A View from the Pew: Shall We Gather at the Picnic

Our annual church picnic has been on COVID hiatus for the past two years, but we will resume this beloved tradition later this month.

Like everything churches suspended during COVID, our church picnic has grown in value and meaning during its absence. As an attender of church picnics since childhood, I have loved these opportunities to eat and play together with my church family in rare and special ways. One of my most distinct and fondest memories was watching the preacher play softball. I thought it amazing that the pastor didn’t just preach, he could play softball, too, like a normal person.

That’s why I think I love the church picnic so much. It’s a connection of normal people doing everyday stuff. It satisfies my need for human interaction and connection in a different way than a potluck in the fellowship hall. The setting enhances the experience.

Some churches have “dinner on the grounds” after a homecoming service, revival, or special holiday event, like Independence Day. At our church, the annual picnic is in the fall and is hosted and prepared by the deacons.

The venue can vary from the church property to a local park to a member’s home, and the effect is the same. I remember several summers in my teen years spending days if not weeks getting our yard prepared for our church’s Fourth of July picnic. The effort was well worth it when the big day arrived, and our church family would enjoy grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, homemade ice cream, and other picnic staples like baked beans, potato salad, fresh watermelon, and lemonade by the gallon.

The activities at the picnics I grew up with included the aforementioned softball, volleyball, tetherball, kickball, and sometimes horseshoes. I watched in amazement as the old timers performed magic with the steel horseshoes that I had a hard time even getting airborne, much less on the post. I was also impressed by how the competitors joked and laughed the whole time. What we would call “trash talk” today was referred to back then as “razzing” or “giving a hard time.”

When the venue was a local park, the playground was the chief attraction for us kids, and when I had a brood of my own, I appreciated that the equipment kept my kids occupied long enough for me to “visit” with church friends—at least until one of my kids skinned a knee or fell off a swing.

Some church picnics feature a sermon or a devotion. In my experience, a prayer and an exhortation to get seconds was about as much official talking as was allowed. If the picnic was at night and on private property, there was sometimes a bonfire which would elicit singing and melting marshmallows for s’mores.

Upon deeper reflection, I think what the church picnic represents to me now is connection, and I have felt a more acute need for connection since the pandemic separated and isolated church families the world over. In a few weeks time, as the heat of the summer begins to break, I will be sipping lemonade, spouting phrases like “it all tastes good,” and savoring conversation with those I worship with each week, learning more about their lives, struggles, and celebrations.

I’ll appreciate it all a little bit more now and take it for granted a little bit less.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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