First Baptist Church, Apopka
For 30 years, First Baptist Church in Apopka has invited its neighbors to eat Thanksgiving Dinner at its house. Every year hundreds crowd into the church building to eat together and to hear the Gospel story.
Former pastor Allen Higginbotham began the tradition, and the first community dinner in 1983 had 40-50 guests. Loren Sauers, who has called First Baptist his home church 46 years, has served since May as associate pastor of the central Florida congregation. He said the Thanksgiving lunch grew to have around 750 guests for several years before other community organizations also began to offer the holiday lunch. The church served around 450 in 2012.
“This is always such a blessing for the church. It brings out the real flavor of Thanksgiving in America,” Sauers said.
Along the way, 19 community organizations, including service clubs and Meals on Wheels, joined the effort. The logistics and preparations for feeding a crowd have become “pretty automatic” after so many years, he said. Volunteers spend all day on Wednesday cooking cornbread for 30 pounds of stuffing, peeling and slicing hundreds of potatoes to mash, and roasting 40 turkeys—“everything that can go in the refrigerator overnight,” he said.
“The Macy’s Parade is playing on TV, and every once in a while a group will break out singing with the Parade. There is laughter, and then you can see little groups of people praying together. It is a lot of busyness,” he said.
This year the first seating of 300 began at 11 a.m., and a steady stream of diners filled the room until 2 p.m. Youth Pastor Kevin Kozial prayed and lead a short time of worship. Those present “come from every walk of life imaginable,” Sauers said. “Our primary concern is that they are fed spiritually.”
For some of the First Baptist volunteers, including the Sauers whose daughter and granddaughters were not with them on the holiday, the meal at church was their only Thanksgiving celebration. Other volunteers shared the holiday with extended family later in the day.
“This is what we consider our Thanksgiving meal,” he said.
Friends of Internationals, Florida State University
Friends of internationals, an arm of Baptist Campus Ministries in Tallahassee, annually uses Thanksgiving to introduce international students to the history and the hospitality of the American holiday.
For about 10 years FOI served a meal on Thanksgiving Day, but FOI Director Chris Craighead and BCM Director Lance Beauchamp decided in 2012 to move the meal to the Monday before the holiday. Attendance doubled, and other events were added on the weekend before Thanksgiving.
For the second year, a mission team of 35 Louisiana Tech University students and five sponsors from Temple Baptist Church in Ruston, La., traveled to Tallahassee to help in the effort. Craighead was a college intern at the church while a student. In the midst of a two-week quarter break, the Louisiana students spent five days interacting with FSU internationals—and preparing a Thanksgiving meal.
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