Universal York

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Sunday School Picnics Still Thrive in York County

Reno and Craley children at St. Luke picnic, c.1920.
When I was a child, just about every country church had a picnic grove in which they held the annual Sunday School Picnic. Many churches carry on the tradition. In fact, the church picnic often provides needed funds to help keep many small congregations solvent.
Every first Thursday in August, my church, St. Luke Lutheran Church at New Bridgeville (Chanceford Township), still dishes chicken-corn and ham-bean soups out of the big kettles to accompany various hot sandwiches and home-baked pies and cakes. Besides feeding hundreds of people in the air-conditioned social hall, we do a very brisk business in soup carry-out, selling soup by the quart. (That’s usually my job.)
After they eat, people can pull their lawn chairs out of their cars, sit down and listen to live music. Community bands still provide the tunes at some picnics, but St. Luke has lately opted for smaller bands. This year Just Plain Country will be followed by the Harold Tipton Band. Ice cream, soda, and sandwiches are sold at outdoor stands in case hunger strikes again. Many attendees, who come from all over the county, stroll around the well-kept cemetery. Since St. Luke was organized in 1772, there is a good chance that they can find some relatives there.

St. Luke’s picnic has evolved over the years. My mother and mother-in-law both grew up at St. Luke, and they remembered the early twentieth century picnics when the families took their own picnic lunches and ate with their friends and extended families in the picnic grove. Only ice cream, soda, and candy was available for purchase, items that were special treats. My mother-in-law, who is nearly 96, is pictured above with her siblings and cousins at St. Luke picnic around 1920. She still remembers rationing the rare 25 cents, which she was given that morning, to buy the nickel items and maybe have some left over for Bethel picnic the next week, just down the road.
At any rate, this combination of fellowship, music and good food at extremely reasonable prices continues as one of our cherished traditions. Come on down to St. Luke picnic on Thursday, August 6. Food is served from noon well into the evening. The bands will play from 1:30 to 4:30 in the afternoon and from 6 to 9 in the evening.