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90 years of turkey dinners

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With lots of food, friendship and fellowship all around, it’s no wonder that Woodbury Peaceful Grove United Methodist Church has been holding its annual turkey dinner for 90 years.

After all, they’re not just talking turkey — they’re building community.

This year’s turkey dinner and bazaar is set for Saturday, Oct. 10. It’s an event that has been a part of the church’s tradition since it first started back in 1925. 

But it wasn’t always a turkey dinner. And it wasn’t always a church tradition.

Even though 90 years is a long time, the congregation was formed in 1853. By the time the chicken dinners — yes, originally, it was a chicken dinner — started, the church was already more than 50 years old. 

According to the church’s sesquicentennial booklet, “150 Years of God’s Amazing Heritage,” published in 2003, the first dinner was held in 1925, with the sole purpose of raising money to pay for the pastor’s salary. It was held on a Thursday evening, and included a menu of chicken, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, cranberries, cabbage salad, pickles and pie. Families were asked to bring two roasted chickens and two apple pies to help provide food for the fundraiser.

The booklet doesn’t specify when the congregation made the jump from chicken to turkey, but it does offer a simple explanation: “The change came about because the ladies thought it would be easier to roast one turkey than two chickens.”

One thing that has remained consistent through the years is the success of the annual dinner. In its first year, according to the congregation’s booklet, about 1,000 people were served. To date, the meal continues to be a hit, with anywhere from 700 to 1,200 meals being served every year.

Serving that much food takes a good amount of time and dedication, and chairman Jill Easton is more than happy to give both. 

About 150 volunteers are typically on site during the dinner, but at least as many help behind the scenes — many of them still making pies and cranberries to bring to the church — and in the weeks leading up to the meal. Easton figures about 1,000 volunteer hours are logged every year. 

“The place is electric. There’s a ton of energy to pull this off,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun. There’s a great sense of community. Neighbors come, preschool kids come. I love the community. That’s my passion. Building community.”

Naturally, anything that goes on for 90 years usually has a few stories come out of it. Woodbury Peaceful Grove United Methodist Church secretary Maria Rella met a couple last year who had one of those great stories. They met at the dinner years and years ago. Now, they come to the dinner every year because it holds sentimental value to them as an elderly couple.

Another lady called the church a few days ago to find out when was the meal. She’s moved out of Woodbury, but hasn’t missed a meal in years, and apparently, does not want to start now.

And the meal itself is pretty tasty, Rella said.

“We have the best turkey dinner in town, and you can quote me on that,” Rella said. 

Proceeds from the annual meals no longer go to pay the pastor. Instead, the funds help the congregation to support missions and ministries outside of the church, and some years’ proceeds have gone to support the ministries within the church. This year’s funds go to the latter, Easton said. 

Many supporters of the meal are members of the congregation, but about one-third of the visitors are not. That’s OK, too, Easton said, because the public is more than welcome to attend the meal, and browse the bake sale and bazaar that is also going on during the dinner.

Church dinners like the one Woodbury Peaceful Grove United Methodist Church hosts are not as common as they once were, church member Sue Sorenson said. She thinks that’s what makes this one so special.

“We’re one of only three churches in the area that still have these annual dinners,” she said. 

Woodbury Peaceful Grove United Methodist Church has campuses in Woodbury and Cottage Grove. The turkey dinner and bazaar will be held from 4-7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, at the Woodbury church location, 7465 Steepleview Road. 

Tickets are $15 for adults, $11 for senior citizens ages 62 and older, and $8 for kids ages 4-11. To make a reservation, call 651-738-0305, extension 5. Seatings are scheduled every half hour, starting at 4 p.m., with the last seating scheduled at 6:30 p.m.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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