Joliet church’s Victorian Tea an experience from another era
By Denise Baran-Unland For The Herald-News April 13, 2012 1:50PM
The Victorian Tea at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Joliet recreates the Victorian era at its annual tea with beautiful table settings. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
If you go
What: Victorian Tea
When: 1:30-4 p.m. April 29
Where: Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1015 Winthrop St. (corner of Larkin and Clara avenues), Joliet
Reserve: By April 23
Updated: July 23, 2012 6:35AM
JOLIET — Westminster Presbyterian’s Victorian Tea, an annual and highly anticipated fundraiser since 1999, is becoming as traditional as the era it commemorates.
Don’t wait to make your reservation. Seating is limited to 100 women.
“We just offer people a nice afternoon, and they really enjoy it,” said coordinator Jean Reece of Joliet. “We encourage people to wear hats and we have three categories of prizes for the neatest hats. The first year we had 55 ladies in attendance and we now have a waiting list.”
Proceeds from the tea support mission-related activities of the church’s women’s group.
“We have only missed one tea since 1999 and that was last year, when we had our fire,” Reece said. “We had well over a million dollars in loss, but we never lost a Sunday service. We had them in the basement until we were back in the sanctuary.”
On the day of the tea, women enter the church and check in at the sign-up table. One of nearly a dozen male volunteers, who have donned white shirts and black bow ties and pants just for the occasion, then escorts them to their seat.
Tables are covered in fine linen; refreshments are served on fine crystal and hand-painted bone china. Little mirrors on the middle of the tables gently reflect tea light flames.
The items work together to transport guests to a more formal and cultured time.
“We started by borrowing from other members,” Reece said, “but some of us are into antiques, so we were always looking for pieces and now we have pretty much everything we need.”
Marlene Jones, a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church who cooks for many of the church’s events, always plans a special menu: two main dishes followed by three dessert selections. Servings may include tea sandwiches, fruit, scones or nut bread. One year, Jones prepared strawberry yogurt parfaits with butter cookies.
In between courses and upbeat conversation, guests enjoy a special program. Past presenters have included Mary Todd Lincoln, portrayed by Valerie Gugala of Bartlett, and the Sweet Adelines.
This year, Susan Kohl-Jankowski of Roselle will take the women on a history lesson using samples from her 500-piece hat collection as props. Kohl-Jankowski’s hats extend as far back as 1900. With them, she weaves stories of wars, hairstyles, Hollywood and suffragists.
Following the program, guests may tour the remodeled church facilities. Over the past year, Reece said, the church has grown numerically, especially in young people. On Easter Sunday, eight youths were confirmed. The two youth groups now average an attendance of 30.
Reece gives that credit to youth director Rayna Brophy.
“She’s a creative person and just knows how to gel with the kids,” Reece said.
One item Reece wants everyone at the tea to see is a stained glass piece with a beveled cross in its center.
“We never had that before and it’s very beautiful,” Reece said. “For me, it’s an overpowering physical item that renews my faith.