There are few feasts that compare to the southern fried, covered dish, Baptist fellowship supper. Baptists are a people of the casserole. Baptists can do very little that does not involve a nursery, choir, a committee, and a casserole.
As I have described in previous posts, the only buildings on the property at Lantana Road Baptist Church in the late 90’s were God’s mower shed, which was a metal building that housed our sanctuary and few small classrooms. The other building was a larger block building with a concrete floor, wood paneling, and chicken wire that held the insulation to the ceiling. Baptists usually refer to these buildings as the fellowship hall. In the wilderness the people of Israel had the Tabernacle. If the Exodus narratives were written about Baptists, it would tell the story of a group of people who wondered through the desert with a fellowship hall. When Baptists decide to build a structure the foremost concern is that there be a place to have a meal. If we can’t afford a sanctuary, we will build a multi-purpose building instead of a fellowship hall. All this means is that we will have a space in which we can eat without our mommas boxing our ears for bringing food into the sanctuary. The only thing that keeps a multi-purpose building from being a fellowship hall is that once a week we will put up the food, get the good chairs out, and worship God in it on Sunday.
In the early days of LRBC the block building was the designated fellowship hall. Because the church was growing, fellowship meals were occurring more frequently. Yet we had a small problem, a very small problem. In fact, it was about 1.5 million small problems. We had flies.
I am not a fly-ologist but here is my theory on what was occurring in our fellowship hall. At some point in the early days of the LRBC fellowship hall there was a Baptist casserole infested meal that beckoned the flies from the nearby cow pasture to leave the manure for something much better. I should also say that in Baptist life there are very few church officers. We have only the pastor, the deacons, and the lady who uncovers the “covered” dish. It is also her duty to stand by and shoo flies away from the table as people pass through the line. I am sure the flies who came that day were shooed away but found refuge high above in the damp, moldy, insulation held to the ceiling by the chicken wire. There they began a colony swearing never to return to the cow pasture again for they knew, with increasing regularity, a casserole would be below and it was far better than a pile of manure any day.
By 1997 the colony of flies was practically a plague. When it was time for a fellowship meal the lights were turned on producing heat in the insulation and the parade of casseroles would soon enter. It would not be long then until the nation of flies could resist the aroma and the warmth no longer and would come out to play. We soon realized there were more flies than “shoo” ladies. We could not keep up with the demand. Something had to be done.
Enter Donnie. Donnie was one of three LRBC deacons. He was what I would call a “tinker” guy. Donnie owned an auto body shop and was one of those guys who could do most anything to make a buck. Donnie was also famous. He owned Hank William’s limousine in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville and he hung out with Marty Stuart. I asked Donnie several times to get Marty to write us a song for VBS. I got to see the limo. I never got my song. In any event, Donnie had a plan to rid LRBC of the nation of flies.
It was late on Sunday afternoon and we had a fellowship meal planned after the evening service. Donnie showed up to church that evening with a long pole and several bug bombs. Bug bombs are cans of insecticide that when opened will fill several hundred square feet of space with a poison cloud. It says plainly on the can that one should set off the bug bomb in the building and then leave – go on vacation – take a trip – but by all means do not stay home while your space is being bombed for bugs. Our problem was that the fly nation nested high above and Donnie was convinced that the poison cloud would not reach them. So Donnie mounted several bug bombs on a pole, and while I preached in God’s mower shed next door, Donnie would set off the bombs atop the poles and lift them up nearer the fly nation. As you may have now pictured in your mind, this would require Donnie to be bombed with the bugs. Something the can says should not be done under any circumstance.
There is no measure of how much poison Donnie ingested that night. The good news is that the poison did not kill Donnie (though he was acting stranger than normal), but it did bring down the flies. When I say bring down, I mean literally, bring down. They fell to the floor by the millions. Donnie not only bravely bombed the flies, but he also became their undertaker. By his estimates he hauled away three large garbage cans full of dead flies while I continued to preach next door.
Many of the ladies in the church had no idea what Donnie had done. For just in time Donnie had hauled away the last can full of dead flies before the first casserole came in. The only indications of what may have taken place in the fellowship hall that night was that Donnie appeared a little glassy eyed, the building smelled like an Orkin factory, and every few minutes a fly may land beside you, flip over on his back, spin around and then suddenly die. Rain on Sunday will keep a Baptist at home, but not even a dying fly landing near his food will keep a Baptist out of a casserole. Most people happily ate, totally oblivious to the mayhem that had preceded them.
I knew. Donnie knew. Now everyone knows why the flies suddenly disappeared from the fellowship hall at Lantana Road in the Fall of ’97. Donnie, I hope you are doing well.