Ecumenical musician coffee reviews and other thoughts

My mother has been a working musician for over forty years. All kinds of stuff. She is the lady who shows up, looks at the music, and gets to work. (She has played for a million weddings and funerals. “People need to stop requesting ‘On Eagle’s Wings’ -unless they hate everyone.”) Her most regular gigs are with churches. As for her own background, she started off her childhood with the Presbyterians (Grandma was a casual protestant, Grandpa was a fallen-away Catholic. It involves a whole story about getting mad at a priest during confession.) then got in with the Lutherans as a young teen, before winding up a Catholic in her late twenties. (my father had been brought up in the Church, and she thought she would give mass a go, and it stuck.) Like Andy Travis working his way up and down the dial, she has been plunking the keys of most mainstream Christian churches for a good long time. (She has said, “I have bills to pay, and as long as you aren’t too woo-woo and try and convert me I will play.”) My mom has many opinions about many things. The important things. Like coffee hour.

I wasn’t a great coffee drinker before I came to PT (the town where I grew up) so, sadly, my first church coffee was at St. Mary’s. My take on Catholic coffee is that their heart just wasn’t in it. (In the olden days, they served wine at the potlucks. They were a lot more fun in those days. This was back when Catholics drank.)

This is true. One year at the Saint Patrick’s Day potluck, she won a bottle of scotch in the raffle. I remember as a child and teenager volunteering at coffee hour and it was always something vague and coffee-like in the big tins and it always looked bad. On the occasional Sunday morning when my mom would work for the Lutherans (usually substituting when their usual organist was out of town.) she would come home and say, “If it wasn’t for the theology I would be over with the Lutherans in a hot minute.”

The absolute best coffee I ever had was the Lutherans. They take their Scandi heritage seriously.

It is nice to know some things don’t change. (though I understand it depends if you are Missouri Synod or ELCA, I have heard from people who came up in the Missouri Synod that the coffee was not very good.) I should add that one of my best friends from childhood attended the Lutheran church and I went with her to church a couple of times when I had a sleepover at her house, and I remember being impressed that her Sunday school class handed out snacks. CCD was not a place for snacks. (usually because you had mass after and one has to fast an hour before mass.)

Best baked goods would be the Presbyterians. Home made, nice variety. They are very sincere in their baking. Presbyterian goodies are all like something your grandma would bake. Lemon bars, brownies, chocolate chip, that sort of thing.Their coffee is okay — they make it in those big urns, which are if nothing else efficient. I keep pushing for the local churches to get espresso machines, but nobody listens to me.

She spent a number of years working for the Presbyterian church and has probably tasted every baked good under the sun with them.

The Lutherans being top notch bakers is pretty much a universal opinion. All the other Protestants seem to agree on that.

Which lead her back to the Catholics.

Despite St. Mary’s having drip machines, their stuff still tastes like Folgers. However, they now provide actually half-and-half, instead of the ubiquitous non-dairy creamer. Well, they still have the creamer. But at least now we get a choice. (I used to buy boxes of Irish Breakfast Tea and sneak it into the tea selection, just to give us something besides Gawd-help-us Red Rose. Bleah.)

(My mom is a Lapsang drinker at heart if you want to know, and she has some SERIOUS opinions about Red Rose tea.)

I think Marie took that recipe for pineapple upside cake with her when she died. Nobody has made it since, and damn, I miss it.

Marie was a woman at our parish who was an amazing baker. She made some of the best tasting things for the soda fountain in the back of Don’s Pharmacy. (yes I grew up in Bedford Falls. Actually where I grew up it is more like a southern gothic novel at times.) Marie’s pineapple upside down cake lives on in legend. I have spent a good portion of my life trying to make it like hers.

I have played for a couple of Fundamentalist-type churches. The coffee was, if I remember, surprisingly not bad. Earnest, and forthright. The food was meh. Like they didn’t want you to get any ideas about pleasure and the devil.

This does explain a bit about the whole coffeehouse mega-church subculture.

Episcopalians are sort of the establishment version of hippie liberal, and their food is similar. Likely to be catered, just because they can. Cookies and such the result of someone’s fancy ass cooking class.

My own experience with Anglicans is that it is a good thing they have cake because after trying the tea and coffee, death might look appealing.

Unfortunately any of the new agey churches always have lousy coffee, and more herbal tea than your aunt’s spice drawer.

(she also feels their potlucks aren’t very good. But she does like the people a lot and played for for the Unitarians when marriage equality became legal in our state and the local church was offering to marry anyone who wanted to get married. Her favorite couple getting hitched had been together 25 years at that point. She said at the time, “Maybe people should be together for 25 years and THEN be allowed to get married.”)

No flavor. It’s like any real taste might offend someone’s politics. You know the old Unitarian Easter Hymn — “Jesus Christ May or May not have Risen Today.”

(I should give credit to David Schroeder, who wrote that.)

David Schroeder is a musician friend of hers and one of the funniest people. He wrote a whole musical about Alkmena. I have seen TWO productions of it, it is pretty great.

The potluck discussion came up because I mentioned going to an Eastern Orthodox potluck. (Despite that whole 800 year long schism, the local Orthodox community had a nice relationship with the Catholics. The parish rented them a room while the Orthodox congregation built their own church.) I said to her, “It was so good. It helps it wasn’t Lent when they have a million dietary restrictions. They refused to let you leave hungry. Like they feared they would be charged with a crime if you didn’t find something good to eat.”

Branching out into potlucks, the Baptists do the absolute best Thanksgiving potluck.Turkeys, hams, (yes, multiples of both) and enough sides to keep Martha Stewart happy. (the folks at the homeless shelter have also proclaimed the Baptists the best dinner makers. They do a mean casserole, and they have enough imagination to do more than lasagna)

The local churches take turns providing dinner to the local winter homeless shelter. (my mom volunteers there and says it is the best fun. Especially at Christmas.) If it was a weekly contest for best dinner, the Baptists would win a lot. It would be like Ireland at Eurovision in the 90s.

The Methodists used to do a good potluck, too. Small, but well executed. And the best grits I ever ate.

She spent a number of years working for the Methodists and I have to support the comment about the grits.The woman who made them was from Texas. While the Methodists didn’t drink, you could be promised a pretty good ice cream sundae. Their coffee was middling. I went to a Lutheran potluck with my friend and it was very good. Not heavy on the mayo like many would think but being ECLA they did count a jello salad as a salad not a dessert. (Minnesota roots.)

Best kept potluck secret — the Mexican food after Spanish mass. Don’t tell anyone. Homemade tamales and posole. (if you are well-liked they give you some to take home.)

My mom loves tex-mex food. She loves tacos the way some people love men and has been known to go and eat seafood chimichangas on a friday night during Lent. “See… it isn’t meat. Okay so it isn’t entirely in keeping with the spirit of Lent but it is good.” (The only time she ever misses my father is when she has a craving for menudo. He did make very good menudo.) The Latinx community has grown considerably in recent years and she plays for Spanish mass. She loves the congregation with all her heart. (and not just because they give her tamales to take home.)

I make dinner and swear too much. I think that is all you need to know.