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Church fair is a success — if you can find it

Neighborhood gathers for annual tradition

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It would have been difficult to find out about the 23rd annual Country Fair Oct. 18-19 at Christ Lutheran Church if you didn’t know a member or weren’t familiar with the church, on Island Road, just off Wantagh Avenue.

The church doesn’t advertise online, sends out a limited number of mailers and relies on word of mouth.

Walking up to the church steps, you’d have to ask where to find the party. You’d be directed up a staircase to a narrow, tiled corridor, and finally you’d find a small basketball court that would be dwarfed by a regulation gym. Still, the fair was well attended, given its rather low profile.

The court — more accurately, the largest room in the church, with a well-worn wooden floor — was lined with tables of goods for sale, including jewelry, knitted clothing and quilts, holiday trinkets and electronics.

“We really have no other choice but to have it up here,” said Barbara Rath, one of the church’s four chairpeople. “We just wish we had an elevator.”

Rath wandered through the aisles, talking to fellow parishioners and neighbors as they did the same, surveying the goods. Rath lives across the street from the church, and has been a member since 1971. She helps organize the two-day fair, and her family was also there, helping to sell items and keep track of inventory.

“It takes a certain amount of people to help, especially when it’s busier,” Rath said. On Friday night, “we had a line of people waiting for us to open the door at 5 o’clock. We had one person waiting here since 3:15 p.m.”

Event proceeds are divided among a number of charities, including the Interfaith Nutrition Network, the Lutheran Disaster Relief Fund, United Service Organizations and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Some are used for the church’s upkeep.

The church also runs a thrift shop, open every Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., to pay for maintenance. It was organized 13 years ago as a six-month trial. “People just loved it,” Rath said, “and they kept coming.”

At the fair, hot dogs, chili and refreshments were offered at tables beside the church’s kitchen, overseen by event co-chair Lily Ann Munich, a 74-year member. Munich has seen the changes in the church over that time — most recently, a decline in the number of regular worshippers. “When I made my confirmation, there were about 75 to 80 kids in each class,” Munich said. “Now there are about 5.”

Both Munich and Rath, however, noted that the turnout at the fair has increased steadily over the past 10 years.

As it continued, visitors filed in and out of the small door to the court. Whether or not they made purchases, almost all who entered made conversation. Even as the crowd started to dwindle, the parishioners and other volunteers shared smiles and one another’s company in their special house of worship.

“I wouldn’t change anything for next year’s fair,” Rath said.

Munich retorted, “Well, maybe an elevator!”