Every year at this time, the First Parish of Sudbury, holds a series of “In-Home Dinners.” These consist of small groups sharing a collaborative meal and conversation.
We don’t hold these dinners in the historic Meeting House, built in 1797 for a Puritan congregation first gathered in the 17th century. Instead, we meet in small groups in people’s homes.
As these events happen in January and February, it is always cold. Fires burn in the hearth or woodstove and candles scent the air. Cozy kitchens await the diners’ contributions while china, crystal and silver gleam on creamy tablecloths.
Organizing the in-Home Dinners
Here’s how the In-Home Dinners work:
- People who want to participate sign up in advance.
- Those who would like to host a dinner raise their hands and indicate how many people they can fit at their table.
- The organizers divide up the attendees accordingly and tell the hosts who their guests will be.
- Hosts call their guests and ask, “What would you like to bring?” One by one, phone call by phone call, people decide whether they will bring the main course, a vegetable or carbohydrate, salad, or bread and wine. The latter is very popular. Few people rush to sign up for a main course and this course often drops down the call list until the last person to respond has no choice. (Hee-hee) Hosts are responsible for appetizers, more wine, and a well-set table.
In-Home Dinner Night
On the night of the dinner, the guests arrive bringing hot Dutch ovens, steaming casserole dishes, full salad bowls, and decorative cake plates. Things that need to cook or be kept warm go in the oven while salads and bread are placed on the table,
We pour the wine and people settle in around the appetizers to start the conversation. We all know one another—some better than others—and we find no lack of things to talk about.
When dinner is ready, we migrate to the table, pour more wine, and start the meal. I say “start,” because the In-Home Dinners often stretch on for hours. We eat, drink, exclaim over the delicious food, and keep talking. The conversation is far ranging and no topic is forbidden. We may not solve the problems of the world but we sure try.
Often, people don’t leave until the hour has grown late (for us). In the process, dishes get cleaned and leftovers packed up. People retrieve their coats, hats, and boots and head home. We now know one another a little better.
Highlighting the Year
These In-Home Dinners highlight the year for many people. My husband and I often host because we enjoy having people come to our house. Regardless of whether we host in our home or visit someone else’s house, we enjoy the combination of friendship, intelligent conversation, and good food. What’s not to like?
But not this year.
In 2020, the First Parish In-Home Dinners took place right on schedule just before the pandemic hit and everything got locked down. We had hoped that, by this time, it would all be over and we could resume our regular activities. We were wrong.
The In-Home Dinners have fallen victim to Covid-19, joining holidays, family celebrations, restaurant meals and many, many other things that bring us all together in fun and friendship.
In a Zoom call last week, we discussed ways of conducting the In-Home Dinners without actually getting together. We kept running up against the too-familiar obstacles that prohibit indoor gatherings.
We may yet find a way to hold a simulacrum of the dinners but they won’t be the same. Zoom simply cannot replace a convivial setting, diners around a table and flowing conversation. In our homes, there’s no moderator, no little squares, and no Mute button.
We will get our First Parish In-Home Dinners back eventually, although not everyone will be around to enjoy them. We’re waiting for our turn to get the vaccine, now scheduled for mid-February. In the meantime, our congregation meets online and finds ways to keep in touch, to support one another and to celebrate together.
It may not be perfect, but it’s the best we can do until the world opens up again.