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St. Albans church aims to reclaim Mardi Gras

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For most of us, the thought of Mardi Gras calls to mind images of massive crowds of people collecting beads and drunkenly celebrating on Bourbon Street.

It's become a tradition for people to flock to the New Orleans' French Quarter on Fat Tuesday for a night of parades, costumes, drinking and various types of debauchery.

But the folks at a St. Albans church want to take back the holiday, which is part of the Christian liturgical calendar.

Today, St. Mark's Episcopal Church will host the fifth annual Mardi Gras Celebration in the congregation's parish hall.

"Basically a lot of people have a bad idea [of Mardi Gras] because of what happens on Bourbon Street, but it's an official Christian holiday," said Rebecca Rickaby, a member of the Episcopal Churchwomen, which is organizing the event. "We're trying to revive the holiday for our church and different area churches."

Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday," is the last day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the church's commemoration of Lent.

Lent, which begins Wednesday, is the 40-day period of preparation leading up to Easter.

During Lent, Christians traditionally fast or give up something as a way of preparing for Easter. Historically, Fat Tuesday has been the last opportunity for people to clean out cupboards of food that is likely to spoil during the fast.

The idea for the event came from a church member a few years ago. The church had been hosting an annual Christmas bazaar that was successful, but as several more organizations started having similar Christmas events, the church decided to instead host an event in February, when less was going on.

"We wanted to take it back," Rickaby said of Mardi Gras. "We don't get rid of Christmas because of the secular things that took it over. We wanted to have people celebrate life and their spiritual growth. It's a time of fellowship and a lot of good food."

The church's event, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, features a meal to include a choice of chicken gumbo, red beans and rice and pork BBQ. There's also coleslaw, a beverage and dessert.

Vendors will sell wheel thrown pottery, crotchet items, hand-turned wooden bowls and other items. Local photographers will sell photos as well.

Besides the meal, the "Taste of the South" bake sale will offer goodies such as pecan pies, pralines and traditional king cake.

Event-goers are encouraged to wear costumes or Mardi Gras colors if they'd like, Rickaby said. But that's not required, she said.

Rickaby will be wearing a Victorian-style dress with a Mardi Gras mask, she said. Others from the church will don feather boas and Mardi Gras beads. Anything goes (within the limits of modesty), she said.

"It's kind of like a second Halloween because you get to dress however you like," she said.

The church offers face painting for both adults and children at no charge.

Lunch is $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Money raised during the event goes to support the church's various ministries throughout the year. They include a food pantry and Christ's Kitchen, a program that offers lunch five days a week to those in need.

The church also helps support the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and provides free coffee and snacks to churchgoers after worship services, two practices that the fundraiser will help support.

"It's a vital part of who we are as a church to make sure people have a full belly when at all possible," Rickaby said of the lunch program.

St. Mark's Episcopal Church is located at 405 B Street in St. Albans.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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