Is it true that, if you were stranded on a desert island and could only eat parsley, you would die of starvation, since the effort to eat it is more than the nutrition you would receive?
(*It is at this point, to be a good colleague, that I will give equal time to Ryan Bonfiglio who, as an addendum to this article, will provide you with a recipe that includes parsley as a key ingredient.)
Parsley may, as Ryan indicates, have a place in cooking. However, I think churches have at least two parsley problems.
First, as they return to some semblance of “normal ministry” (even with the Delta variant causing major re-disruption), every faith community and its leaders are facing really challenging and difficult choices in what to emphasize, what to re-start, what legacy programs to “retire,” as well as what new initiatives to embrace. All these decisions require careful and faithful discernment. But too often, what is seen in congregational communication and emphasis right now … is parsley.
In a well-intended attempt to offer church members church experiences and activities that they recognize and love, many congregations are filling their schedule with familiar tastes of congregational life. But such offerings runs the immediate risk of irrelevance, given the pain so many have experienced in the last 18 months, and the clarion call to pay better attention to racial equity and anti-racism work. And then we have the larger world today: new dire reports about our climate, heart-wrenching accounts from Afghanistan, such bitter division over… well, everything.
Which leads directly to a more urgent concern. People who come to church and people who don’t share the same hunger right now. I’ve heard it from the woman who cuts my hair, from clerks in grocery stores, from online customer service workers, Uber drivers, and restaurant workers – in fact, from nearly everyone I have encountered over these long months. This pandemic experience has shocked us with a hunger for community, connection, and depth, and a yearning to work together for a better world in face of all our challenges. (Even as we despair that the challenges seem to be both intractable and increasing.). At their best, congregations know what makes for community and connection and depth and justice. Facing this tsunami of newly felt need, we cannot return to serving up the familiar stuff of constituent services. If we heap our congregational plates with program parsley, we will crowd out the feast of God, which is filled with the potent promises of God in Jesus Christ!
Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is living water. God offers a great banquet to which everyone is invited and welcomed and given a seat of honor. Parsley, not exactly a “heavenly food that satisfies,” is not on the menu. Why then are we serving it to our congregations?
*Ryan Bonfiglio responds, in defense of parsley:
In honor of my maternal grandmother, Florence Giangiacomo Palladino, I felt compelled to come to the defense of the actual use of parsley, which features prominently in the recipe for braciole, a southern Italian specialty consisting of a thin slice of meat wrapped around a savory blend of seasonings, seared in red wine, and then cooked for hours in homemade pasta sauce. We hardly had a holiday meal without it. Below is my mom-mom’s recipe, though I’ve never quite been able to capture the flavor and tenderness of what she would prepare. Perhaps that’s the point. When it comes to parsley, braciole is the exception that proves the rule of what Mark is describing, and even then, knowing how to make good use of it requires skill and knowledge that comes from another time and place and can’t fully be replicated by this generation.
- 2 lbs of boneless top round
- 12 cloves of freshly minced garlic
- 2/3 cup of finely chopped parsley
- ½ cup of finely chopped basil
- ½ cup finely chopped onion
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cut and pound the meat into 6 thin (1/4 in) slices. Brush with EVO. Mix the garlic, parsley, basil, parmesan, onion, salt, and pepper and spread a thin layer over the meat. Roll up each slice of meat, tying together with a cotton string. Brown on all sides in red wine, add to sauce, and cook at least 4 hours in the sauce on low. Remove strings and serve.