The homemade pies are a big reason people come early to the monthly turkey suppers at the Frankfort Congregational Church. Pies are made by members of the congregation. Latecomers often find the pie selection is sparse after the second seating.

No one at the Frankfort Congregational Church remembers exactly when the church started holding its turkey supper fundraisers. Congregants agree that it has been more than 60 years.

“We tried beans and hot dogs one time,” Keith Ritchie, 82, of Searsport said Saturday just before the first supper of 2018 began. “We had more people helping than we had people eating, so we went back to turkey.”

The small church located in the heart of the village, where Route 1A takes a 90-degree turn, is now famous for its summer suppers that feature turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, peas, gravy, jellied cranberry sauce and bread.

Those who regularly attend the suppers, which run from May through October, have some sage advice for new attendees — arrive early or you won’t get the pick of the homemade pies.

Dawn Ritchie, 78, of Searsport is the chief pie cutter. She started cutting pies made by congregants into even-handed proportions when she was in high school.

It takes 15 to 20 people to prepare and serve the meal, not counting the pies, according to Jacob Gran, pastor of the church. Fourteen church members contribute two pies each for the meals and six cook the turkeys at home and bring them to the church.

Gran, 21, of Frankfort grew up in the church and started scraping plates as a youngster and worked his way up to server. He was called last year as the pastor after the former minister retired.

Sunday services average about 30 worshippers, which is about average for mainline denominational churches in rural Maine. Longtime worshippers include both sets of Gran’s grandparents, who took part in Saturday’s supper.

The meal is served family style in the walk-out basement of the Frankfort church with volunteers of all ages bringing food to the six tables that seat eight diners each. They often scurrying back to the kitchen to refill bowls and platters them with potatoes, peas, stuffing and turkey.

There are three seatings, sometimes four in the busy summer months, with each supper beginning at 4:30 p.m. On Saturday, the dining room in the church basement was full by 4 p.m. As the first group clears out, tables are cleaned and reset and those waiting outside are brought in.

“We’d like to have 180 to 200, with 30 to 40 take-out meals,” Keith Ritchie said. “We don’t hurry anybody but we have been known to run out of turkey.”

The suppers draw diners from a wide geographic range, but most live between Bangor and Belfast. Many are snowbirds who winter in warmer climes but come every month when they are in Maine.

“I started getting calls last month from people asking when the first supper would be,” the pastor said. “This is a wonderful mission of the church. It gets us out in the community and gets the community in here.”

Archie Verow, 76, of Brewer has been attending the turkey suppers for about six years.

“It’s like a happening,” he said. “All kinds of people come here. We have friends from Florida, and this is on their list of things to do when they visit.”

Verow and his family did not arrive in time for the first seating.

“I’m hoping they don’t run out of custard pie before I get seated,” said Verow, who is a state representative.

The Rev. Tim Hall, pastor of Trinitarian Congregational Parish of Castine, arrived in time for the third seating, about 6 p.m. He didn’t seem to mind that the pie selection was meager by the time he was seated. Hall served as minister of the Frankfort church between 2008 and 2011 while he was a student at the now closed Bangor Theological Seminary.

“Small country churches all need some sort of fundraising scheme to keep their doors open,” he said. “It’s also a way for the church to maintain its mission. A lot of people drive by here and say, ‘That’s my church,’ even though they only come to the suppers. They aren’t here Sunday mornings.”

The suppers also are a major fundraiser for the Frankfort church, which raises $7,000 of its $35,000 annual budget from them.

Other small congregations have found suppers and food sales to be successful fundraisers. Some churches, like Frankfort Congregational, have a found niche. Hampden Highlands United Methodist Church is known for its suppers featuring authentic bean hole beans, which also are sold in pints and quarts.

St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bangor has had a booth featuring Greek food at the American Folk Festival since it began. St. George earns between 25 percent and 28 percent of its budget each August during the annual music festival.

The Frankfort Congregational Church hold turkey suppers on the last Saturday of each month. The cost is $10 for adults, $4 for children, free for preschoolers. For information, call 323-0050.

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