Stone Soup

My congregation begins its observance of Maundy Thursday with a Stone Soup dinner. Last year, my first in this congregation, I decided to follow the congregation's traditions for the first year to see how they worked, and then to think about making changes. (I did add a Way of the Cross walk for Good Friday, and I did rework the Tenebrae a bit.) I didn't get Stone Soup at all.

Footwashing, communion, tenebrae -- these are all traditional Maundy Thursday observances. Stone Soup is a nice folk tale, a good story of community and the abundance of gifts, but I didn't quite see how it fit with Maundy Thursday.

The first year at a new congregation is a whirlwind. During Holy Week last year I was trying to take in so many details and worrying about how it would all go; I'm not sure I really took it all in. I didn't even write myself notes for the next year's planning, something I always do.

This year I decided to continue with tradition again. But I made one change; instead of reading Stone Soup during the meal to everyone over the microphone I asked each table to tell the Stone Soup story itself. I took a version of the traditional tale, rewrote it a bit, printed it on cardstock and put a copy on each table. Then I asked the eldest person at each table to read it.

I ate my soup (there were three kinds -- beef, chicken noodle, and a vegetarian) and bread. I noticed, perhaps for the first time, the lovely tureens that held the soup, a bargain find from someone on the worship committee for just this purpose. I saw the pottery plates and chalices, commissioned for just this annual event, gracing each table. I looked around at all the different generations of people sharing this meal together.

Then the eldest at my table picked up the story and began to read it. It is a familiar story. I read it as a child and I crafted this particular version. But I have to admit I got caught up in it, listening to Bill's voice, how the villagers found a bit of food to share together, and how it turned into a lovely meal. There were a few moments when I was lifted out of my worry over details, when I was transported to some other place.

Then we continued with the rest of the evening: communion around each table, processing to the sanctuary, sharing the Service of Tenebrae (shadows).

I still can't quite say what Stone Soup has to do with Maundy Thursday. Since it isn't appropriate to share a seder together as Christians (that's another conversation) it serves as a good community meal on a night where food is foundational. But last night I was glad I had the sense to experience the congregation's traditions before suggesting we change them. The surprisingly delightful community meal, made out of an sometimes-hoarded but now-released part of ourselves, says a lot about what it means to worship together, to be church together, and how this particular congregation lives together.

I did ask about footwashing. Someone said, "What is it with you clergy and footwashing?" I don't know. But I've made my planning notes for next year. I'll be planning on Stone Soup.


Anonymous said...

Fun to read your blog today. The meal sounds lovely, even if Stone Soup didn't fit perfectly. As you might remember, I love the footwashing. That's primarily because feet always turned me off, and so to wash another's feet, no matter what shape they're in, strikes me as holy, humble, and intimate, and Christ-like.

jlmschirm said...

Hi! Our church does a quarterly intergenerational activity and this sounds like a perfect activity for our upcoming event. Could you give more details about how the whole program went? What activities did the small children do to contribute to the conversation at the table?

Leslie said...

Your re-telling of the experience reminded me somewhat of the road to Emmaus story and the opening of their eyes when Jesus broke bread with them. You experienced the meal in a new way, the tradition in a new light, still not totally understanding it, but knew it had moved you and others.