Olivet Christian’s dinner has tradition of fellowship

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 building?

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.

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