I tarried at the door of the sanctuary following worship as people said things like “Pastor, Bob is having surgery on Wednesday. Can you stop by the hospital?” But as soon as possible I ran to my office, took off my vestments and made my way to the fellowship hall, where the congregation was already delighting in our annual chili lunch. Every year when I wake up on this morning I think, “Really? Chili Sunday?” I can put Third Sunday after Epiphany at the top of the bulletin if I want, but everybody in the congregation knows that at long last it is Chili Sunday.

We are a liturgical and unapologetically formal congregation. Most of the people in the pews dress up in their Sunday best. We’re polite and hospitable, but not laid back. If I were to suggest that worshipers hold hands while we all sing a chorus of “Alleluia,” more than one member would go into cardiac arrest. It took me a while to figure this out, but our congregation finds comfort in formality—especially when we are approaching God. So it’s ironic that only Easter surpasses Chili Sunday for worship attendance.

Members are invited to make their favorite chili recipe and bring it in a Crock-Pot to church. The staff and volunteers set the serving bowls of chili out on long serving tables with little placards that identify the person who prepared each bowl. The beef chili is on one table while the turkey, chicken and vegetarian chili are on others. People hurry to the fellowship hall after worship, plunge into this banquet and find their way to seats at round tables.