(Posted Oct. 18, 2021)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
One Sunday in 1991, Bob Thomas, who served as minister of London First United Methodist Church at the time, put $1 in each bulletin and said, “There’s your mustard seed. Make it grow.”
The idea was to inspire parishioners to find ways to raise money to pay off the church’s elevator. Tim Wilson took his dollar and started a church dinner. That was 30 years, 59 dinners, and many building projects ago. Dinner No. 60 is scheduled for Oct. 26.
“It brings the community together. People seem to love it. We have dedicated customers that have been coming to the dinners for years,” said Wilson, who organizes the dinners and chairs the church’s board of trustees. “It is hard work but a lot of fun and rewarding.”
Serving an average of 1,400 meals at each dinner–one in the spring and one in the fall–takes a small army. Anywhere from 50 to 70 volunteers sign up for tasks that range from preparing food to washing dishes. There’s a committee just for making the homemade Texas sheet cakes.
The key word is homemade. Nearly everything on the menu is cut, seasoned, mixed, and baked from scratch, including the baked steak, pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes, green beans, cole slaw, and dessert. The only shortcut the team takes, Wilson said, is buying the cabbage pre-shredded.
The menu has remained largely unchanged since the dinner’s beginnings. Initially, baked steak was the only protein but then the team added the choice of pork tenderloin.
“It’s all essentially been the same. Why change something that works?” Wilson said.
The process by which the meal comes together and is served is basically the same, too, with the addition a drive-through option a few years after the dinners started. The drive-through has turned out to be a “godsend” during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilson said.
The only time the church didn’t hold a dinner was the spring of 2020 when the church was closed due to the pandemic. The dinners were back in action last fall and this spring as drive-through only events. This year’s fall dinner remains drive-through only, as well.
“We’re sure hoping to get back to the dining room in the spring,” Wilson said.
All of the money raised at the dinners goes back into the church building which is 126 years old. Since the elevator project 30 years ago, the funds have gone toward installation of central air conditioning, restoration of the sanctuary, stained glass window repair, and other projects related to the building’s general maintenance.
In addition to serving the parishioners as a place for worship, the church provides space for various groups to meet and/or hold events. Alcoholics Anonymous, 4-H clubs, Scout groups, and the Madison County Arts Council are among those who use the space.
“It’s like a community building. It’s not just used for church. It’s not just for us. If we keep the building up, we can host community groups,” Wilson said.
Hours for this year’s fall dinner are 4-7 p.m. Oct. 26. The cost is $12 for adults and $8 for children. The church is located at 52 N. Main St., London. The London Police Department will direct traffic for the drive-through only event. For more information, call (740) 852-0462.