As a dutiful small Methodist church woman, Jan has made who-know-how-many dishes for and organized funeral dinners for beloved friends and total strangers who availed themselves of this touching ministry.
It may be about to end as a church custom, I'm afraid, and the loss will be immense. Not to knock professional catering, but for many of us it has been an abiding gesture of caring in a dark hour.
The history of this tradition may begin far earlier than we think.
What's really interesting is that the Natufian people, who lived in the area 14,500 to 11,500 years ago, seem to have been the first to settle down in fairly permanent villages, and the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle would have caused friction and strained social relationships, the researchers say. Community members were coming into contact more often, and they could no longer go their separate ways to find new sources of food when arguments arose. But feasts may have helped ease that transition, and funerals would have provided a good opportunity to bring the community together to soothe disputes, as Munro notes in a write-up:
Sedentary communities require other means to resolve conflict, smooth tensions, and provide a sense of community. We believe that feasts, especially in funeral contexts, served to integrate communities by providing this sense of community.[More]
Moral of the tale: if you want more sense of community, make a pie and some scalloped potatoes for total strangers in mourning.