The cheese soufflé and crab cakes are back, just not as often.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church continues this year with its 2019 Community Lenten Series that offers sermons and lunches throughout the 40-day holiday.
But rather than serving lunch every weekday, as it had for nearly a century, lunches this year will be served only on Wednesdays. The first lunch is Wednesday — Ash Wednesday — the first day of Lent. The church is located at 815 E. Grace St.
Church officials said the lunches haven’t drawn the crowds they did decades ago. Serving food five days a week during Lent proved increasingly challenging for the volunteers, who are from St. Paul’s as well as dozens of other churches in the area.
That, plus the dining scene has improved dramatically around the church’s downtown Richmond location.
“It’s a change we should’ve made a long time ago,” said associate rector Molly Bosscher, explaining that the demographics have changed and fewer people are seeking the sermons and the lunches. She said the church is hoping that the new format — one day of lunches plus a diverse lineup of speakers for the sermon series — will attract both returning customers and new ones.
Where lunch used to be a hit because the dining options were scarce downtown, now “there’s a lot of lovely places to have lunch,” Bosscher said. “It’s time for a change — we’re trying to breathe some new life into it.”
Lunches this year are $9 and will be served from 12:30 to 1:45 p.m. every Wednesday through April 10. Lunch includes the choice of the day’s hot or cold plate, or the church’s famous cheese soufflé. Desserts are available for $2 or $3. Takeout orders are available from noon to 2 p.m., and reservations are encouraged for parties of five or more.
Money from the lunches goes to nonprofit organizations for mental health services, homeless and elderly people, at-risk youth and more.
In addition to lunch, the church continues its 120-year tradition of Lenten sermons. Starting March 13, interfaith sermons will start at noon, before lunch, and the list of speakers represent religious leaders from all backgrounds. The theme is “City of God.”
This year’s speakers are the Rev. Jeanne Pupke from Richmond’s First Unitarian Universalist Church; Islamic Center of Virginia’s Imam Ammar Amonette; the Rev. John Kinney of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Hanover County and theology professor and director of the Center for African-American Pentecostalism and Leadership Development at Virginia Union University; Temple Beth-El’s Rabbi Michael Knopf; and the Rev. Andrew Terry of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and executive director of RE:work Richmond.
The sermons are free to the public.