crab-service-2015-st-marks-episcopal-church-capitol-hill-dcOne of St. Mark’s unique and unusual traditions is a group colloquially known as the “Crabs”.

Introduced in 1976 by Bart Barnes (also founder of the Ad Hoc Committee to Have More Fun) as a simple crab feast (outside, in August, in what is now the courtyard garden…then covered in wood chips).

Bart decided to spice things up by naming Alan Delevett as “Crab of the Year.” Alan was chosen

“For bringing to the church’s attention its obligation to pay taxes on income it received from renting parking spaces in the parking lot and f
or writing and delivering, as parish treasurer, an 11-page legal brief explaining that purchases at a St. Mark’s fundraising auction were NOT tax deductible” (in fact, they were). 

Over the next few years, Bart unilaterally named several more COTYs, the group eventually adopting the name College of Crustaceans.

In 1989 the College rebelled and officially gave Bart the COTY title, or, as he described it: “the ungrateful wretches turned upon me and made me crab simply for ‘ensconcing’  -as they characterized it–myself on the College of Crustaceans without ever having been crab.”

36 parishioners have held the title Crab of the Year, identified for being crabby yet with the best of intentions: holding our feet to the fire. 1990 and 2014 were without a COTY– construction caused the feast to be obliterated from the parish social schedule due to the lack of space.   Additionally, nine parishioners are Honorary Crabs because of truly positive contributions to parish life.

This does not mean only 36 have been nominated: the number is too high to count and their reasons lost in antiquity.  In fact, the College failed to keep a list of why each COTY earned that title (now, because one of the Crabs is a member of the Archives and Parish History Committee, memories are being prodded to gather that information. Stay tuned for a complete—almost—list).

While the feast is open to all, membership is highly selective and campaigning is a no-no (no nomination, no election).  Nominations and the COTY is a closely-guarded secret, all done in a closed-door annual dinner: nominations are read at the Feast, the COTY is announced, crowned, enrobed, given a scepter (crab net), leads the Crab Procession at the next Crab Service, and is expected to give the Annual State of the Crab Address at the next Feast.

The traditional menu consists of hardshell crabs (surprise), Maryland corn on the cob (availability drives the date), and watermelon. Chicken was added to the menu a few years ago pandering to the complaints of the few who hated picking crabs but wanted to join in the fun. The price is announced the day of (because the price of crabs varies) and is a cash-only operation.