Agreeable, Vol. IV

Welcome to Agreeable, a bimonthly advice column in which I will tell you, dear Reader, as to whether your planned course of action is “agreeable” or “hmph”. Direct your questions (max 200 words, please!) to the admin address (see ‘About’, above) with the subject line “Agreeable”.   

My wife and I recently had a baby girl. She is going to be blessed in sacrament meeting and we plan to host a luncheon at our house afterwards. We expect seven couples made up of family and close friends along with their many children for a total of about 45 people. We originally planned to prepare a main dish and have our guests bring side dishes but after looking at the cost and prep time decided it would be easier to hire a local food truck to serve tacos. 

My wife is a convert to the church and has traditionally relied on me to guide her in the finer points of Mormon culture. We moved to Utah a few years ago and the normative social influence of the host culture has undermined my position as the arbiter of Good Mormonism. The question has been raised whether it is appropriate to engage in commerce in support of the after-party following an ordinance on a Sunday. I told my wife the taco truck wasn’t a serious breach of Mormon protocol and we should attend to our guests instead of worrying about food prep. What do you think?

11 Agreeable. But a tough call. On the one hand we have been commanded to keep the Sabbath holy and modern prophets have interpreted this to mean that we should avoid commerce on Sundays. On the other hand, when Jesus’ disciples plucked ears of corn Jesus reminded those who criticized them that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Add to that Mormon social norms and your desire to be a good host and it becomes quite a pickle.

Those unfamiliar with Mormon culture might find your question silly. But for members of your community, Sabbath day observance is both important as a matter of worship and a signaling device of in-group behavior. If you flout those norms you can expect that some people will take note and may question your commitment to church standards. More important than the idle chatter of neighbors, however, is your obligation to be a good host to your guests. You have indicated that you want to take care of the people you are inviting into your home. As part of that you should consider whether your guests will be comfortable eating food professionally prepared and served on a Sunday. If you think this is a concern, you should do the extra work and prepare food yourself ahead of time.

Comments

  1. Or pick up the catered good the day before? Cold barbecued chicken and salads keep pretty well overnight, and are great in the summer.

  2. Food*

    Sorry, caught it too late.

  3. Oof, this is going to be a hard sell in Utah, I’m pretty sure. I’d be uncomfortable with it, primarily because I’d feel guilty that my hosts felt overwhelmed by the hosting duties to the point that they felt they had to provide a catered meal, simple though tacos may be. But if I did attend a catered Sunday affair I would try to relax and allow other people to have their own interpretations of what Sabbath observance means to them, and I certainly wouldn’t bicker about it to the neighbors.

    If you decide to ditch the food truck idea I do think that there’s no way you and your wife should be doing all the food prep. The pot luck is a grand tradition, and is a great way to get everybody helping. We have done sandwich bars with some side dishes in the past with great success–everybody makes their own food and has plenty of time to sit around and chat.

  4. Scott B. says:

    I don’t know how everyone in Utah will react, but way over here in SoCal, I am judging the absolute crap out of you right now.

  5. Ah, yes, our Sunday catered middle-eastern feast in similar circumstances is still legendary with how good it was. But this was in California after all.

  6. Angela C says:

    Harumph. I’m with Layne. As to the quote: “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” I think it’s a dandy quote, but I don’t see how you can compare throwing a party for 45 people with the disciples being hungry from walking around the desert preaching. Pot luck is a Sunday tradition to avoid these types of dilemmas (although I just wouldn’t invite 45 people over). However, I wouldn’t judge you for doing it, just maybe feel uncomfortable about having come, thereby contributing to the need for catering. Another alternative is just buying a bunch of sandwich trays at Costco the day before.

    You could serve manna, I guess, but if I recall that story correctly, it would be all worm-infested if you hoarded enough for 45 people. I guess you could have the guests bring their own manna, and that would work. Hence the potluck tradition.

  7. ginaathompson says:

    I think it’s poor manners to invite people to your home and then do things that you know will make at least some of them uncomfortable. They want to celebrate and share a religious experience with you. Why stick it in their face and do something that the large majority of Mormons would feel was breaking the Sabbath? Do pot luck or buy some prepared food the day before and make it a day filled with connectedness and warm memories for everyone.

  8. Hedgehog says:

    We regularly have gatherings this sort of size for blessings and baptisms. Usually catered for by a mix of preparing cold food beforehand, and family members bringing contributions. Not so much potluck style, more assignments in response to the question ‘what would you like me to bring?’ Assignments can be for dessert or salads or savoury etc. Outside catering would definitely make a lot of people feel uncomfortable in my family. Other ways we’ve done this (depending on the time of year) is everyone bring their own picnic and everyone bring their own savoury course, whilst the host provides drinks and dessert.

  9. Peter LLC says:

    Just have the baby blessing on fast Sunday. A shrug of your shoulders with a “my hands are tied” look and the luncheon dilemma is solved.

  10. The Sabbath being made for man does not equate to full license to throw it out the window.

  11. Isn’t this whole question kind of straining at gnats while swallowing camels? I think for the more phariseealiscious among us the question is moot.

    That being said, we did all 3 of our baby blessings on Saturdays. Not so much out of a sense of not wanting to do a big shebang on the sabbath but because we had guests in from all over the country for their sealings and didn’t want to go through that whole rigamarole twice.

  12. melissa says:

    I reeeeeeaaaaallly don’t like to be all judgy and look like I’m trying to be superior, but even this gay-loving liberal feminist WoW-stretching apostate Californian would never hire caterers to work on Sunday. I have recently become aware that eating out on Sundays is apparently a widely accepted practice amongst my fellow Saints, but I don’t think I could ever be comfortable with it. Sure, the Sabbath is made for man (and woman), but those aren’t robots doing the catering. I’d crockpot or mass BBQ, ask for potluck sides and my conscience would not so much as hiccup.

  13. Only if the truck serves mild barley drinks along with its Sabbath tacos.

  14. I’d have absolutely no prob. eating the tacos. I’d just be happy someone was giving me a taco and supporting local business in hard times. And who knows what grandma put in that potato salad before she brought it to your house.

  15. rameumptom says:

    Have the gathering on Monday night and you don’t have to even ask about breaking the Sabbath. Silly humans that think having 45 people over and catering the event would disrupt the concept of the Sabbath! (/sarcasm). Why not rent out the local civic center and invite 4500? If you are going to bend the rule, you may as well bend it as tightly as you can.

  16. No way. Sabbath observance isn’t just a community norm, it’s one of the Big Ten.

  17. Rebecca says:

    Although I doubt I would even notice if a ward member was doing this (I pretty much stay indoors on Sundays), I would not choose to do this myself. Most of the elements going into tacos can be prepared the day before. And slow cookers are a cooks best friend for making the warm stuff easy.

  18. According to my friends who have waited tables in Utah, cultural norms are that it is ok to eat out on the sabbath as long as you don’t tip. If you pay for your food but not the labor, you aren’t really making anyone work on Sunday. They are just doing service.

    But honestly, I go with Hmphh on this one. Throw some pork shoulder in a crockpot and buy some buns and barbecue sauce. It isn’t hard.

  19. PNWReader says:

    Apparently, my brand of Texas Mormon Pharisaism tries to split the difference. I’d show up, feel really uncomfortable and refuse any catered food, but then feel guilt for having rejected someone’s hospitality and given the appearance of judging. Big hmph here. And BTW, my grandma’s (RIP) potato salad was legendary for its deliciousness.

  20. I thought that this is why God created Costco. Help Costco fill the measure of its creation.

  21. I worked in a dorm cafeteria at BYU as a freshman. The busiest days were fast Sundays, and a huge percentage of the individuals who ate at the all-you-can-eat cafeteria were most definitely not living in the dorms. Usually those who suffer because they have to work on Sundays are those in or near poverty who work on the front lines in the food/retail/hotel industries. I’m sure there are some individuals, especially small business owners, who are happy for the extra work on Sundays, but I think I can safely say that most employees would rather have the day off.

    My in-laws always buy Papa Murphy’s Pizza on Saturday for Sunday events. Seems to work well.

  22. I’d be fine with it, but I know many, many members who would feel really uncomfortable once they realized the situation. (I have family members who have no problem boarding a flight on Sunday, but pack sandwiches so they don’t have to purchase food in the airport…)

    We blessed our twins when we lived in Utah. Family and friends came out of the woodwork for that–cousins, 2nd cousins, old friends from the home ward back east, etc. We easily had 75 people present. We reserved a pavilion at a park near the church. We bought some Costco lasagnas, had different people heat those up, used disposable plates/utensils and had ice cream for dessert. Low stress, we all had a great time and very easy clean up.

  23. After reading more comments and seeing how respectfully people treat God and the Sabbath, I’m sorry I made light of the question. When you’re around LDS people a lot, you don’t treat their views with as much respect as people of other faiths. I’d never serve pork to a devout Muslim, and if I wanted my Jewish friend to share the day, I’d want her to feel good, not like she had to compromise her beliefs.

    I’d feel a-okay with the food truck because I grew up in a non-LDS fam that did (traumatic) things in the name of religion and cultural identity, which make giving out catered tacos seem incredibly wonderful. So I don’t cling to how things should be, not because I’m so non-judgmental, but because that’s my way of dealing (well, that and making fun of your grandma’s potato salad). But, really, don’t do something just cause there’s something worse, especially if you’re getting all these great ideas, which would make a great day and memories. (Besides, last time I went out to eat on Sunday, I got food poisoning. Kidding.)

  24. I personally feel uncomfortable doing anything unnecessary on Sunday that causes another to be required to work. For me, that would definitely include having a catered event. ( In my mind borderline things would be things like buying things from a vending machine or going to a national park which involve some kind of workers but in a much more indirect fashion).

  25. fbistii says:

    Somewhere in all the scriptural commentary on keeping the Sabbath is something like, “neither your manservant, your maidservant, or the ox in the field, nor the ass…” should be compelled to labor on that day. I understand and agree with the many examples of those compelled, by choice: pro–golf, football, hospital personnel, etc. But, hiring a food truck on Sunday means you are doing the compelling. Sure, they are going to be working anyway, but the point is your honoring the Sabbath (and what that attitude does for your righteousness).

    IMHO

  26. Why create an elephant in the room on such an important day? If I suspected that even ONE person wasn’t eating because they were uncomfortable with the catered food, I wouldn’t enjoy myself. If hosting an entire meal is too much work, maybe dial it down to light refreshments, a big sandwich bar, or have the caterers drop the food off the day before and reheat it, or order things that can be served cold. Probably not ideal, but that day really isn’t about the food.

  27. Steve G. says:

    This is why every Mormon needs a 7th day Adventist friend.

  28. While living in a rather affluent ward in Provo years ago (my family living in a small duplex on the edge of the ward boundaries), I’ll never forget my fellow deacon explaining that they ate out on Sundays at the local steakhouse (Mulboon’s if I remember correctly), but it was okay because—wait for it—they put the bill on their tab. No money spent, no violation of the Sabbath. Letter of the law for the win.

    In a similar vein, I remember some folks in the BYU dorms having concerns about using a vending machine on the Sabbath but no problems showing up at the cafeteria on Sunday for a prepaid meal. Of course, these folks were in the minority because the vending machines always got drained on Sundays, particularly fast Sundays.

    Mormons are odd sometimes. To be fair, my LDS family growing up had no problems eating out on Sundays, so to each their own, I guess.

    In response to the actual question, I recommend erring on the side of caution. Find a way to host the meal without making anyone work on Sunday. In a group of 45 Mormons, there’s bound to be some portion of them that would be uncomfortable with making someone work on the Sabbath.

  29. Just do what Orthodox Jews do, hire a “Sabbath goy” to do the stuff that you can’t do.

    It’s not like gentiles would be expected to follow the Sabbath rules.

    [Tongue partly in cheek, since the two circumstances aren’t quite the same, but “Sabbath goy” is a real thing in many Jewish communities. In Israel, amusingly enough, they are sometimes Muslims.]

  30. There are all these comments about how BYU students shouldn’t be eating in the Cafeteria on Sundays, Where else is a student living in the dorm on a pre-paid meal program supposed to eat? Or should they all just fast every Sunday?

  31. Jeez. Who gives a flip?

  32. ugh, my least favorite mormon cultural tradition – feeding the 5000 after an important spiritual event in your family. it’s not like I should, you know, focus on the ordinance and less on feeding every distant relative I’ve ever had that shows up for free food. You know, the cousins you haven’t seen in decades who don’t even know your name. And maybe that it’s just that I only have one child, so each blessing/baptism/etc is the only one I will ever experience, I’d like to savor it and be able to capture the memories and hold dear ones close.

    Not host 50 people and spend the whole week beforehand cleaning and cooking and arranging potlucks and hosting. Ugh. I hate hosting.

  33. When I worked in a BYU dorm cafeteria I certainly didn’t resent the fact that others in the dorm were eating at the cafeteria on Sundays. It’s not like the dorms have kitchens. But if you live off campus or on campus in an apartment with a kitchen, cook your own meals on the Sabbath.

  34. ” More important than the idle chatter of neighbors, however, is your obligation to be a good host to your guests.”

    I find it it very dishonest of the author to make sabbath day observance about the ‘chatter of neighbors.’ Mormons do not honor the sabbath because of the chatter of neighbors. They do it because it is a commandment. It carried over into the great commandment of loving God. You honor the Sabbath because you set aside time to come closer to God and to do His work. And you do not cause others to break that commandment or to miss out on the same opportunities. Now everyone will view this differently and bend things–I do. But the overall action is DISAGREEABLE, since it is still a commandment we follow and are blessed for. Jesus picking a piece of corn or healing is not a comparison. Show me where He hired someone to wait on Him on the Sabbath and I’ll shut up. The Sabbath is made for the man, and we are admonished to use it properly.

    You don’t have to have a luncheon. You don’t have to order a taco truck. Somehow my family has done it for generations. It is a choice. And there is a right choice and a wrong choice. If you are going to make a wrong choice, own up to it. Don’t blame Jesus.

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