Spirited Brunch 101

Everything you need to know

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As a proud member of the anti-winter coalition, I’m always overjoyed when spring returns—especially because in Charleston, the season means tea rooms, soft shell crabs, and Spirited Brunch.

Spirited Brunch is The Food Section’s signature event. Like many of the congregations which annually participate, its existence predates its current home: My friend Elijah Siegler, a College of Charleston religious studies professor, and I launched the culinary tour in 2017, back when I worked at The Post and Courier. It felt like it was too important to leave behind when I left the paper.

The great news is the event continues to grow. Last year, we organized our first Spirited Brunch outside of Charleston, an endeavor we hope to eventually repeat wherever The Food Section opens a bureau. And this year, the original Spirited Brunch has gained a new partner: For the first time, the Preservation Society of Charleston has made Spirited Brunch part of its Preservation Month programming.

We very much hope you’ll join us for the Spirited Brunch on Sunday, April 28, 12:30-3:30 p.m.

But what is Spirited Brunch, anyhow? Here’s the rundown for recent subscribers, and other folks who aren’t familiar with the format.

Q: No, really: What is the Spirited Brunch?

A: The settled-upon shorthand is “a self-guided snack tour of downtown Charleston’s prayerful spaces.” Essentially, it’s an open house-type event, with every congregation on the Charleston peninsula invited to welcome visitors during the three-hour time frame. Notably, the event presents a rare chance for non-members to peek inside historically and architecturally significant sanctuaries. But what makes Spirited Brunch special is each house of worship is asked to serve a snack representative of its local community or faith tradition.

Q: What’s a religious snack? Like, communion wafers?

A: Glad you asked! These snacks vary tremendously. Sometimes, the food figures into religious practices: For example, the Central Mosque of Charleston for many years shared dates, a fruit associated with breaking the fast during Ramadan. Other times, the food reflects a much newer tradition, such as the cream cheese-and-green olive sandwiches handed out by Bethel United Methodist Church, where a women’s group in the 1920s developed a taste for the combination.

Another popular snack selection strategy involves honoring the congregation’s ethnic background, which is why shortbread was always on the table at First Scots Presbyterian.

Q: OK, I get it. What’s the point?

A: Can I go on a quick tangent here? Your question reminds me of a passage in the Passover Haggadah in which a child asks, “What does this mean?” Passover is one of the many springtime holidays that we consider when scheduling the Spirited Brunch, along with the afore-mentioned Ramadan, Easter, and Greek Orthodox Easter, as well as secular celebrations, such as Mother’s Day and graduation.

It’s often difficult to find the perfect date, which is one of the reasons our lineup changes from year to year. For instance, The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church isn’t on the 2024 tour because the Brunch conflicted with their Palm Sunday plans. I’ll miss the baklava, but I kind of like that the roster fluctuates: It means there’s no “one-and-done” when it comes to Spirited Brunching.

Q: But that’s not what I asked about.

A: Fair. The purpose of the Spirited Brunch is the same as this newsletter’s purpose: To enhance understanding and prompt conversations that might not occur otherwise. Religion is a touchy topic in our fantastically heterogenous country, and I fully understand why people aren’t always comfortable wandering into a sacred space or quizzing each other about beliefs. But every edition of Spirited Brunch proves that it’s not so very hard to ask, “Why isn’t there any meat in this biryani?” or “Who made the okra rollups?” and learn something revealing in return.

By the way, if you’re worried about proselytizing, you can set aside those concerns. Thousands of people have followed the Spirited Brunch route to congregations whose faith and politics they don’t share, and nobody has ever reported any kind of conversion attempt. While there’s great diversity within and among the houses of worship, all of them can be counted on for the kind of hospitality that made Charleston famous.

Q: I guess Charleston is a good place for this event.

A: Absolutely, and not just because the standards for food and hospitality are high. Since Charleston is such an old city—it celebrated its 350th anniversary during the first year of the pandemic—its streets are both walkable and lined with houses of worship that loom large in the history of American religion. This year’s participants include the oldest AME church in the South, the longest-running Reform Jewish congregation in the country, and the only Huguenot church in the Western Hemisphere.

Of course, the flip side to that history is most of downtown’s desirable real estate was taken when newer immigrants came to town. Few congregations these days can afford to buy or rent on the peninsula, which is why we invite houses of worship without downtown locations to table in a College of Charleston hall on Spirited Brunch day. Otherwise, the event wouldn’t reflect several of the world’s most populous religions, including Hinduism, Sikhism, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Q: Fine, I’m in. How do I sign up?

A: No need! The tour is free, and no registration is required. You can visit as many or as few venues as you choose, in whatever order you like. There are always attendees who show up because there is one church they’ve long wanted to see, and attendees who try to visit every house of worship on the list. It’s totally up to you.

Q: Do I need a map?

A: Most of the houses of worship are clustered together, so it’s tough to get lost while Spirited Brunching. But if you want to consult a map for route-planning, we offer an online version here. Printed maps will be available at Spirited Brunch headquarters, 86 Wentworth St., during the event; alternately, you can pick up one today at the Preservation Society of Charleston, 147 King St.

Q: What else do I need to know?

If you’re a subscriber to The Food Section, we’d love to see you at the subscribers’ toast before the main event. You can learn more about the reception and RSVP for it here. And regardless of your subscription status, I’m always available to answer your questions: raskin@thefoodsection.com

See you soon!

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