Hector M Sanchez

Get the coffee urn going and break out “the good paper plates.”

Typical church potluck recipes won't do for the annual homecoming because homecoming is no ordinary church potluck. It's a special annual service held by many Southern churches to give members who have moved away an opportunity to come together with their old church family, to worship together and share a traditional dinner on the grounds (or at least dinner in the fellowship hall because it's way too much trouble to haul all those platters and 5-gallon jugs and folding tables into the church yard).

Given that annual homecomings are so special to Southerners, we had a sneaking suspicion that church fellowship halls across the South have a consistent and predictable homecoming menu and that they likely share a few other church homecoming ideas and traditions. We just polled our Southern Facebook Brain Trust, and sure enough . . .

Here’s what you can expect to see when the faithful return to their home churches to worship and break bread with Mama'n'em:

In the Kitchen

A big pile of foil where all the ladies hastily uncovered their dishes before delivering them to the fellowship hall

Crock-Pot covers

Monogrammed casserole carriers

Somebody’s potholders

A couple of coolers

An army of church hostesses squeezing around each other to get to the sink, the double ovens, the ice maker . . .

Tupperware lids

In the Fellowship Hall

Seasonal silk flowers (unless somebody wants to give the hostesses a bigger budget for fresh ones)

More folding tables and chairs than you realized the church owned

A gargantuan coffee urn that only two women in the whole church know how to operate

White Chinet (“the good paper plates"), paper napkins and plastic cups that color-coordinate with the flowers, and foil serving pans for easy clean-up (because the ladies have better things to do than wash dishes all afternoon)

Church members who know exactly where Mama's dishes are on the serving tables (and where Aunt Rosa Lee’s famous apple cobbler is because she meets everybody at the door of the fellowship hall and points it out)

In the Serving Dishes

Sausage balls

Those skinny little dinner rolls that you don’t have to warm up

Sweet tea in plastic gallon jugs

Baked ham

Baked beans

Baked macaroni and cheese

Every conceivable interpretation of the chicken casserole

Potato casserole (and sweet potato casserole)

MANY casseroles using the “cream-of” soup family and French’s French Fried Onions for a topping

Lots of dishes with a Ritz-cracker-and-butter topping

Banana pudding

Heavenly hash

Candied yams

Garden dishes: green beans, creamed corn, black-eyed peas, butter beans

Creative use of marshmallows

“Church eggs,” aka deviled eggs

“Church peas,” aka English peas

Corn pudding

Pear salad

Four kinds of potato salad and at least two kinds of slaw

Mountains of fried chicken (most of it from Publix, though none of the ladies will admit that)

Multiple congealed salads made with Jell-O (beware the one with pretzels)

Homemade chicken ’n dumplings.

End-to-end dessert tables that stretch the length of a football field

Beyond the Food

Babies sleeping under the pew in front of you during the afternoon  “singin’” that follows dinner

“Special music” featuring gospel singers with their own sound equipment—maybe even a drum kit

Lots and lots of Gaither tunes

Good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise, a “real good turnout”

WATCH: Things Southern Moms Say To Their Boys

You better believe Mama will give Junior a refresher course on his table manners before she turns him loose at the next church fellowship. The preacher's wife is ALWAYS watching.