The Small Church—Lost in Time

Pass the Shoofly Pie

blogpie7I was reading an article about the Pennsylvania Dutch as a tourist attraction. The article began by pointing out that many of the things in the Lancaster County (only an hour from Philadelphia) tourist traps have nothing to do with the Pennsylvania Dutch. Windmills for example. The word Dutch is anglicized from Deutsch—the German/Swiss language. Nothing to do with the Holland Dutch and windmills!


The point was made that Pennsylvania Dutch includes more than Amish. The term includes all the German and Swiss settlers who came to southern and eastern sections of Pennsylvania in the late 1600s and 1700s. Many a Pennsylvania Lutheran claims Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. My grandfather was not Amish, but he spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. My other grandfather was just as Pennsylvania Dutch bur spoke Telegu as a second language.


The article points out that many of the foods served in Pennsylvania Dutch tourist restaurants are not authentic. This drew dozens of comments from readers who had their own ideas about authentic Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine.


I should know the answer! I am Pennsylvania Dutch. But I never heard of a few of the foods mentioned by the commenters, and I could add a few to the list.


This got me thinking—What constitutes authentic Pennsylvania Dutch cooking?


Are we Pennsylvania Dutch locked in time? Must we cook and eat the same foods that filled the 18th century farmers’ bellies? Are we misrepresenting our heritage to substitute oregano for savory? Must we choose shoofly pie over chocolate mousse to prove our loyalty? Could we marry (gasp) someone from one of the many other ethnic groups that also came to Penn’s colony—and are still coming to Penn’s colony?


No, we Pennsylvania Dutch know that a large part of our heritage is in how we think. We question. We do not adopt fads easily. We know what and why we believe as we do. We are loyal to our beliefs.


Need a label? Stubborn Dutchmen. I heard the phrase many times growing up.


People have a tendency to label groups of people. We are disappointed when our perceptions fail.


We do this with our churches, too—especially small churches. They tend to be viewed as smaller, less effective versions of the ideal bigger church. They will be stereotyped.


  • Small churches are supposed to be family churches.
  • Small churches are supposed to have a patriarchal leader or matriarchal leader that clergy should either work with or watch out for.
  • Small churches are supposed to be homogenous.
  • Small churches are supposed to be comforting to the aging with no younger people to consider.

If you belong to a small church, you can make your own list!


Small churches are entities unto themselves. There is a lot going on. Today they have power large churches do not have. They are unencumbered in many ways. They can change without layers of bureaucracy—unless we require a bureaucracy to meet some ineffective standard.


Small churches will be steadily preached to about change. But no one really expects change. Few will believe it if we do change! The fact is many regional church leaders have no plans to serve small churches. They will work around us and blame us when things don’t go well. They will harp about what must be done to meet their approval—their standards.


In my experience, small churches change first. Small churches innovate and adapt. Small churches have multiple leaders (almost everyone!) — not just one patriarch or matriarch. Those matriarchal and patriarchal leaders, if they exist, are likely to be rearing church leaders the same way they reared their children—to be productive, skilled, and self-sufficient. But outside assessors don’t see this in visits every few years.


Within the Church, we will be forever stuck with expectations of the past. We are the dying remnant of the glorious 1960s. Just let us die.


Is there an “authentic” small church?


Can any good come from Nazareth?


Pass the shoofly pie!


Or the mandazi! (African donuts—favorites at Redeemer pot lucks.)