Laughter echoes from a table in the back half of the Ridge Runner. It’s 9:15 a.m. and the local diner is busy as patrons fill tables and booths. Voices ring out from every direction, but none quite as lively as the back table. Their laughter is infectious. The waitresses laugh and joke with the group while they get everyone settled in with coffee and tea.
It’s still early and one table is already full. By the time everyone arrives, another table will be moved against the first to accommodate everyone.
The weekly breakfast club attracts anywhere from eight to 15 people. Yet, the impact made by this group of multi-denominational Christians is profound considering the group began on a whim.
“It was almost as an afterthought. This was not a huge planned ministry. We were in church one Sunday and got to talking about spending time just talking about faith issues. And I said, ‘Why don’t we meet Friday morning at one of the restaurants in town for breakfast,’” Pastor Dorothy Densmore said.
Densmore, who leads worship services at the United Church of Nelson and Parkhurst Memorial Presbyterian Church in Elkland, said that the original intention was to have an informal Bible study, but as the group grew and the table got longer, it became difficult to hear everyone speaking.
Now, with the group as big as it is, conversations are like a game of telephone. A joke told at one end of the table will be repeated three or four times before everyone has heard it.
The official first Friday morning meeting came on Sept. 30, 2016, when a few members from Parkhurst church got together and had breakfast. Soon, the original members began bringing a friend or two along.
Lela Calvario, an original member and one of the group’s biggest recruiters, has invited numerous individuals to join in.
“We all have a mutual love of God. I think we just got together through that love of God and we wanted to express our blessings,” Calvario said.
“The biggest thing about this group is, yes, we are different denominations but we all do the same thing because we do it for God. So, it’s never really mattered,” Edna LeVan said.
In addition to coming from different churches, the group has also brought together a wide array of individuals, all with different backgrounds and stories.
No one could have predicted how those stories would be woven together through a breakfast club.
Not long after LeVan joined the group, Deb Morgan, an original member, developed cancer. LeVan, a two-time cancer survivor and nurse, offered to help care of Morgan, who died this past March.
“She did more care for Deb and of a better quality than we ever could have done. It’s like God knew exactly what he was doing when he stuck her in the middle of that,” Densmore said.
“I helped her, but she helped me. It was year and a half, it was a hard journey for her and for me but it was something I felt I needed to do. It gave me a reason to get out of the bed in the morning. Everybody needs a purpose,” LeVan said.
The breakfast club is involved in ministry-work in the valley from helping with summer Bible camps to sending cards to helping out at the local Shoe Bank. But, their reach is not limited to Tioga County.
At one meeting, a woman was so impressed by the faith-based conversation that she paid for the meals for the entire group.
“That was right after Puerto Rico was hit by the hurricane last year. So, what we did is we took what we would have spent on breakfast and sent it to missions for Puerto Rico,” Densmore said.
As the group continues to meet and grow, the mission work offers a glimpse at the future of small churches. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, church membership across the country is on the decline. Multi-denominational churches and groups could be a response to decreasing membership.
“One of the things that broke the Protestant church into denominations was different beliefs about communion. We have gotten to the point in the valley that necessity has had us set aside our denominational beliefs so that we can be community together,” Densmore said.
That sense of community is strong as the group laughs heartily over coffee and breakfast Friday morning.
“I just think that it’s good that people see us as a group of people that love God and worship God but still have fun,” Calvario said.