When the families go home after the Montrose Baptist Church's Thanksgiving service this morning to cranberry sauce, turkey and pumpkin pies, another kind of family will be walking the short distance to Carol Gilbreth's apartment.
There are about 30 of them, ranging in age from their mid-20s to mid-60s; some of them have children, and none have spouses.
The Singles Family Thanksgiving Dinner, sponsored by the church's singles group, starts with appetizers at Gilbreth's from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., followed by the turkey at Charleen Kragh's home in Kensington from 2 to 4 p.m. and winds up with dessert at Edie Turner's in Aspen Hill from 5 to 7 p.m.
"Many people were spending the day alone. You hesitate to invite others over because you don't want it to be a sympathy obligation,"said Carolyn ymcIntyre of Rockville, who is divorced and a member of the group.
"People say, 'You have children. You won't be lonely.' But it's just my daughter and I. My parents live in Florida," said Shirley Hockensmith of Rockville. "My daughter was always saying, 'Well, we don't have a family,' but we do. We have a church family."
Traditionally, Thanksgiving dinner is a family-oriented festival, with relatives gathering and returning from all over, with the ties of kinship renewed and strengthened at an occasion dominated by kitchen, cooking and food-laden table. Almost necessarily then, the holiday is a less joyous time for those divorced or separated and for the young people from far-flung hometowns who recently have moved to the Washington area.
The singles group at the Montrose Baptist Church is building its own family tradition with the progressive dinner that is funded by the church and open to non-members.
"I was married for 14 years and I had a tradition but I lost it," said McIntyre, who is having dinner at home but taking her three children with her for dessert. "And then there's the children's disappointment and the hassle of where you are going to go."
The Thanksgiving dinner takes the traveling "family" to three homes for a day of feasting. "It's very rewarding to have everbody together," said Edie Turner, 64, a widow from California who is serving pumpkin and apple pies and cakes. "I like a big crowd. My husband had a big family."
"This is like my second family," said Gilbreath, who is serving the appetizers for the second year. "Many of the people don't have family in the area, and they are coming off difficult situations. It's a hard time to be alone."
"Two years ago I ate Thanksgiving dinner at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda where I work, but it didn't feel like a family. It was cafeteria-style," said Paul Reed, who helped organize the dinner last year and recalls 50 people squeezed into a tiny Gaithersburg apartment for the entree, sitting on the floor and watching the Redskins play Dallas.
"I've always fixed a big thanksgiving dinner and if I didn't do this one I would be alone this year for the first time," said Kragh, who is separated from her husband She's serving turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, yams and cranberry sauce to more than 25 people.
Milton Bryant of Bethesda started the singles group three years ago, and although he has since married and lost his membership, the mailing list has grown to include over 200 persons and the active members number about 50.
Most are divorced or separated, some are widowed or have never been married. They gahter for pot luck dinners, Bible study class, bowling and brunches.Every year a half dozen couples meet through the group and marry, the latest being Rich Huffer of Gaithersburg and Lynn Owens of Rockville, who are engaged.