I was back at my childhood church this evening.
Tonight was its annual sauerkraut-and-sausage supper -- a sort of Teutonic bangers-and-mash-fest with sauerkraut, plus baked beans, pickles, bread and pies; everything made completely from scratch, including the sausage. It's a Big Event in our community; signboards all over town, the church parking lots full and more cars lined up along the street. The church schedules the sauerkraut supper the evening before opening day of the firearm deer season, to attract visiting downstate hunters. I make the annual pilgrimmage for takeout, for my mom and me.
It's interesting going back to a church you used to attend after a long time away, especially when you've become estranged from its theology and mindset. My mother still sometimes calls it "our church," even though it hasn't been my church in well over 20 years and hasn't been hers for a long time either. Since I've been a grownup, I associate it mostly with family funerals.
But tonight I passed through its doors on a happy mission (for my palate if not for my arteries or my waistline). I passed the classroom where I had Sunday School with my mom as my teacher; another classroom where our confirmation class met. The church building has doubled in size since I was a kid -- they have a big activity center and extra meeting space now -- but the place smelled the same -- an olfactory mixture of candle wax and bulletin-paper and and coffee (tonight, of course, suffused with the aroma of sauerkraut and browning sausage).
As I moved through the takeout line, I saw that the cashier was a family friend -- her family had known my dad's family pretty much since they'd both landed in the immigrant-German neighborhood in this county. We exchanged somewhat awkward pleasantries; anyone familiar with internecine Lutheran slap-fighting knows what it's like for a Missouri Synodian to jump the denominational fence to the ELCA -- technically speaking you're no longer allowed to commune in an LCMS church (although there's a certain amount of "don't ask; don't tell"), and you're pretty much treated as if you've gone over to the dark side.
When asked by her old church acquaintances where she's been my mother says, "Oh, I go to church with my daughter now," so I know I am seen as The Corrupting Influence in this particular church circle; that's fine by me. Kind of flattering, considering. And the way I see it, radical hospitality works both ways, so I'd like to think that the church ladies felt they were ministering to me in my condition of spiritual peril, by plying me with Wurst and pie, in hopes that one day I'll awaken from my benighted state and return to the One True Church, mother in tow, to the strains of "Softly and Tenderly."
Then again, maybe they just wanted my $16.
It was a good dinner. "We can't believe we ate the whole thing."