They’ll gather in the parish hall of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Mineola, Iowa, on Tuesday night with a knife in one hand and a cutting board in the other.

In the next few hours, 1,100 pounds of pork loin will be chopped, ground and seasoned, ready to be turned into sausage links at Frank Stoysich Meats in Omaha.

It’s just one step of the weeklong effort it takes for the St. John’s congregation to feed 500 or more people at its German Heritage Dinner on Feb. 16.

“We are the only church in southwest Iowa that puts on a German dinner with authentic German mettwurst,” committee chair Gloria Ross said.

Green beans, fried potatoes and homemade rye bread, pies, cake and tortes will be added to the German sausage to feed the army of people who have been coming to the dinner since 1983. It was staged that year to celebrate St. John’s first 100 years of existence.

Like any church event, it takes lots of volunteers, who help the congregation raise around $9,000 each winter. The funds help keep the church in good repair.

It all starts with the sausage.

Matt Biermann is the chairman of the meat, which is supplied by Russ’s Market in Glenwood. Once Stoysich turns it into uniform 1½-pound links, it’s brought home to be smoked and then cooked on Saturday.

The congregation used to do its own links with crank stuffers, but they were never uniform and the casings were hard to tie.

“Everything is the same size,” Ross said. “It works perfect.”

After it’s returned from Stoysich, the meat is smoked and then cooked on Saturday. Ross is happy to share some details, but not the mix of spices that makes the mettwurst one of a kind.

Only the Schoening family of Mineola knows the ingredients. It’s a holdover from those days when families each winter made their own unique sausage.

“We always know they’ll be there,” Ross said.

Everyone from age 8 to 80 makes something, too.

Biermann grinds the rye seed and members of the congregation — both men and women — take it home and turn it into bread.

The cabbage is bought at Russ’s and cooked overnight with feather bones for the kraut.

On the day of the feast, more than 60 people arrive to cook meat and potatoes, cut up the pies and bread and serve as waiters and waitresses.

That’s the best part, Ross said.

“When can you have an event when you can get young people and every age working together?” she asked. “So we think the best part is the fellowship.”

And the food isn’t too bad, either. Ross said that’s the only way to explain why people keep coming back year after year.

“We get over 500 people, so you know it has to be good,” she said.

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Marjie is a writer for The World-Herald’s special sections and specialty publications, including Inspired Living Omaha, Wedding Essentials and Momaha Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @mduceyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1034.

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