Church dinners are a tradition in Berks County, just as they are across the country.
On any given weekend, you will find area churches serving up freshly prepared comfort foods like chicken pot pie, ham and beans, and pot roast.
Some church dinners have a loyal following, bringing in people from far and wide to enjoy a meal. Whether it’s once a year, or every month, the dinners become a true community event.
But the West Lawn United Methodist Church takes church dinners to a whole new level with West Lawn Wednesdays.
I first found out about West Lawn Wednesdays during the Wilson Iron Chef event in April. The church was set up in the expo space, handing out samples of their shepherd’s pie, which was one of the best items I tasted throughout the day.
The ladies running the stand handed us a brochure and two free meal vouchers, and after seeing that the meals only run September through May, I knew I only had a few weeks to experience a West Lawn Wednesday.
And so it was that we found ourselves in the Community Center on the last Wednesday before the summer break.
According to the brochure, West Lawn Wednesdays began in 2001 with a dinner for about 40 congregation members. The event has clearly grown.
Inside, rows of tables were filled with patrons, with many more having already passed through the doors on this night.
The menu changes weekly with two entree options, starter salad, two sides and dessert. After being shown to our seats, a group of regulars sitting with us were more than happy to point us in the direction of the buffet line.
Our first stop was the salad bar, which was better than some restaurants I have a seen, with plenty of add-ins and not a speck of brown lettuce to be seen.
Next we took our trays and headed to the hot bar where the night’s entrees were meatloaf and hot dogs with mashed potatoes, carrots and broccoli on the side.
I politely declined the hot dog, but was happy to have them fill up my plate with the rest of the options. Like any good church dinner, the food tasted like it came right out of a grandmother’s kitchen. The meatloaf, topped in brown gravy, had a nice flavor with just enough onions and spices mixed in. The potatoes were light and fluffy and the vegetables also came out beautifully.
The only disappointment was the announcement that the Rita’s Water Ice had not arrived as planned and there would be no dessert.
We all paused mid-meal as the pastor said a short prayer and invited everyone to the group study classes that would begin after the meal was finished at 7:30.
And though we received invitations from some of our neighboring diners, we never felt pressured to stay for anything beyond the meal.
While our coupons we picked up from the Iron Chef competition provided us with two free meals, we would have gladly paid the $7.50 per person that was being charged (for families of four or more, a $25 flat rate makes it even more reasonable).
Entering last year, the West Lawn Wednesday program had earned more than $60,000, all of which went to benefit the church’s various mission trips (from as close as New Jersey to as far as Tanzania) and to provide food for other outreach programs in Reading and Berks County.
And judging from the full dining area and delicious food, I suspect that number will continue to grow as a year of meals begins.
The first West Lawn Wednesday of 2014-15 is September 3. The meals will continue weekly through late May.