It was a Big Deal. Always on the church calendar for the same date, third Sunday in September. Always a special preacher, mostly former pastors or guys from the church who had been called out to preach. Predictably for an SBC church, a cardiologists dream in regard to food, copious quantities of heavy casseroles, healthy fresh vegetables often seasoned by tasty fatback, desserts galore.
Then there was the special hash.
In that area of upstate SC some folks would make hash and sell it. It is a regional dish with no special name other than “hash.” The hash was nothing like Brunswick Stew, no extraneous vegetables floating around it, and you couldn’t eat it with a spoon because it wasn’t soupy. It was somewhere between the stews and pulled pork. Unique. And we always had hash at Homecoming.
The church had a hash committee, a half-dozen or so old men who were unelected, self-perpetuating, and accountable to no one in the church. Others, especially younger guys, could show up and help. If one of the older guys passed on, the royal line of hash committee succession would add someone in his spot, all unofficial, without discussion or voting.
It was a happy arrangement. The church was satisfied. Expenses were borne by the committee, the work got done, hash was served at Homecoming to the praises of all the members. “Best hash ever!” declared all around on that special Sunday – year after year after year.
I was pastor for 15 of those years and had sense enough not to mess with it. I never saw a recipe. I never knew exactly what was in the hash but I suppose it was almost all beef, pork, onions, and spices. I would annually declare at the hash house, “guys, I don’t recognize some of those cuts of meat in the pot.” They guys would chuckle and make preacher jokes. They had the recipe locked up in their collective brains. It always came out the same and was very tasty.
The hash prep wasn’t without some difficulty, even controversy. There was the Great Pepper Downgrade, a story I had to hear annually. Seems one of the men brought house brand ground pepper rather than McCormick or Sauers, premium name brands. The brain trust consulted and the shabby pepper was set aside and someone ran to the store to get the right stuff. No hard feelings. Nothing else was said about it.
You had to stir the giant hash vat constantly while it cooked. Once, one of the brothers got a bit over exuberant and his wooden stirring paddle struck the light above. The fluorescent fixture exploded and down into the hash pot came thousands of tiny pieces of glass, mercury vapor, and whatever else. The old heads paused for a moment, looked at each other, and silently went to work disposing of the entire batch and starting over. “There Will Be Hash at Homecoming!” And, with double the effort that year, there was.
Making the hash was an event, all day and all night. Hangers-on like yours truly would show up, slap backs, do a little work and eat the prepared lunch, usually fried fish, sometimes bbq. I was totally superfluous to the thing but they were glad the pastor dropped by and pitched in. It was a happy time. Relationships were built and strengthened.
My church, like all the rest, had its usual share of conflict, of people who didn’t get along, of family squabbles that sometimes spilled over into the church, and other difficulties. All this was set aside. Folks worked together. Mistakes were forgiven. No finger pointing, no grumbling. Everyone pitched in towards the goal for the benefit of the entire church and greater community.
Not a bad way to be.
I’ve been gone from that church for a quarter century. Alas, the hash is past. They no longer fix it. All the old folks died and there just wasn’t the interest among the whippersnappers for such a labor intensive effort, even for Homecoming. Sad, though probably a normal progression in the life of the church.
But, hash or no hash, that church still contends earnestly for the faith that was once for all time handed down to the saints. That’s the main thing, but Homecomings are nice. Wish I had a bowl of the hash right now, stout stuff.