Simple Family Meal mural

The Simple Family Meal Challenge

The Simple Family Meal, rises over and frames a rear portal door to the St. Nicholas Sanctuary. At the rear of the church, under the choir loft, this warm and humble gathering faces the cold extravagance of the Capitalist’s table.

From birth until he was of school age, Vanka lived with Dora, a peasant woman who was paid to raise him. She had a family of her own to care for and family meals were simple and austere. The Mural of the poor man’s table probably resembled Vanka’s life with Dora.


Vanka paints the characters surrounding the table, whereas in the Capitalist, the table divides them. I interpret this mural as a plea for unity. It is Peggy Vanka, Maxo’s Jewish daughter who is the only one to see the shimmering revelation of Christ’s presence in their midst. Add to that, the depiction of a Lutheran seated at the head of the table slicing the bread, E. B. W. Pfischner, the owner of Penn Saw Works, Burgess of Millvale for more than 30 years and benefactor of many churches in the area, as potentially controversial inclusions at the time.


David asks: When leaving the Sanctuary, which direction do you choose? Through the Capitalist portal, or through the lovingly depicted Simple Family Meal?

Activity #1: I Spy Vanka in My World

  • Look closely at the Simple Family Meal Noticing Cards.
  • Spend time describing what you see and asking questions.
  • Find the card images in the Mural.
  • Look around where you are; maybe a room or outside a window. Try to find some of the images from the cards where you are.

Activity #2:  Think. Puzzle. Explore.

  • Look at the Mural (or other paintings, the view from window, a current news item, etc.) and wonder using the worksheet; or
  • Invent your own template to think about the Mural in a new way.

Activity #3:  Color/Draw/Snap a Picture

  • Color a picture of a A Simple Family Meal; or
  • Draw a picture of a simple meal you share with your loved ones this week; or
  • Snap a picture of a simple meal you share with your loved ones this week, and share your photo with us on social media –Facebook or Instagram.

Activity #4: Write About a Simple Family Meal

Pick one or more lines below and write a story:

  • Maybe write a list of the items and/or ingredients.
  • Or, write a story of what happened during the meal.
  • What did you talk about?
  • What problem did you solve?
  • What future plan did you make?

Activity #5: Tell this Story…

Pick one or more lines below and write a story:

  • During dinner they talked about…
  • Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board… (From Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston)
  • After dinner they…
  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…(from a Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)
  • In 1941, they were talking about…
  • All children except one, grow up…(from Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie)
  • In 2020, we are talking about…
  • The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended…(2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke)
  • In 2120, we are talking about…

Activity #6: Conversation Starters

  • My favorite foods for a family meal are…
  • I like eating dinner with my family because…
  • What historical figure would I like to have dinner with?
  • In 100 years in the future, a family meal looks like…
  • One hundred years in the past, a family meal looked like…
  • I am grateful for…

Activity #7: Simple Family Meal Word Search

Enjoyed our activities?

Share it with us on facebook or instagram.

Tag It!: #Vanka@Home #VankaSpeaks #SaveMaxoVanka #VankaIn(Tell us where you are) (e.g. #VankaInWilkinsburg)

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