by Kevin James Shay, Staff Writer, The Gazette, Aug. 20, 2014
John Mahler was the kind of person who tried to do something to help others—particularly the less fortunate—and not just talk about it.
At Grace Episcopal Church in Silver Spring, Mahler organized a homeless ministry, regularly distributing food that he and other volunteers prepared to the homeless in Washington, D.C.
“For John, it was more than giving out food,” said the Rev. Andrew Walter, rector at Grace Episcopal. “John would engage the homeless in conversation. He got to know them, asked them what they needed.”
Through the church’s Men’s Group, Mahler led the creation of events that engaged the surrounding community, including an annual pig roast that began in 2010 and spaghetti dinners to raise funds for the youth group.
He died last fall (2013) of a heart attack at age 53, a few months after his wife—immigration attorney and Grace Episcopal member, Elisabeth Campbell—died of cancer.
Church members thought it was important to continue, and attempt to expand, the roast, which takes place from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Saturday at the church.
“The roast is a fun community event to help bring people together,” Walter said. “We are trying to broaden it out past the church.”
Church members, including the younger ones, will cook the pig over an open fire from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning, said Mark Miller, one of the event organizers. Volunteers will have to flip the pig regularly on a fire pit throughout the night.
They will serve free pulled pork sandwiches, cole slaw, potato salad, chips, and watermelon from 11:00 a.m. until at least 2:00 p.m. Saturday. There will also be a sale by the church’s thrift store, a moon bounce for the kids, and educational booths on topics such as energy efficiency. Voluntary donations will be accepted, with proceeds going to the local food ministry.
Mahler did a similar pig roast with another church in Georgia before joining Grace Episcopal. He suggested the Men’s Group organize such an event in 2010. The event has been well received, Miller said.
Mahler, the son of missionaries, also started special programs as a teacher at Kemp Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring. Among those was an outdoor vegetable garden to give students firsthand experience with the agricultural process and to promote better nutrition. He recruited fellow church members to help with the garden.
Mahler and Campbell also were heavily involved in the D.C. anti-poverty organization Bread for the City, where Campbell was a legal clinic director for several years.
“His death was a real blow to our church community, especially since it happened only four months after Elisabeth died,” Walter said. “It was devastating.”
For the Men’s Group, it’s a “bittersweet” roast this year, but an important one, Miller said. “We are continuing this tradition and our service to the church and the community in [Mahler’s] memory,” Miller said.