Not a soul among the congregation of the Soma Church Community turned up for church on Easter morning, preferring to mark Sunday by doing what they believe Jesus would have done, handing out meals to the homeless.

All morning long in Old Courthouse Square, the congregation of the church affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church of America doled out and Easter brunch of ham, pasta casserole, colored eggs, salad, fruit, pastries and bread to about 200 people who more than filled the tables in the plaza.

?We want to promote the message of Jesus in a tangible way,? said the church?s pastor Paul Ortlinghaus. ?Jesus is alive and wants to change lives, and we can?t do that unless we accept that our community service is about so much more than praying in our buildings.?

He said his congregation distributed literature about the event at the Redwood Gospel Mission but largely had to rely on word of mouth.

Bert Sanderson, a man who says he lives in a location by Santa Rosa Creek that he doesn?t want to disclose, said he was impressed by the church?s generosity.

?I?m used to seeing church?s serving meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but if you think about it, maybe it is more important to get people to think about religion on the day Jesus was resurrected,? Sanderson said. ?The lady they call the Church Lady in Juilliard Park told me about the meal, and it seems like word just got out because I see a lot of people here that I know are homeless.?

Ortlinghaus said this was his church?s second annual event, the first happening last Easter almost as a afterthought when members of the congregation realized they didn?t really have a place to celebrate the day. The church was founded about two years and, until last September, met at Ortlinghaus? house.

Last Easter, they served about 100 meals, he said.

Now, the congregation of about 55 adults is meeting regularly, Sundays at 10 a.m., in a conference room at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Railroad Square.

Alden Olmsted, a church member who lives in Sonoma, said he participated in both events because ?giving and caring for the poor and elderly reflects a concept of service that was true in Jesus? time and should be true in today?s economy.?

?It seems to bring out the best in people,? Olmsted said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bleys W. Rose at 521-5431 or bleys.rose@pressdemocrat.com.