Chitterlings, Chicken Dinners and Sweet Potato Pies

This blog is to celebrate and thank all those outstanding women and men in the church who made tremendous sacrifices and labored in the church kitchen, so that we might have a place of worship. We are thankful for and to a generation of faithful women and men that loved God and their church. 

by Pastor Ulysses S. King, Jr., 2018

The black church has come a long way from the days of selling fried chicken and chitterling dinners, lemon meringue and sweet potato pies in order to raise money for the church. It was a time when people had very little and few financial resources to share and to contribute to succor the church. One of the few ways many members were able to help or give their support was to use their culinary skills in the church’s kitchen and/or at home. These faithful women (and some men) literally kept the church doors open by cooking and preparing those delicious fried chicken and chitterling dinners, and baking pies to sell after church, on weekends, and sometimes even where they worked.

This past September our church, Memorial Tabernacle Church, celebrated 93 years of faithful witness in the city of Oakland, California. It was founded by my grandfather, the late Bishop Judge King, and his wife Sarah King, in West Oakland on Seventh Street, along with the saints, in 1925. They forged ahead against many odds of every kind and type. They went through adversities and trials—and tests of every kind—to build a church and establish a congregation in the community.[1]My grandmother, Sarah, was shot in the arm while preaching on a street corner. Her testimony was, “I carry a bullet in my arm to my grave, all for the gospel of Jesus Christ.” It wasn’t easy for them then to keep the doors of the church open—and neither is it easy today.

The church had (and still has), in my opinion, some of the best cooks in the world.


Church dinner in the fellowship hall at MTC (1973)

Sometimes it was hard and difficult to sit still and enjoy the service because of those delicious and savory smells emanating from church’s kitchen into the sanctuary. Dahleen Glanton wrote in her article, “Faith, Food, and Fellowship” (Chicago Tribune, April 27, 1998) said, “Sometimes the aroma of the fried chicken, corn bread and peach cobbler cooking in the kitchen downstairs is so enticing that some churchgoers find it difficult to concentrate on the minister’s message. The mere anticipation of what follows makes youngsters—and adults—wiggle in their pews.” That is still true in many churches today.

I can still recall some of those great cooks like, Mother Lula Mae Irving, Mother Lillian Thomas, Mother Susie Alston, Elzora Morton, my mom, and so many others laboring with their hands (night and day) using their God given skills to prepare those homemade meals for saints and sinners alike.  Unfortunately for us, nearly all of those early saints have now gone home to be with God, taking their recipes with them. These faithful women did not spare themselves to serve and care for the house of God. Their absence can definitely be felt. Their passing has left a huge hole in the ministry of service and care for the house of worship that will be difficult to fill (see also Titus 2:1-5).

The church is desperately in need of the “wisdom and experience of the elders” and church mothers to teach and guide new believers and the younger saints. Our communities are also missing a vital and valuable resource for economic, religious, and social change in America, and indeed, the entire world. Jenna McDavid wrote,

Many of today’s Black elders risked their lives and courageously led the movement to fight racial inequality and bestow upon us the many freedoms we enjoy today. The 1950s and 1960s were turbulent moments in U.S. history—a time when racial segregation and discrimination were at the epicenter of our contemporary civil rights movement (McDavid 2017)[i].

Labor Intensive

No one wants to cook and labor in the church like those men and women once did. Today we have sophisticated capital stewardship and marketing campaigns to raise money for the church. Many of these firms promise to raise millions of dollars for churches, organizations and nonprofits. However, to even launch a successful stewardship campaign like the one’s offered to churches today, the church must first have enough capital, property, and assets in order to be able to hire, retain, and contract a firm’s services. Most churches just can’t afford these kinds of professional services, which often mean the church has to continue using old, tried and familiar methods of raising money like selling raffle tickets, having musicals and small church concerts, anniversaries, church dinners and bake sales, and other special events.

Once during a recent church meeting I asked a group of potential cooks and chefs—or least that’s who I thought they were—about working in the church’s kitchen to prepare dinners to sell for an upcoming fundraiser. They all said in concert, “That’s not my thing, Pastor.”

A newly married couple sat at the table looking at one another when the wife spoke up and said, “I don’t cook at home, and I know I’m not going to cook at the church.” She then looked at her husband with eyes that said, “I dare you to say anything.

Another young lady who is planning to become a missionary to foreign missions looked at me with regret in her voice said, “Uh, that’s not my calling either, Pastor.” (A quiet note to self: I’m not sure if she realizes that if she is sent to a foreign country she may be called upon to prepare meals for an entire family or village.) Others responded that they’d rather just give the money than do all that hard work in the church’s kitchen.

A Better Day, A Better Way

I will admit that I was living in another time and thinking in the past. Please don’t misunderstand me; I am truly grateful and thankful for the church’s new innovators, and creative young thinkers. They are indeed the future of the church. What they offer and bring to “the table” and ministry today would have taken many of us weeks, days, and months to plan and implement. Today, however, all it takes in many instances is a click of the button on a laptop or desktop computer, a cellphone, email addresses, a website, and a very large portion of the work is done before you can say, “Dinner’s served”!

Thankfully, many within the black church and community today have been blessed with better jobs, education, homes, and personal wealth that far exceed anything our parent’s accumulated or even dreamt of making or had in their lifetime. It is a blessing that they made it possible so that we wouldn’t have to work as hard and do things the same way they once did them. I’m certain that if members back then could have made the types of money African Americans are making today, the church would have been much further ahead than it is today, and in much better shape, financially.

Growing up in West Oakland during the late 60s, and 70s, I watch my parents work and labor hard for our family and for the church. My father, the late Bishop Ulysses S. King, Sr., cut lawns, worked as a Pullman porter on Southern Pacific trains, delivered prescription medicine to patients for a well-known doctor in the East Bay, and then turned around and preached, and labored hard, each week at his home church. He also traveled across country to preach in revivals and speak at special events as an invited guests speaker. Unlike today, he didn’t receive the kinds of honorariums ministers receive today. Sometimes the church was so financially poor, he would leave the honorarium behind at the church. When he came home, embarrassed, my mom just shook her head because she knew what he’d done. There were still five mouths to feed, and somehow, God did provide.

Giving is Transformative

Judy Belk, a senior vice president for Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, stated,

“Nearly two-thirds of black households make charitable donations that’s worth a total of about $11 billion a year,” (W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Report, February 23, 2012, Reuters, Wealth).

Did some of that money reach the black church? According to this report it did. “The report cites black churches as a historically important repository of giving.” Belk further said, “African-Americans give now ‘because we have been the beneficiaries of giving and generosity.’” Giving is transformative.

However, regardless to the increased earning power of many black parishioners over the years, the church, unfortunately, still cannot provide the kinds of money and support to meet all of the needs that it is called upon to serve in today’s complex world and diverse communities. It is also unfortunate that many of those who may attend church (members and non-member attendees included), don’t tithe or give to the church as they could and should. In the meantime, that leaves a very small few to fill the vacuum and do the work others could help and assist the church in doing, like, “feed the hungry, cloth the naked,” etc.” I am thankful, nonetheless, for those who truly love the church and its ministries, and will do all and whatever they can to help extend and advance the kingdom of God.

True Fellowship

Fellowship meant something entirely different from our theological use of the word today. Fellowship meant sharing one’s resources, things like, food, clothing, and even money with those who were in need in the body of Christ. Fellowship wasn’t just talked, it was lived out in the day-to-day lives of the saints—loving one another and growing together. Cooking was a time for them to come together and share their stories with one another and to strengthen each other. Whenever a fellow-believer was going through a test or trial—sickness, death, financial and family problems—their brothers and sisters were there to support, pray, and provide whatever means they had with one another. They truly had “all things common” (Acts 2:44-47)

It really grieves, angers, and breaks my heart when I hear of, read, and listen to some of our successful black community leaders, intellectuals, pastors, mock and laugh at the early church, its members, and leaders as being unlearned, backward, and ignorant. Who gave them that right and authority? What qualifies them to be critics of the early black church, and to make hurtful comments about those men and women who literally gave their lives to serve and care for the people of God—and their communities?

These early saints did whatever they could and had to do to survive. It is in my opinion that many of these so-called educated and intelligent black church leaders (and their ilk) are the one’s that are ignorant and unlearned. Revelation 3:17 says, “Because you say, I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” It was because of the faithfulness of these committed and dedicated men and women that many today enjoy the blessings and benefits of modern day worship.

I said all this to say, the church—in particular, the black church—have come a long way. History has made it clear that the church has fought and survived through many hardships, trials and tribulations, and the church will continue to fight on regardless to those who disbelieve and fight against it. The “gates of hell shall not prevail” against God’s church (Matthew 16:18). My father would often comment that, “The church is not just for a select few. The church is built upon Christ, the solid rock, for future generations yet unborn and still to come.”

[1]In 1965, the church was forced by the U. S. Postal Service to relocate to its new home in North Oakland on the corner of 58thStreet and Telegraph Ave. (See our website:

[i]McDavid, J. (2017). African American Elders are Black History and Black Future. Diverse Elders Coalition. J. McDavid. New York, NY, Diverse Elders Coalition. 2018.

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