RAUCHTOWN - For John, a resident from just up the road, coming to St. James Lutheran Church's monthly free breakfasts isn't about the fact they are free at all - it's about the friendliness of the people serving breakfast.
"I can afford to go anywhere for a meal. I come here because the people are friendly, kind and caring and you don't find that much anymore," said John, who asked that his last name be omitted.
That is exactly what members of the church are looking for, to send a message of outreach to the community, becoming a hub in the small village as a place not only to worship, but others are able to come and connect with others in the community.
Once a month, usually from 8 to 10 a.m. on the second Saturday, a free community breakfast is held at St. James Lutheran Church in Rauchtown. Shown here, Denny Rogers cooks up the sausage.
The free breakfasts, which are offered to anyone, usually are held 8 to 10 a.m. the second Saturday of each month.
"It had been done in the past, in the past history of the church. We were looking for activities where we could reach out to the community," Vicar Gary Shumway said.
So, church attendees collectively decided to begin the free breakfasts again and, since 2011, they believe they have been very successful and rising in popularity.
"We wanted to start getting back to the idea - we have been here since 1824 - of this being the community church and we wanted to see if there were ways we could bring outreach here," Shumway said.
On average, 70 to 80 people are served each month. On a recent Saturday, volunteers already had served 45 people by 8:30 a.m.
"People are hungry and it's a cold day," Brenda Knarr, council president and this day, a waitress, said.
At times, Shumway said they have served more than 100 people.
"As far as cooking, it is for whomever wants to cook," Knarr said, refering to members of the congregation who volunteer their time that day.
Some may start as early as 5 a.m. to prepare bacon and sausage.
Breakfasts are made-to-order, with a small menu that includes eggs (made three different ways), pancakes (including blueberry ones), bacon, sausage, fruit cup and choices of drinks.
Table service by helpers is offered and orders are made fresh by the kitchen staff.
"This is the only church in Rauchtown, and that is how we look at things, as the community church of Rauchtown," Shumway said.
Other outreaches, including a free movie night, are just ways the congregation shows its strong sense of connection it has with the community.
Richard and Regina Showers live in Jersey Shore and worship at another church, but find themselves coming to St. James to share in the fellowship at the breakfasts.
Richard said he has been to other church breakfasts, but by far this one is the best.
"Not a lot around like this one. The service is good, the people seem much closer," he said.
"This bacon is something else," Regina added.
They both agree they enjoy telling others about the breakfasts, encouraging them to come, too.
Shumway said St. James Lutheran Church also shares worship time during Lent with the United Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church of the Nippenose Valley.
"We are also involved with the Luthern Churches in Jersey Shore area," he said.
"These breakfasts are not just designed to reach out to our members, they are designed to reach out to everyone. I would say probably two thirds, if not more, who come to these breakfasts are not members (of the church)," Shumway said.
As seen that Saturday, an Amish man and his driver showed up to partake, leaving with a smile and a hearty thanks to those who served him.
Not a mile away from the church sits P Stone Inc., a local quarry, and on this day hot breakfasts were packed and delivered to employees.
"It's just about coming together," Shumway said. "We want to provide a place for the community where people can come to these with your family. We want to make it a spot they can come and they have fellowship."
While the bacon simmers and the pancakes are poured, church members helping to serve or cook go out and talk with everyone who comes in. Small talk about the weather, memories of days gone by and even just what is happening in life - the kind of talk you would hear in a small coffee shop where regulars come every day to have their eggs and sip coffee.
Knarr hopes people see that they are a family, too.
"We are family driven and we are a very close knit group of people and we like to share and open our arms to others," she said.
"We want people to see the church is more than just Sunday morning worship, that it is not the only thing churches are for," Shumway said.
He said when it's time for people to decide to leave the church after breakfast he hopes they have an understanding that the church has a larger role in the community, "And I think that is something every church in every denomination can look for. That is part of why we have these activities."
A sense of fellowship - that is what Shumway hopes people find at the breakfasts.
"I would hope they leave with a sense of fellowship and the fellowship they have with their family and friends," he said. "I would hope they leave with a sense of what it means to share the love of Christ with one another."