June is the season for area country churches to take turns
holding public ham suppers, barbecues and other money-making
events. There’ll be one almost every Saturday evening; This
week, it will be barbecued chicken and mutton at Olivet Christian
Church, about five miles east of Columbia. Olivet, established in
1874, has a long tradition of sharing food and fellowship.
In the 19th century, people came in wagons and buggies and
brought "well-filled baskets." There’d be fried
chicken and country ham, home-baked bread and desserts all
farm-produced food that needed no refrigeration. They unhitched
their horses, slipped on halters instead of bridles and tied them
to hitching posts on the east side of the one-room white
building. After the sermon, women spread white tablecloths on the
grass under maple trees on the west side. They put out food and
dinnerware from their baskets and broke off low branches from the
maples to shoo away the flies. The men gathered around waiting
with plates, forks and linen napkins in hand. The preacher
blessed the food endlessly, and the women kept shooing flies.
Flies? Yes, remember the horses on the opposite side of the
Families brought blankets to sit on. One farmer set a barrel
of water in the back in his wagon and provided a flour sack full
of tin cups. We kids had many a drink and almost as many water
fights when our folks weren’t looking. Kids didn’t get
together much except at church when school was out in summers.
After the meal, women packed up the extra food, exchanging
leftovers and sending a plateful of sweets to "Poor
Harvey" who was always, "not so well." Basket
dinners were held on the first Sunday of each month, which was
the only "preaching Sunday." Fellowship was more
important than the food. A second worship service was held after
the dinner. Then people hitched up their horses and went home to
do the chores, often by lantern light.
About 50 years ago, Olivet began to make giant leaps forward.
The Rev. Harold Reisch proved that we could afford worship
services twice a month and, later, church every Sunday. He helped
several women gather news and publish Olivet Church News, a
monthly community paper. Readership boomed and OCN was soon being
mailed free of charge to more than 300 homes. Reisch convinced us
that we could build a two-story addition to the one-room
sanctuary. That provided separate rooms for Sunday school
classes, restrooms, a kitchen and a community activities room for
4-H, wedding and baby showers and other neighborhood activities.
During the ministry of the Rev. Crawford Harmon, a major
fellowship leap was to invite "all of the children in the
community" to the summer Bible School. A black teacher,
several parent helpers and 11 black children shared Olivet’s
Bible School that year. That began a lasting friendship with
Sugar Grove Baptist Church. And it was also during Harmon’s
ministry that Olivet held its first mutton and chicken barbecue.
It’s now June 1999, and Olivet is in its large new
building and preparing, this week, for its 42nd barbecue. To
attend Saturday’s event, drive five miles east on Broadway
and Route WW and watch for colorful tents where people will eat
and visit. Serving begins at 3 p.m. and ends at 7. Tickets at the
door are $7.50, and $2.50 for children. For advance tickets at
only $6.50, call (573) 442-0336 or 442-6759.
Proceeds this year will go to Olivet’s Building Fund,
Kosovo/Bosnia refugee resettlement, Honduran families affected by
Hurricane Mitch and to three local groups: Eldercare, Front Door
and Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center.