of soups, entrees, sides, and pies. Each item is made from scratch and then packaged, labeled with ingredients and cooking instructions, and tucked away into one of a dozen gigantic freezers in the basement.
When I tell people what we do, they are astounded that we are willing to devote most of our Saturday mornings for six months of the year to church. Astounded at the sheer labor intensity of cooking massive amounts of chicken and ground beef, stirring and cooling gallons of soup, peeling bushels of potatoes and apples, and rolling endless numbers of pie crusts. Astounded at the amount of planning and shopping and folding of boxes and schlepping of food down the steps to the freezers. Astounded that this is not a once-and-done weekend marathon but an ongoing project for half the year, and that our church members happily volunteer to do it.
But they don’t see the powerful impact of this project from the inside. Yes, the profits go to support a variety of outreach ministries in the community. But I think what happens to those of us doing the cooking may be where the true ministry lies. We share our stories while we chop onions. We vent our worries and fears while rolling pie crusts. We laugh at the latest antics of grandchildren or pets while we load the cantankerous dishwasher. We sit down afterwards to rest and share a communion of sorts. Coffee and baked goods after the liturgy of the kitchen.
One of our elderly parishioners used to come in every week to fold pie boxes or paste labels on items. He was disappointed if there were no boxes to fold. Someone would always keep an eye on him when he toddled down the treacherous stairs to the restroom.
Another gentleman only comes on days when we’re peeling potatoes or apples. He sits in the circle gathered around the trash can where we throw the peels, and regales us with stories of his days in the British Navy.
A young woman away at college pursuing her culinary dreams comes home for a weekend and shows us everything she’s learned about biscuit dough.
When we need something, whether it’s a few new skillets or a few new freezers, someone among us steps up and makes sure we get it.
We bring what we have to the kitchen. Whether it’s cooking skills or financial skills to figure out the pricing or connections to farmers who can get us good produce or simply a willingness to help, it is all welcomed and needed and cherished, as is every person who shows up on Saturday morning and says, “What can I do?”
Just like worship in the sanctuary, work in the church kitchen requires blind faith. While we husk corn on a hot summer morning, we don’t see the elderly widow savoring her chicken corn soup on a cold night three months later. While we wait for the onions to caramelize, we don’t see the family tearing into chicken enchiladas while an exhausted mom sips a glass of wine, knowing her children will be fed something nourishing that they enjoy. Nor do we see the college student microwaving a container of homemade mac and cheese while cramming for exams, a welcome change from his usual fare of pizza or ramen noodles. We don’t see what our profits may provide—a winter coat for a child, a rental or fuel oil payment, Christmas gifts in a room that might otherwise be empty.
We know that our faith is a lot like the freezer sale— not a once-and-done Sunday only project, but an ongoing effort that requires lots of people helping us along the way. That it’s not always easy and that we don’t give up even when the dishwasher leaks and the soup won’t thicken, and we run out of cheese for the quiches. That we believe in the far-reaching and abundant Grace of something we can’t see or touch. That showing up in the church kitchen on Saturday mornings is our way of saying, “Here I am, Lord. What can I do?”