My wife, Becky, and I lived in Moscow, Russia, for two years. We began to attend the International Adventist Church downtown, since services were conducted in both English and Russian. It wasn’t uncommon to find a dozen or so countries represented at church on a Sabbath morning including Africans, Central Asians, Arabs and North and South Americans. Though naturally the Russians held the majority in our congregation, we had a truly international church — which made for some interesting services.
Potluck, I found, is not a Russian tradition. It seems that in Russia the concept of everyone bringing food to put together is limited to perhaps a family picnic. Not that they were against the idea but they simply had not heard of it before. So we introduced the concept.
The first week potluck began well. Everyone brought their food and placed it on a long table. Just as we were getting ready to eat, a babushka grabbed the stack of plates and plasticware that had been neatly placed at the head of the table, and she lined them up side by side down both sides of the long table.
Not wanting to embarrass her, we adjusted the instructions. Rather than lining up to get a plate, we would now just grab the nearest plate and then rotate around the table to get our food. Everyone nodded approvingly and we said grace. At “Amen!” everyone dug happily into whatever dishes were nearest them and chowed down. No one rotated. They simply stood there eating and talking together, having a grand time. Our calls over the noise to “rotate!” went unheeded. We were stuck eating the food in front of us, like it or not. It just wasn’t right! It wasn’t potluck the way it was supposed to be.
The next week we were extra clear on the instructions to line up. When the babushkas began to distribute the plates we gathered them back up and herded everyone into a line. The line did move, but only because those who had not yet gotten to the table kept urging the snackers forward. Eventually everyone had a spot at the table and once again stood over their small domain of food eating happily, deaf to all encouragement to rotate around or find a seat.
The next week the plates were again distributed around the table and I dished myself up a serving of discontentment at how uncooperative everyone was. That is, until I finally noted that I seemed to be the only miserable one in the bunch.
Who made the rule that potluck has to be conducted the way I remember it anyway? No one, of course. And with that liberating thought, suddenly my own horizons broadened and I could enjoy my fellow Christians again in unity brought about by flexibility and acceptance — not someone else’s but my own.
Jesus called his people to unity, not uniformity. Uniformity is acting and thinking alike. Unity is enjoying being together despite the fact that we don’t act or think or believe alike.
If you find yourself upset by the actions or beliefs of your fellow saints, remember my mistake and join the flock again. No one can drag you back into the fold. It’s up to you to let yourself back into unity.