Manheim church continues Thanksgiving Day tradition

By on November 18, 2015

The fellowship hall at Manheim’s historic Zion Lutheran Church, 2 S. Hazel St., may be silent now. But on Thanksgiving, it will be filled with the smells of a delicious turkey meal with all the trimmings and the sounds of people chatting and enjoying a meal together as friends and families will do across the country.

Moms and grandmoms, and yes even dads and granddads, may cook a Thanksgiving meal to serve 10 or 30 people, but imagine cooking for nearly 140 people! That’s how many are expected at Zion’s community Thanksgiving Day meal.

It’s a cherished 21-year tradition at the historic church that’s also known to the community as the red rose church. The name is derived from the fact that each year the church pays “rent” of one red rose to an heir of the town’s founder, Henry William Stiegel. In 1772, he and his second wife, Elizabeth Holz Stiegel, conveyed a plot of ground on which to build a church in exchange for a unique continual payment of one red rose.

Jen Johanning has served as the coordinator of the Thanksgiving Day meal for several years, and is one of 50 volunteers that help make the event possible.

“We serve our meal family-style-it gives everyone the chance to be part of a huge family,” she said.

The Rev. James Roth has served as Zion’s pastor for over 25 years added, “Our tag line about this meals is Don’t Eat Thanksgiving Dinner Alone. People linger at our meals not simply because we give them a good meal, which we do, but we give them a place where they can linger and connect with others.”

The menu will include fruit cocktail, turkey with gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, cranberry relish, rolls and dessert. Roth pointed out that the stuffing is made from scratch and mashed potatoes are peeled and mashed by volunteers — they’re not instant. Johanning said that some ingredients for the meal are purchased, while some are donated.

She stressed that it is a group effort, and although there is a god mix of ages in volunteers, from teens on up, about 90 percent are long-time volunteers. Volunteers shop for groceries, bake, cook, set the tables with serve the family-style meal and both set up the room and wash dishes. The meal is served family-style using both regular plates, flatware and cups and disposable items. Planning for the event begins about a month ahead of the big day.

“Since we’ve done this a number of years, we don’t need as much planning time,” Johanning said.

The hands that help prepare the meal and make it a success also have an opportunity to enjoy the fruit of their labor-sharing a meal with neighbors and family members. Roth said that on Thanksgiving Day as he looks out at the community members gathered for the meal he celebrates the willingness of Zion’s members to reach out to the local community, for this meal and other events.

“But this is more than simply serving people in a community which they love. In this service, they demonstrate their faith active in love,” he explained. “I think this says something more about Zion’s members as faithful followers of Christ than simply as people living within this, or any, community.”

Roth said that the Thanksgiving Day meal is part of the church’s overall community outreach mission, and donations to the church are not accepted at the meal.

“An over-reaching theme this year is ‘God’s Work, Our Hands’, and the Thanksgiving meal certainly is a part of that,” he said.

“We are using our hands to do God’s work by serving a Thanksgiving meal to our community. This is just a small piece of His work that we can do each year,” Johanning added.

Other outreach activities include donating food and meals to the Manheim Central Food Pantry, which for a number of years had been housed at the church; a variety of Christmas projects that benefit Manheim and Lancaster County; donating kits to Lutheran World Relief and a number of one-time project to meet human need. For the past 20 years Zion has hosted a free summer lunch on Wednesdays in July and August. Roth said that like the Thanksgiving Day meal, it is an outreach to the community and donations are not accepted from diners.

He said that the church’s mission also includes sponsoring a pre-school and acting as a host site for a number of community organizations.

Although Zion Lutheran Church’s community Thanksgiving Day meal is free of charge, reservations are required. Deadline for reservations was November 18. Although reservations are no longer available for this year’s dinner, it’s something to keep in mind for next year.

Rochelle Shenk is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your comments and questions at

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