At the St. Clarence fish fry, food plays second fiddle to creating real human connections. Nestled on a hillside overlooking 795 wooded acres of the Bradley Woods Reservation, the enormous stone church opens its doors to more than 2,000 visitors each Lenten season.
For Rev. Neil Kookoothe, the event provides a meeting ground for people from North Olmsted and the surrounding communities to gather and form new bonds over a meal. When anyone — whether they are a parishioner or not — arrives at the church and orders their meal, they are guided to sit and eat at a table with people they don’t know.
“There’s a moment of uncomfortableness,” says Kookoothe, who has been the church’s priest for almost two decades. “But it goes away. To me, church is more than a Sunday service — church is community.”
With an expected 200-300 attendees each week, Kookoothe says the event offers attendees a chance to meet someone new every Friday over baked cod ($10), perch ($11) or a six-piece fried shrimp dinner ($11). Combination platters are also available and come with two sides, including fried potato pierogies — a St. Clarence staple that Kookoothe dates back to the church’s first fish fries more than 30 years ago.
“The more you meet and get to know people, the more you are ready to celebrate a new phase of life when spring comes around,” he says. Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent except Good Friday 4-7 p.m. 30106 Lorain Road, North Olmsted, 440-734-2414, st-clarence.org