When The Pound Cake Is Gone

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I suspect every church has one, or maybe had one—a pound cake maker.

Growing up at Davis Street United Methodist Church in Burlington, North Carolina, I remember Ethel Foster’s pound cake.  She had the touch. There was nothing like Mrs. Foster’s pound cake, and the congregation knew it.

 At any covered dish dinner, Ethel Foster had a pound cake on the table of desserts. I suspect her cigar smoking husband, Clifford, was probably sad at the end of those events. I’m guessing the cake platter that was taken home only held pound cake crumbs.

Perhaps, you are thinking, but Bill how about your own mother’s pound cake? Well, Louise’s cake baking skills fell into two distinct styles—angel food and German chocolate. Each were winners in their own right.

My brother-in-law’s mother, Jan, is quite the pound cake maker. Word on the street is that Jan at one time had a special source for her vanilla—the local pharmacy.

Depending upon your research source, the origin of pound cake can be traced back to northern Europe. Everyone agrees that the name pound cake comes from the four key ingredients: flour, butter, eggs, and sugar. A pound of each of those ingredients was used to make the cake, thus the name pound cake. (Wiki)

Even though I failed in my confirmation attempts, somewhere in my memory is an interview I heard with journalist, Cokie Roberts. Early in her career a boss told her to eat pound cake to sustain her through the long hours of developing a story on the run. The point was all of the eggs in pound cake offered protein. I’m sure a skilled dietician might counter that opinion with—yes those eggs offer protein, but what about all that butter and sugar?

Regardless, pound cake is a Southern staple, and there is nothing like a homemade pound cake. It is a soothing comfort, grounded in hospitality, and a welcome guest for any occasion.

But, I also have a worry, a concern, and I’ll go ahead and state it— a fear.  I sense we are losing our pound cake makers, particularly at churches.

On January 15, 2018, members of Trinity United Methodist Church said goodbye to Lane Dickinson. A celebration of Lane’s life was held that day. Lane was quite a lady. She had many admirable traits. I loved her honesty. Lane never beat around the bush with her opinion. She had a servant’s heart. And, I’m sorry, but I loved Lane for her pound cake. There was nothing like it.

Her family knew Lane’s pound cake reputation, so they included her recipe on the back of the funeral bulletin. 

For years, the congregation at our church longed for a gathering place after each worship service. We had no space large enough for people to chat and interact with each other. Where people gathered in lobbies and hallways created bottlenecks, human traffic jams.

In February 2010, our new Welcome Center was dedicated. An unused exterior garth that sat between the Sanctuary and the Children’s Wing was transformed into a magnificent gathering space. In this case, the garth had been a rarely used garden plot, with a brick floor, surrounded on three sides by brick walls and facing a connecting brick walkway.

The Welcome Center allows us to gather after worship services, but it has become much more too. At weddings, it is the staging area for bridesmaids and the bride to enter the Sanctuary. We have hosted meetings, dinners, and the space allows us to stage chairs for extra seating at Christmas and Easter.

But, I think the most important work the Welcome Center does is it provides comfort to families at a time of loss. How can a room do this? Well, if a family makes the request, our bereavement team will stage a reception for the family and their guests immediately following the funeral service.

This reception is simply heartfelt hospitality. 

Families are sustained by fellowship with their friends and with the food provided. These receptions take an ounce of pressure off the grieving family. Their sadness is temporarily distracted, and I think that is good for them.

But since, January 15, 2018, I’ll selfishly admit these receptions have been bittersweet for me—no more pound cakes from Lane Dickinson have graced those tables.

And, I’ll add another concern to the absence of a pound cake. When I look at the age of our bereavement teams, I wonder how we will replace them? At some point, these women as strong as they are will wear out. They will hang up their aprons.

Churches today are faced with lots of challenging questions. 

I never suspected that one of those questions might be what will churches do when the pound cake makers are gone?

What will churches do when bereavement teams age out and hang up their aprons?

No matter how we frame our lives, our lives evolve around our connection to people. 

As I reflect back upon every job I’ve had, any success I found was anchored in people. The same can be said for my church experiences—people. My early molding and shaping came from my family, and the people who surrounded them. 

Pound cake makers and bereavement teams are people, people with giving hearts. Their hearts sustain people in need.

As churches look to figure out their futures, it is all about people. Understanding the needs of people will be one of the keys. Meeting those needs will always be tied to having a congregation with compassionate hearts.

Maybe, you are thinking, Bill you are too grounded in the past. Pound cakes and receptions for grieving families are old school.

You know, you might be right.

But there is going to be a point in your life and my life when I’m going to need a piece of homemade pound cake and the love of giving hearts. 

For a long, long, long, long time churches have been the place where people can find that sustenance in times of need.

Churches can’t forget this.

 As churches peer into their futures, searching for a path to sustain them, I hope homemade pound cake and giving hearts are not overlooked.

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