Friday, December 12, 2008

Repast perfect

Sometimes, the most important part of a funeral service doesn't happen until it's over. The funeral lunch or Repast is an important tradition in many parts of the country. In the Upper Midwest where I work, the lunches consist of ham sandwiches, hot dishes, black coffee and a lot of gelatin 'salads' and desserts. The farther into farming country we get, the better the lunches are, as the church ladies and funeral attendees bring their homemade funeral lunch specialties in hungry farm-hand quantities. My wife calls these meals 'Lunches of a Thousand Kitchens', and you can take that as a positive or a negative, but I always look forward to a funeral lunch. There are quite a few churches that I've never left hungry from, and even though the seventy-eight year old director I work with has had more 'ham on buns' than he could count over the years, he still gets excited over a good lemon bar or a well put-together potato salad. In rural Wisconsin, we still have enough church ladies volunteering, that the cost of a lunch for 150 people can be as low as 150 dollars including groceries. We all know that these days are limited though, and as more families must rely upon two incomes, and as fewer people volunteer at churches, one day we will all go the way of the big city catered lunch, where a meal for 150 could cost $10 or more a head. My colleagues in Madison, don't even attend the lunches because the family pays by the plate, and they miss out on all the great food and stories that are shared at funeral lunches.

As much as I love the food and know that food itself helps us to deal with grief, the really important part of the lunch is the fellowship. Sharing stories and support in a relaxed environment can be the most therapeutic part of a funeral for a grieving family. It also seems to be one of the most desirable parts of a service. Many funeral homes are offering community rooms and some are building their own kitchens with full time staff. Other funeral homes have transformed chapel space into reception rooms because the lunch gathering has becoming more important than the service.
In Australia, and New Zealand, funeral homes are increasingly incorporating beer gardens in their facilities. Alcohol and grief are not necessarily as good a combination as food and grief, but depending upon the local traditions, a toast to the deceased can be a powerful and meaningful part of the repast. I have been honored by Greek families to share in toasts in memory their departed. In the litigious society of the United States, caterers are more likely than funeral homes to hold the liquor licenses at funeral repasts.
Whether a reception takes place at the VFW Hall, Church Basement, at home or at the funeral home, gathering together with food and friends in memory of a loved one can help us remember the joy and laughter of the past, and help us move in a positive way to the future. It is a comforting, reassuring and life affirming tradition.

I couldn't resist passing on some favorite funeral lunch recipies I've found:
For 'Funeral Potatoes' in the LDS tradition, and a nice story to go along with them, visit 'Tales of an Ordinary Housewife' at
If your tastes run more toward Vegan, here's a transformation of 'Funeral Hotdish' at 'Vegan for the People' at
In the German Mennonite Tradition, sink your teeth into baked eggs in a bun at 'Everyone Likes Sandwiches' at
Finally, here is a heartfelt little piece about funeral lunches, written by Church Lady and blogger 'Mrs. H'

There is a funeral lunch going on in our fellowship hall. I think this is something that only rural churches do on a regular basis any more. The gentleman whose family is gathering was not a member of our church (to my knowledge). And our ladies still prepared and served the best that country cooks can offer: ham, potato salad, assorted peas and beans, corn and casseroles and desserts galore.Working here at the church, this is something that I take for granted. I remember when my father died, someone brought a loaf of bread and a tray of deli meat to my mom's house. I understand that it's the thought that counts. Someone did think of us. But the time and care that I see these ladies pour into these efforts astounds me. And it's not that they don't work and have more time to prepare. Most of the dishes were dropped off this morning before these ladies went to work at their jobs.I am so glad that some old traditions are still kept alive in places like Agricola. The world will be a much colder place when we stop helping with our own hands.

Amen to that, Mrs. H, Amen to that.


Mrs.H said...

I saw this link this morning and was so pleased that you had used it. It made my day almost a year after the fact!

(And I thought funeral meals were just a "Southern thang!" Y'all aren't so different, after all.)

Patrick McNally said...

Thanks Mrs. H! I can only imagine how good the meals are at your church- good thing it's nearly lunch time here!

Funeral service said...

You are right sometimes the most important part of the funeral service is when every one has left

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