On the third Saturday of January, the Lee Center Church hosts its annual chili supper. Chili bowls flanked by homemade jello salads and desserts line the packed tables in the church basement. It’s been more than 25 years since I wandered up and down the rows of tables asking, “Coffee, juice or milk.” Growing up, my friends and I had fun playing the role of waitress for the night, serving drinks, clearing dishes, setting placemats and running up and down the stairs to collect more smiling customers.
The supper and church has changed a bit. Fresh paint coats the basement walls, updated curtains frame the windows and new carpet was laid on the steps. Church members wear matching red polo shirts, and each table features a small bowl of baby carrots, shredded cheddar cheese, chopped onions and a small serving of sour cream.
What haven’t changed are the people. Granted a new group of young adults pace the tables with pitchers of lemonade, water and coffee, but many of the same faces are serving chili, plating salads and desserts and calling out happy greetings to folks finding their seats.
My husband observed that the crowd of customers also has not changed. They are more weathered and wrinkled than before and those basements stairs are starting to pose a problem for many. Our young family was the minority tonight.
Churches and organizations serve up chili, soup, spaghetti and pancakes to raise money, but more so they give our small towns or neighborhoods a tradition, something to look forward to in the grey of winter. These events are a gathering place where everyone is equal. While enjoying a bowl of chili we keep a church going, a community strong and show our kids that sometimes the best meal is one shared with neighbors.
It seems more than ever our lives are packed with varied commitments and no free time. But I would encourage the next time you see “Chili Supper” posted on a church marquee, make a point to have a bowl. It will fill more than your stomach. It will fill your soul.