A religious-themed meal that sparked controversy in 2016 is coming to Verona.
The Middleton-based “Jesus Lunch,” organized by a group of self-described moms, is scheduled to take place at Harriet Park for the next six Wednesdays starting Sept. 25.
The group provides free lunches for high school students alongside readings of Christian scripture.
The City of Verona’s Park, Recreation and Forestry Commission voted unanimously Sept. 18 to approve the use of the Harriet Park pavilion for the lunches.
Commissioner Charlotte Jerney initially expressed concern over whether city property should be used for religious purposes and said if a vote passed, the Jesus Lunch organizers should have to pay a park fee.
Commission chair Mike Bare reassured Jerney that all church groups must pay a fee for using parks. The registration fee is $40 per 50 people for city residents, $60 for nonresidents, according to the City of Verona website.
“There’s a couple of churches every summer that have service (at Harriet Park) on Sunday, and they’ll have games and bouncy houses for the kids,” parks and urban forestry director Dave Walker said. “It’s not unusual for us to rent to church groups.”
The Middleton lunches drew protests in 2016. Jesus Lunch organizers leased the pavilion of Middleton’s Fireman’s Park, which is next to Middleton High School, and held meals during the students’ lunch hour. Harriet Park is similarly close to Verona’s high school.
At that point, the Middleton-Cross Plains School District had an agreement with the City of Middleton to lease Fireman’s Park during school hours. Though it was non-exclusive, some saw that as a conflict.
The school district ended the agreement in May to avoid further controversy, according to a 2016 Wisconsin State Journal story.
The Jesus Lunch organizers originally announced in a Facebook message they would start the lunches here Sept. 11, but they had to wait for the commission to meet.