We are in the midst of Lent—the time of preparation for the Christian church before Easter. It is not just an observance for Roman Catholics, though that is a common misconception. Lent is a part of the liturgical calendar used by Catholic and Protestant churches across the globe.

        Every year during Lenten season, Saint Mary Catholic School in Newton puts on three or four Friday fish fries, helped out by the Knights of Columbus—a catholic men’s organization focused on service in the community. This year, because of my love of cooked fish, I determined to go; so yesterday my wife and I jumped in the car and headed west on Eighth street, across High street and both sets of railroad tracks to the Saint Mary Church and school. As we parked and walked up to the beautiful red-brick building we could smell the frying fish. My father-in-law, who was with us, put it best: “There’s nothing quite like the smell of hot, boiling oil.” State Fair goers everywhere are nodding in agreement. Families and older couples were filing in as we did, and after paying, it was on to the food—I should say feast: sizzling fresh baked and fried fish fillets, coleslaw, homemade french-fries, macaroni and cheese, garlic butter bread; our choice of pie, cupcakes, cheesecakes or whipped-topped cakes as well as coffee, lemonade tea and water. When I shuffled through the food line the girl serving the fish asked, “Baked or fried?” I said sheepishly, “Both . . .” She smiled and piled them on. The proceeds of the meal went to the 8th grade class’s upcoming field trip. Where are they going? I don’t know, but for the delicious meal they served, they deserve Hawaii.

         Tables were set up in the middle school gym, and there was a family atmosphere in the building. There were children running around the edges of the gym, screaming and middle-schoolers milling around in groups wearing that uncomfortable half-smile particular to early adolescents. When we sat down, we noticed a little boy with his father and two of his brothers just about the begin eating. With his plate covered with food in front of him, the boy put his hands together, said a little prayer, popped his eyes open and began eating excitedly. After a couple bites of fish he decided he didn’t care for it. “What!?” his brother said, his mouth stuffed with food, and generously added, “I’ll take his!” If he didn’t say it, I was going to; it was that good. But the value of the event went beyond the delicious food.

            On February first of this year former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams and world famous atheist Richard Dawkins debated at the University of Cambridge over the question of whether religion has a place in the twenty-first century. In the Course of the debate Dr. Williams made the following enlightening statement:

      ''Religion has always been a matter of community building, a matter of building relations of compassion, fellow-   feeling and, dare I say it, inclusion . . . The notion that religious commitment can be purely a private matter is one that runs against the grain of religious history.''

        Last night’s fish fry was a small, but not insignificant example of this truth. Christianity is world changing but it is also community building. Christians do feed starving refugees in Rwanda and Sudan, but they also feed Central Kansans and build “relations of compassion, fellow-feeling and . . . inclusion.” The Church and the community need each other. It was encouraging to see that demonstrated in a small way at Saint Mary’s.

R. Eric Tippin          
In The Study on 8th Street