A simple idea that started as an outreach project for victims of the great Johnstown flood in 1889 has continued to become a community tradition for 120 years.

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, located in the historic section of downtown Johnstown, Pa., hosts a unique community dining experience each week during Lent.

Each Wednesday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the members of St. Mark’s can be found cooking in their parish hall and serving a Lenten luncheon to the community.

“This is a full course meal!” said one of the many satisfied guests.

People come from all around the area to enjoy the annual tradition.

“These luncheons are a great way to connect with the community and build fellowship within the parish,” said St. Mark's Annis Rogers. Her husband, John, a St. Mark’s vestry member, was busy washing dishes in the kitchen.

The Rogers, along with a strong group of committed parish volunteers, feed between 150 and 200 from the community each week.

“I love the camaraderie and bonding,” said Hazel Gunnlaugson, who brought a neighbor from another church who loves to help too. “It’s all about food and fellowship!”

St. Mark’s is known for its good cooking.

“Just good old fashioned comfort food,” said Julie Follansbee, president of the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Women, the sponsor of the luncheons. Everything served is cooked from scratch. No cans. No frozen. All is fresh. Absolutely no shortcuts!

“The luncheons are unique,” said Lois Bender, a longtime St. Mark’s member, as she was cutting cake. “We are the only area church serving meals on Wednesdays. We call this a Lenten Luncheon but really the food has nothing to do with the Lent style of cooking. We serve a complete meal of a drink, salad, entree, and dessert.” Her husband, Don, was busy serving the drinks.

This luncheon tradition at St. Mark’s began before living memory.

“My grandmother told me that the St. Mark's luncheons started after the 1889 flood. They were started to help people, many whose homes were swept away by the water and they had nothing,” said Blanche Brant, now a great grandmother, a life-long member of St. Mark’s, and herself a survivor of two Johnstown floods.

The menus, different each week, have become a trademark of St. Mark’s community outreach. Area residents often call the church months in advance to ask if the Lenten luncheon tradition will continue.

“There was a time a few years back when we debated whether we had the volunteer support to continue the luncheons," said Amy Whitlow, St. Mark’s pastoral care coordinator, “but today we are grateful to the senior women of the church who insisted they continue.”

Creating this event for the St. Mark’s community is not just for the women of the church. Cooking and serving 200 meals each week has become a real family affair.

“We couldn’t do it without the men of the church,” said Lorraine Zitnay, whose husband, George, can usually be found cooking in the kitchen. Even St. Mark’s former Rector, the Rev. Charles Martin, and his wife, Mary, often roll up their sleeves to help.

The women and men of the church arrive early on Tuesday and work all day to prepare the food that will be cooked fresh on Wednesday.

Recipes for the weekly menus can be found in St. Mark’s “Taste and See That the Lord is Good” cookbook.

Both the luncheon and cookbook are available for a modest donation.

The Lenten Luncheons at St. Mark’s in Johnstown, a Lenten tradition since 1890!

– "Tattled" by the Preacher’s wife, Gwen Santiago.


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