The parking lot at Liberty Street and Central Avenue, part of the rich tradition of Batavia's Southside community, experienced a "revival," of sorts, early Thursday night when a couple hundred people enjoyed free food and entertainment courtesy of the congregation at City Church.
"We're spreading the love to this side of town," said Pauly Lamendola, of Le Roy, a regular attendee of City Church, the Main Street evangelical house of worship that recently purchased the former St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church from the Diocese of Buffalo.
According to the Rev. Marty Macdonald, pastor of City Church, "The Picnic in the Parking Lot" was organized as a kick-off to future events and services at both the church and community center.
"It's all about lifting people up and bringing some hope," Macdonald said. "We're focused on building relationships and friendships and sharing God's love."
Macdonald said the church has big plans for the property, which is need of much work.
"We haven't pinpointed anything (specific) yet, but we've already put on a brand-new roof and new electric service, and we're working on the heating, we're painting and cleaning it up," he said.
He added that the pews, stained glass and pipework of St. Anthony's Church will remain intact as he and his staff prepare to launch a weekly service either on Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon.
Several of about 30 volunteers from City Church, some wearing orange T-shirts and others wearing blue T-shirts, served hot dogs, hamburgs, french fries, ice cream and brownies, while Paul Berardini of Big Pauly's Pizza cooked his sheet pizzas on ovens in the former St. Anthony's School basement.
"Pastor Marty called me and asked me to help out and I said, 'Sure,' " Berardini said. "After all, I went to elementary school here, and it's close to home as I grew up on Wood Street. This place is a big part of the Southside; the church was a staple for us."
Those in attendance tonight were entertained by the Divine dance troupe and the City Church praise band led by Macdonald's son, Garrett.
Some came for the food, some to relive their time spent at the St. Anthony's Lawn Fete, and others -- such as Dawn Orlando, of Wood Street -- because they just happened to be walking by and were invited to partake.
For all the reasons, 13-year-old Paige Vinyard, of Perry, who attends City Church with her family, may have said it best:
"We thought it would be a good idea to support our church," she said. "I think it's wonderful that they're doing this -- showing how much they love the community and showing people the love of God."
Picnic sponsors included R.J. Nicometo Electric, Attica Carquest Auto & Ace Hardware, Country Cottage, Craig's Mowing & Landscaping, Crazy Cheap Cars, Divine Dance Studio, Wortzman Furniture, Jeremy & Tina Northup, Max Pies Furniture, Oakfield Fitness, Big Pauly's Pizza, Rick Caton, Terance Cranston Construction, Vinyl Sticks, Weekly Rooms LLC, Southside Deli and Batavia Cross-training.
Top photo: A couple hundred folks came out on a hot and humid Thursday night to attend The Picnic in the Parking Lot at St. Anthony's Church, which is now part of the ministry of City Church.
The church's Divine dance troupe and praise band entertain the picnic-goers.
Paul Berardini and Jessica Rae of Big Pauly's Pizza supported the cause by donating sheet pizzas, made with Pauly's own recipe in the St. Anthony's basement ovens.