You will find them in small town church basements across the Upper Midwest. They are sweet, gentle, Grandma-like women, with soft sweaters, soft gray hairdos and soft eyes. They travel in packs and move in a perfectly choreographed fashion around a brightly lit and colorfully wallpapered kitchen. They toil over piping hot crock pots and whip up pan after pan of dessert bars.
This is their world. They run the show. Even the pastor defers to them.
They are The Church Ladies.
I recently attended my Grandmother-in-law’s funeral, held at the only church in Black Creek, WI. Following the service was a luncheon in the basement. After walking through a maze of hallways and staircases, I entered a large wood-paneled room with low ceilings and small windows. Folding tables and molded plastic chairs were arranged in rows in the center of the room. In the back was a well-used, underhand dartboard and hop scotch taped to the floor. But all of the action was taking place in the spacious kitchen in the front of the room.
I chose a seat with a birds-eye view of The Church Ladies hustling around a center island covered in plates of sliced cheese, trays of deviled eggs and Tupperware bowls holding mounds of potato and Jell-O salad. Once everyone was seated, The Ladies marched out of the kitchen, juggling the trays, pans and bowls in a seemingly acrobatic fashion. Within minutes, every inch of the buffet table was covered in their handmade creations. The food was simple, but lovingly prepared. It’s funny how a ham sandwich and a scoop of noodle salad transports you back to being a kid in your Grandma’s kitchen. My guess is, this is The Church Ladies’ very intention.
As we sat and ate, The Ladies leaned against the kitchen’s center island and gossiped quietly. The warm mid-day sunlight reflected warmly off the green, yellow and orange plaid wallpaper. I wanted nothing more than to sneak into their circle and talk about the pastor sticking his fingers into the bowl of cheese curds each time he passed by.
Once everyone was finished eating, The Ladies descended upon our tables collecting dirty plates and silverware. I tried to be helpful and clear my own plate, but was immediately shut down with a gentle, yet firm warning: “That’s The Ladies‘ job. Just sit down and relax.” So I did.
It was a welcome departure from the hectic world I normally operate in. But seeing The Church Ladies efficiently manage their world with such ease and grace made me think I’ve overcomplicated my situation. Cooking for 50 people is far more stressful than managing a tight production timeline. They provide comfort to people who just dealt with a difficult situation. I provide Google Analytics reports for an unpopular corporate newsletter.
While I’m years removed from beauty parlors and seasonally themed sweatshirts, I will carry the spirit of The Ladies with me. The next time life starts to get too chaotic, I’ll remind myself to simplify by focusing on the big picture. After all, it’s not the work you do that matters, but how it affects the people you’re working for and with. And if you’ve gotten to a place in life where you can boss around the pastor, you’ve won.