Join us on May 15 for Spirited Brunch
The fourth annual self-guided snack tour of downtown Charleston congregations is free and open to the public.
“Nanak Naam Chardi Kala, tere sare sarbat tha Bhalla.”
– The closing line of the Ardas, a set prayer soliciting peace and blessings for everyone, that American Sikhs will say on Thanksgiving.
As regular readers of The Food Section know, this newsletter’s overriding goal is to bring quality food journalism to underserved places: If this project succeeds, The Food Section will feature the work of more reporters in more states.
But forging a better understanding of history, culture and community through food isn’t accomplished by standard storytelling alone. As The Food Section grows, I hope additional cities in its coverage zone will participate in the Spirited Brunch, a free self-guided snack tour of prayerful spaces that we four years ago launched here in Charleston.
Since I don’t have a car, I walk just about everywhere. And no matter which route you follow in Charleston, it takes you past multiple houses of worship, many of which are closed up tight throughout most of the week. I got curious about the people and traditions enlivening the congregations behind those doors, so pitched an idea to my friend Elijah Siegler, a religious studies professor at the College of Charleston:
What if we asked these groups to offer up a representative taste of their spiritual practices or local customs?
What if these churches, synagogues, and mosques threw open their doors and served a dish to anyone interested in religion, architecture or Southern cooking?
On a Sunday afternoon in April 2017, more than a dozen downtown Charleston houses of worship welcomed hundreds of residents and visitors for the first annual Spirited Brunch.
In advance of the event, I wrote:
The menu for the event is terrifically diverse: Participating houses of worship were asked to serve whatever best represents them, so attendees will sample dates at the Central Mosque of Charleston and pound cake at The First Baptist Church of Charleston. Most of the congregations are offering something sweet, ranging from rugelach to ice cream. But there are savory reminders of the surrounding area, including pimento cheese sandwiches and okra rolls, which likely have little meaning to Episcopalians and Unitarians in Montana or Maine.
There aren’t any rules to Spirited Brunch. We yearly publish the list of congregations on the roster, giving interested eaters a chance to plot their own itineraries (although we strongly suggest that folks with designs on Mount Zion AME Church’s fried chicken or shrimp-and-grits at St. Paul Missionary Baptist plan accordingly, since houses of worship are asked to prepare just 50 portions.)
Over the years, that list has more than doubled in size. We also now invite congregations with locations off the peninsula to table in a central hall on campus, so the event better reflects the area’s diversity: The Thanksgiving prayers at the beginning and end of this message were supplied by Spirited Brunch congregations which don’t have downtown Charleston homes.
From the start, Spirited Brunch has been a tremendous success. Tourgoers have learned about the resident Buddhist community’s support of Tibetan refugees over chai tea; grokked the origins of Charleston’s Catholic community when given Irish soda bread with their okra soup and grasped the meaning of the Bahai faith’s commitment to equality while sipping plain water with no cultural associations.
I also reported on the hamantaschen at Brith Sholom Beth Israel:
‘There’s a difference in the structural integrity of apricot and poppy seed,’ a volunteer there sighed, explaining to a visitor why there were fragments of the triangular pastry’s apricot version prettily arranged in a trifle bowl. Sometimes, to understand another culture, it helps to know how its cookies crumble.
Of course, the Spirited Brunch was one of those events which couldn’t be staged or properly replicated during the pandemic. It’s always scheduled in the spring, on a date compatible with Easter, Orthodox Easter, Passover, Ramadan, graduations, and Mother’s Day, so two successive editions were lost to COVID-19.
Now, though, Spirited Brunch is back.
Spirited Brunch IV is scheduled for May 15, 2022, from 12:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. As always, it’s free and no preregistration is required. The Food Section will provide printed and online maps to the snack tour in advance of the event.
I can’t wait to see Spirited Brunches in other cities. In the meantime, though, we’d love for you to make plans to join us in Charleston to celebrate fellowship; harmony and goodwill.
What better day than Thanksgiving on which to mark your calendar for it?
Speaking of thanks, thank you for reading along as The Food Section gets going. This publication wouldn’t be possible without your support.
Have a happy, healthy holiday!