Look it up. According to the U.S. Protocols on Nomenclature for Church, Mosque and Temple Social Functions, “Ladies Tea” is no longer accepted usage.
A Coffee is naturally less organized and smaller than a Prayer Breakfast. The Covered Dish Dinner, known as the Hot Dish Supper in the Upper Midwest, is formally defined as a “community event or meal traditional in some U.S. Protestant denominations to which each guest brings one dish whose predominant ingredient is undiluted Cream of Mushroom soup, all dishes to be shared by all guests.”
The preparation and provision of food often are among the organizing principles of many religions, denominations and sects in America. Far removed from high finance or arbitrage, the hot dog sale, usually held in the spring, and the bake sale, usually held in the winter, are their quaint and unremitting staples of income-generation schemes.
Organized religion’s reliance on the hot dog sale to pay the winter gas bill is hardly a reassuring means of support for the eternal mission. No hot dog sale in the history of hot dog sales has ever generated more than $87.50 in gross revenue.
But making money really isn’t the point of these things, although everyone in on the scheme cheerfully pretends that it is. Communal effort and common cause are the point. The adults divide up duties to prepare for the big event and the kids are dragooned into working shifts or doing their little parts, always a drag on productivity but at least, implicitly understood, accomplishing something that is not for their pure entertainment or selfishness.
That is why I am a big fan of them. If I am driving and spot a sign for hot dog sale sponsored by a church, I slam the brakes and stop, as a practical expression of my support both for their effort and for my stomach. I have attended or purchased tickets for dozens of ramp feeds, chicken dinners and steak fries in aid to the operating budgets of their sponsoring Baptist and Methodist congregations.
A couple of steps up is the so-called Annual Dinner, usually the domain of immigrant congregations, often Catholic and Orthodox, that features foods from the lands of their ancestors. The origin of the Annual Dinner is usually tied to raising funds to finance a new gym or to re-build a church after some catastrophe that had befallen the congregation.
The Catholics, when they attempt them, are usually good at the Annual Dinner. By canon law they are confined to serving only spaghetti. The Orthodox are unusually great at the Annual Dinner, because they feature the best of wonderful foods that most Americans do not prepare for themselves: Greek, Arabic, Russian and Slavic.
Thankfully, we are in the middle of the Annual Dinner season comprising what I call the Big Four:
Held in August, the Mahrajan of Wheeling, organized by Our Lady of Lebanon Church, is one of biggest in West Virginia. The Mahrajan was started in 1933 to pay to rebuild the church that burnt down the year before. Thousands from many states attend.
St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Huntington just wrapped up its 37th annual GreekFest last weekend. It is wildly successful. The Greeks put on a big event, also drawing thousands. Proceeds keep the church open for the rest of the year.
Its sister congregation, St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Kanawha City, works nearly year-round for its dinners and bake sales, although not nearly as large as GreekFest. The menu is just as delicious.
On Oct. 20, St. George Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Charleston will hold its Annual Dinner. It is a big day, the culmination of military-style preparations. Hundreds volunteer. Thousands will show up. Half of the customers will dine in and half will take out, creating sort of a competition between the two teams of volunteers about who will serve more customers. These days, proceeds largely go to community charities.
I recommend that you dine in. While enjoying old-style hospitality, it gives kids the opportunity to bus tables, remove dishes and sweep floors.
Outside of the Big Four, I am most excited about the newest entrant in the Annual Dinner season. On Nov. 16, Charleston’s young Coptic Orthodox Church, St. Mary and Archangel Gabriel parish, will hold its very first Coptic Thanksgiving Dinner at the church hall on the city’s East End.
The food will be novel to the Kanawha Valley and certainly delicious. The optional church tour will be astounding, since the historic church building has been completely refurbished with stunning features. The ticket price, frankly, will be cheap.
To be honest, the small parish, although excited, is a little nervous. Will people find out about it? Will they come? Will the day go smoothly?
I hope that, on Nov. 16, the crowds show up and that they will have something special to be thankful for.