Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Lenten fish fries serve up penitence, fellowship


Linda Cross fries fish during the fish fry at Bethel Apostolic Church on W. Bancroft Street in Toledo. The church offers carryout meals as part of its fish fries that are served on the first and third Fridays of each month at its Time Square dinner theater.

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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Maybe you want to honor the Lenten spirit of prayer and fasting by observing the Christian tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent.

Perhaps you like to share social time at a church dinner. Or maybe you appreciate the personal attention that church volunteers give to the meals they prepare.

Before the Second Vatican Council concluded in 1965, Catholics were required to abstain from meat on Fridays through the year, in penance for Christ’s sacrifice on Good Friday. Fasting during Lent was also a requirement for Catholics as a form of penitence.

“Fasting is one of the things that Jesus recommends on the Sermon on the Mount. I think abstinence from meat is seen as connected to that fasting, a partial kind of fasting,” said Geoff Grubb, professor of religious studies and dean of the college of arts and sciences at Lourdes University. “After the [Vatican II] Council, [Pope] Paul VI in 1966 put out a document on penitential practices that tried to drive people inside [their being], that is to say, not look at this sort of stuff as rules but part of ones own penitence,” Mr. Grubb said.

“I think Friday is still supposed to be a day of abstinence in the Church’s general law, but in the United States the bishops established Friday during Lent only ... as a common activity,” he said.

Regardless of your reason for abstaining from meat, get thee to a fish fry. At least two Toledo churches offer different approaches to the custom.

Bethel Apostolic Temple, 1664 W. Bancroft St., has an ongoing “Fish, Chicken & More Fry-days” on the first and third Friday of the month, year-round, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in its Time Square dinner theater. Its next fry is March 15.

Bethel makes deliveries for orders of four or more — orders can be phoned in at 419-473-8933 — and also has seating in Time Square. It dinners are priced from $10 to $14 and offers catfish, whiting, chicken wings, and shrimp, along with side orders that include spaghetti or fries, hush puppies, cole slaw, bread, and cake.

Gesu Roman Catholic Church at 2049 Parkside Blvd. has Friday fish fries during Lent from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the school gym.

Gesu’s patrons dine on an all-you-can-eat menu of fish, fries, cole slaw, rolls with butter, and applesauce or peaches. For children, pizza from Bambino’s Pizza & Subs is offered. Gesu charges $8 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $3 for children in the eighth grade and under. Takeout is available.

Gesu’s fish fry is a major Lenten event. It serves about 400 people on average, said Jenny Naylor, one of the organizers.

“I’m now 38 years old, I’ve been going to Gesu since I was in high school, and they were doing it then,” she said. “It’s a fellowship, and Father Marty [Lukas], who's our pastor, always comes over and makes the rounds and talks and so forth.”

Bethel is new at the fish-fry table.

“We’ve had it probably about four months now” as a public meal, church member Isha Darrington said. Bethel serves about 30 people a week.

“We’re actually helping people through the fish fry. We use the money to take care of our roof and to fund a lot of our outreach programs,” Mrs. Darrington said. “Ours is going on year-round because we are raising funding for our different programs. A fish fry is the easy way because people associate that with churches and good food.”

Bethel’s new pastor, the Rev. Belinda Akpassa, who succeeded her father, the Rev. Eldridge Levey, as pastor last fall, was at her church’s fish fry Friday.

The fish fry “has been very successful in that it has kept us afloat,” Ms. Akpassa said, who noted that church membership diminished somewhat with the transition. “Right now we have a membership, probably it’s about 50 strong members, but we do have a lot of visitors, people come in.”

And one way to bring those people in is to offer food.

“I think [fish fries] are a really great thing because they bring communities together to do this fun thing, to share this meal, and it’s not sadness and gloom,” Mr. Grubb said. “We’re having a simple meal together and enjoying one another's company. That's a pretty good deal; I like that.”

Contact TK Barger at:, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.

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