Monday, May 4, 2009

You Can't Have Your Cake And Eat It Too

I really like my church. I spent a lot of my life searching for a religion. When I was four, I asked my parents for a Bible and got a giant children's Bible that I read cover to cover. I rode church buses to different churches because my parents never went to church. I took it upon myself to go with my giant bible to various churches looking for "the one". When I was in high school, I was brainwashed saved at a fundamentalist Christian church and spent a few years trying to convert my friends and enemies to the Assemblies of God. I could write a book about how crazy that church was and how fucked up I still probably am from it. Amazingly, my atheist BFF remained friends with me, and it's how I met my husband of 18 years, so it's all good.

Fourteen years ago, I started going to this church where you don't have to believe anything. The whole idea of the church is that each person should make up his or her mind about what to believe. At that point in my life, it is exactly what I needed.

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote: (from The Universalist Unitarian Association; the church in Peoria is called the Unitarian Universalist Church of Peoria.)

-The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
-Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
-Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
-A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
-The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
-The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
-Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

When I first started going, I was a very active member and on all kinds of committees and volunteered for everything and taught Sunday School. Over the years, my attendance has become way more sporadic and my involvement ebbs and flows. Lately, I have been trying to be more involved and connected.

UU churches also have this really important tradition called coffee hour. After every service, everyone gathers to have coffee or tea and snacks. Usually a committee or several people join together to host coffee hour and provide the snacks. I guess I still have some over-zealous tendencies and decided I could host coffee hour myself, or with the help of my immediate family. It is kind of a lot of work, but I thought it would be fun.

About a month ago, a woman called me wanting to know if she could have a cake at our coffee hour, for her wedding anniversary. Sure, of course. A cake would be great. Then she hunted me down at church the next Sunday, to see what else I was going to serve. She seemed really distressed that I did not know at that point. In my mind, cake goes with everything. It is also not cheap to serve 150 people and I thought I would see what is on sale at the time and plan a menu from there. The next Sunday she found me again, wanting to know if I would be serving the food from one long table, or two separate tables. Again, I did not know and again she seemed unhappy. She was very concerned about my coffee hour and her cake, or cakes. So I told her I would probably have 2 tables, to facilitate the line moving faster.

The last few days have been really hectic because there is only so much you can do ahead of time for serving so much food. So I have been frantically baking and prepping and have been a little stressed and PMSy to make it even more fun.

Sunday morning there was also a breakfast before church hosted by the religious education committee. This also made getting ready for coffee hour a little more difficult because I had to wait for all the people to clear out from breakfast (which ended up being after the service had started) before I could set up. I helped the RE committee clean up after their breakfast while my husband made coffee. It was a hectic scene in a crowded kitchen. The RE committee had used one long table and I saw the anniversary woman had brought one cake, labeled "For Coffee Hour". So I decided to just use the one table, put her cake right in the middle with an anniversary figurine she had left for display, and put my pairs of dishes symmetrically on either side of the cake. I had labels as to what my items were and labels for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free (because UUs welcome many diverse diet choices and facilitate informed decision making in that regard).

The RE people decided to offer their leftover breakfast foods for coffee hour and started filling in the spaces on the table with leftover bacon and quiches etc. Then another cake appeared from the welcoming committee to welcome the new members. So I tried to stop stressing over the bacon in the vegan section and tried to figure out what I was supposed to do with this cake. Luckily someone from the welcoming committee came and put the cake on a separate table and cut it up. He suggested I do the same with the anniversary cake, so people could eat it. I was unsure about whether or not to cut it, but I know what 150 people wanting free food are like and how it would not be easy to cut it up while they are going through the food line. My husband went and cut up the cake and we stood ready to serve coffee as church was letting out.

Anniversary cake woman approached me with her arms around her daughter to tell me I had ruined her cake. She hadn't taken a picture of it yet. She started crying on her daughter's shoulder. I apologized and the daughter said it would be alright, but anniversary woman was collapsing in her arms and sobbing on her shoulder. She wailed, "Just, in the future, don't cut the cake!"

Did I mention I was PMSy? I retreated to the restroom and cried. My husband served the coffee and observed the bizarre spectacle of the anniversary couple getting a picture of the cake while the people were moving through the line to get the rest of the food. I came back and hid my tear stained face in a sink full of dishes.

In hindsight, I should have known better than to cut the cake. I regret not thinking more clearly. I wish I would have just left the uncut cake and let her deal with it if people had started scooping fistfuls of cake. I know, more than likely, people would have come back for cake if it wasn't cut when they went through the line, then anniversary woman would have been able to get a picture. So I really am sorry.

But, let me say this. If it is important to you that a cake be served in a certain way or at a certain time, maybe you should leave a specific note saying so. Or talk to the person setting it up directly. If you want a picture of it, it might be a good idea to do that before there are 100 people wanting to eat it. I understand that you want your cake your way, and would be happy to help you make that happen, if I had known. So please "in the future", give me some freaking clue what you want, or better yet, host the coffee hour yourself.


Mary said...

Objectively, I wasn't there, but I think she over-reacted a little bit...poor woman..imagine, if a picture of your anniversary cake was THAT big of a deal. Ugh. Hugs to you. May the rest of your week improve.

Vanilla Bean Counter said...

First, gluten free desserts at a church, that's my kind of church! Second, it was coffee hour time not anniversary party time. If she wanted to control the cake/party she shouldn't have glommed onto the community event or at the very least volunteered to organize it herself.

Jennifer said...

I am adding "You ruined my cake!" to the list of things I say at inappropriate times. (Included are "You catraping thundercunt!" and "Some people think it's weird that ny husband and I sleep in seperate beds."

Anonymous said...

Seems to me like she was just using coffee hour as a free anniversary party for herself. I would not have shed a tear for her.

And Jennifer, this is not the 1950's and you are not on TV. Unless one of you snores really loudly or has tremendous nocturnal gas, then it is weird.

Katie said...

IDNKM - Dude...that separate bed story has so much going on there, you can't even begin to imagine. Just know that Jen is not the one stuck in the 1950's. :)

I think you can also add: "And now back to my story...even though I know it's anti-climatic" and "I have to shave my husband's back".

SS - You did nothing wrong. Not only because I know you could possibly be the most thoughtful and considerate person in existence, but you were concerned about the vegan folks feelings on the proximity of bacon. Any one else would have just felt that they needed to deal with whatever dietary issues they have on their own. Don't beat yourself up. You are fabulous!!

Lisa said...

Mary, I was there and I thought your coffee hour was wonderful. I wish I had known you were having such a rough time. It's hard when people focus on some trivial issue and can't see your labor of love, but I'm willing to bet the cake wasn't really anniversary lady's problem--more like the tip of the iceberg. You couldn't have known about the picture and it surely isn't your fault.

Sometimes people get wrapped up in the conventions and rituals and forget that the people are the reason we're there.