Local churches witness through fellowship meals

COURTNEY HAYDEN/Sun-Gazette From top: Janet Wood, volunteer at All Saints Episcopal Church, serves spaghetti at the January dinner; from left, Merritt Shaffer, Florence Shaffer, Carol Schick, Joel Schick, Charles Kuhns and Dave Shaffer enjoy a meal at Farragut Mt. Zion United Methodist Church; from left, Doris Nicholas, Barb Dugan, Shirley Walter and Sharon Merrill serve food at Farragut church.

Throughout Lycoming County, there are many places to get a bite, but it is rare to find the chance to sit down to a homemade meal surrounded by a caring and engaging community.

Meals of this nature can be found at local churches’ monthly dinners — some open to donations and others are free. What makes church meals special is the bridges they build between ministers and their neighborhoods and communities outside of a service, according to church members.

All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 1656 Scott St., serves a free lunch for seniors and a community dinner where the money raised benefits a fundraiser.

“We try to outreach and we are planning on trying to do it in early summer; we are trying to do a block party and we are going to use that (the money raised from their monthly dinner) as the start-up funds for that block party,” the Rev. Lauri Kerr said.

“Most of the people are fairly regular, we probably get about 5-10 (new people each month,) but a good core are the 15-20 that come every month,” Kerr said.

Beyond the worship service

Each community meal is unique and this work extends beyond a service and into the neighborhood.

“The church is friendly. I don’t belong to this church, but I’ve helped it over the years,” said Larry Campbell, volunteer at the Duboistown Fire Department and president of the borough council of DuBoistown. “I volunteer in quite a few different organizations and I know what it is like to raise money. It’s very hard sometimes because it is very hard to find volunteers.”

People come for “a combination of a lot of things,” said Janet Wood, a volunteer at the All Saints’ Episcopal Church. “A lot of people like to support the smaller churches, or any church.

Others live alone and they want a home-cooked dinner, or they just want to socialize. Maybe they don’t get out too much.

“The fundraiser is to keep the church going because the church is small and our congregation is small,” Wood said.

‘New faces’

St. Paul Calvary, 1427 Memorial Ave., holds free community dinners and averages around 50 guests.

“It seems like every month, there are new faces, or faces that say they haven’t been here in a long time,” Pastor Jennett Wertz said. “This is an opportunity to meet one another in an informal setting. We get a lot of positive feedback from people for this chance to get together. Sometimes we talk about things going on in the neighborhood.

“I think that what we emphasize is the building of relationships between the church and neighborhood. It has been a challenge for the congregation that we need to be connected to our neighborhood, and the neighborhood has an ability to impact other people’s lives all around us,” Wertz said.

At St. John’s Lutheran Church, 6590 Musser Lane, donations are accepted for the community dinners, but the money collected is not for profit. The church meals average around 150 people.

“We see familiar faces every time. One time, we had 12 people that came all in one group, and another time they trickled in two by two or 10 each time. It varies with every meal, of course. The menu and weather have a lot to do with it,” said member and cook Linda Salvatori.

St. John’s donations are often sent to the organization Neighbor Helping Neighbor, or individuals in need after a fire or family emergency.

“They help wherever they find the need for it,” Salvatori said.

‘High point’

“It’s for the community, we have folks that come to get to know one another and it seems to be a special high point for them,” said Pastor David Trostle, of Farragut Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, 61 Route 864, Montoursville, because it “gives us the opportunity to extend a cup of water and fellowship” to the community beyond a service.

The Farragut church hosts a monthly meal where donations are accepted with “sometimes as many as 30 (guests), but we’ve also had as many as 60” with “about five” newcomers each month, Trostle said.

It’s the fellowship

The dinners bring in people from all around the area, whether from a Methodist church in Montoursville, a Presbyterian church, or even just friends and locals from around the area.

“This is the first I’ve ever been here,” said Dave Shaffer at Farragut’s January dinner. It’s just “very good food, very good.

“I think you come here for the people, too, to talk to them,” said Shaffer to his parents, Merritt and Florence Shaffer.

Wayne Croll added, “the food is good, but it’s the socialization. The fellowship, you get to meet new people, meet new friends.”