Webb's Chapel July 4th breakfast buffet Saturday

Behind Webb's Chapel United Methodist Church in Denver, where a 40-year-old softball complex used to be, is a lot of red dirt and a nearly completed Family Life Center.

It will be dedicated on Sept. 11. It will have seating for 300, a middle school-size basketball court, a stage, three classrooms, and a commercial-grade kitchen big enough to accommodate the community fish fry dinners and buffet breakfasts for which the church has become famous.

Around Lake Norman, Webb's Chapel already has developed a reputation for its annual fish fry. Last year, members breaded and fried 600 pounds of flounder, along with anything else that could go in the oil, including oysters, turnips - even pickles.

"The men at this church cook more than the women," said Gail Huss, who is on the building committee for the Family Life Center.

In the current fellowship hall, where most of the cooking is done, the formula for perfectly fried flounder is posted on the inside of one of the kitchen cabinets, along with other secrets that have been passed from one man to another in the church's long history of feeding the community.

In 2008, the men began another community meal: a huge Fourth of July breakfast buffet, with eggs, bacon, livermush, country ham, biscuits, gravy, and more - all homemade. People came from all around the lake, and the serving line stretched out the door of the fellowship hall.

The food ran out before 11 a.m. So the men made a few notes on that cabinet door, and when the second annual breakfast came around, they doubled the amount of food.

They fixed 120 dozen eggs and 15 gallons of gravy. While some of the men bumped elbows in the fellowship hall kitchen, others set up propane stoves under the arbor. Guests gathered in both spaces, as well as under tents on the church grounds.

"That's the best fellowship," said Jerry Bone, the Sunday school superintendent at Webb's Chapel, who has been at the Family Life Center project site almost every day since construction began in October 2009.

Pastor John Love agreed that gathering for a meal is the best way to build a sense of community. He cites biblical examples, such as the Passover meal, that illustrate the importance of food.

"It's always about eating together," he said.

The church used the proceeds from its community meals, along with contributions from church members and a grant from the Duke Endowment, to fund construction of the new building.

Equipped with 14 showers, the building could serve as an emergency shelter for a community that's situated on the lake, almost two miles from N.C. 16, the main road in Denver. Sailview, a development with more than 400 homesites, is adjacent to the church property.

While natural disasters are not common to the area, they are a real possibility. Several church members recall the damage done in the area by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and how isolated the community felt during the disaster.

In addition to its serving as an emergency shelter, pastor Love envisions the new building as a home for community outreach: senior adult programs, Mothers of Preschoolers, Upward Sports, adults' volleyball and basketball, Christian concerts, and, of course, meals.

When the new building is completed next month, the men plan to frame that cabinet door from the old kitchen and hang it in their new digs.

The church's popular Fourth of July breakfast will be 7-11 a.m. Saturday. For more information, call 704-483-9434.