CHARLESTON, W.Va.--Within an hour, guests enjoy topnotch entertainment, a gourmet lunch and a mid-day getaway.
Welcome to Kanawha Forum, which is now under way at Kanawha United Presbyterian Church, 1009 Virginia St. E. The five-week session kicked off this past Wednesday and continues on consecutive Wednesdays through Oct. 20.
Free concerts are held from 12:05 to 12:30 p.m. Lunch follows at a cost of $10.
Ron Neal, director of music for the church, said he initiated the idea for the Kanawha Forum in 1996 as a way of reaching out to the community.
"The first couple of years we averaged 60 to 90 people and now average 100 to 130 at concerts," Neal said. "At the luncheons we can seat 88 with reservations. Sometimes we go over. We try to limit it with all volunteer kitchen help."
Those who find the event especially appealing include older adults who don't like to drive at night and downtown workers who enjoy an elegant lunch hour getaway.
Church members Roberta Fowlkes and Susannah Johnson co-chair the event.
"We wanted to offer something to our immediate community," Fowlkes said. "People can have a break with music and lunch, and it gets people into the church. We have a lot of businesspeople and senior citizens who come. Older people who don't get out at night can have an outing. There are downtown churches that have found their niche in the community. This is our niche."
Concerts feature well-known area musicians as well as a young artist. Lunch is an exquisite gourmet treat prepared by church members who constantly collect recipes from which to choose.
"It's very organized," Fowlkes said. "People come on Tuesday evenings to chop vegetables for soups and salads. On Wednesday morning, a group comes to cook, serve and clean up."
As guests enjoy the concert, a bustling crew works in the church kitchen where delicious aromas fill the air.
Wednesday's concert featured pianist Deborah Gross. The lunch menu included creamy zucchini soup, shrimp vermicelli salad, croissant, and coffee almond tortoni.
There are guests who make the Kanawha Forum a regular event year after year.
"I put it on my calendar and schedule it like an appointment," said Alan Kuhlman, 60, of Pinch. "It's a great break in the work week."