In a Memphis tradition dating back to 1928, locals from all walks of life gather each weekday during Lent at Calvary Episcopal Church to nourish their bodies with warm, home-cooked meals and their souls with the word of God and the fellowship of neighbors.
The 2012 Lenten Preaching Series and Waffle Shop runs through the end of March at the mother parish of the Episcopal Church in Memphis, 102 N. Second St., in the heart of Downtown.
“The two go together but they’re also separate,” said Robyn Mauldin, communications coordinator at Calvary Episcopal Church. “You can come and eat lunch at the Waffle Shop if you don’t have time to hear the speaker. Or you can just come and hear the speaker, or do both.”
The preaching series takes place Monday through Friday from 12:05 p.m. to 12:40 p.m., and the Waffle Shop is open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
“We have different races, religions, genders, and we really try to have a diverse group of really fabulous preachers,” Mauldin said. “Some are nationally known and some are local. They’re all so great.”
The preaching series, which features 20 Christian, Jewish and Muslim thought leaders, kicked off late last week with the Rev. John Pitzer of New Orleans, formerly of St. Peter Catholic Church Memphis.
The Tuesday, Feb. 28, speaker will be Millington-based Phyllis Tickle, author and founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly, who describes herself as “an evangelical Episcopalian.”
Tickle will be followed Wednesday and Thursday by Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, an Episcopal bishop from North Carolina, known for preaching the gospel with a blend of humor, storytelling and sound theology.
“We have different races, religions, genders, and we really try to have a diverse group of really fabulous preachers. Some are nationally known and some are local.”
Calvary Episcopal Church
Other out-of-town speakers this season include Dr. A. J. Levine, an Orthodox Jew and professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville; Dr. Marcus Borg, Canon theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon; and the Rev. Daniel P. Matthews, rector emeritus at Trinity Wall Street in New York.
Local Memphis speakers include the Rev. Dr. Frank Thomas of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church; the Rev. Sonia Walker of First Congregational Church; Fr. Nicholas L. Vieron, pastor emeritus at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church; Professor Yasir Qadhi, Islamic theologian, scholar and instructor at Rhodes College; and Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel, who 12 years ago became the first Jewish leader to speak in the long-running series.
These weeks leading up to Easter and Passover are a time of reflection for people of many faiths, and therefore a perfect time to make spiritual connections with neighbors, whether they evolve through praying together or dining together.
For more than 80 years, Memphians of different faiths have gathered during Lent to break bread together in Calvary’s dining hall whose east-facing wall is painted with words from Luke 1:53: “He has filled the hungry with good things.”
According to “The Great Book: Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church 1832-1972” by Ellen Davies-Rodgers, the Waffle Shop began after church member Mamie Walworth Tate attended Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper at Christ Episcopal Church during a visit to Springfield, Ohio.
Impressed with the project’s success and the money it generated for the church’s missionary work, Tate carried the idea back home to Memphis.
The Lenten menu today still features many of the same meals prepared using the original recipes: chicken hash, fish pudding, spaghetti and rye bread, tomato aspic, Boston cream pie and, of course, waffles made from scratch.
Meal prices range from $2.50 for a bowl of chicken noodle soup to $9 for fish pudding with potatoes, slaw and corn sticks.
“All of the favorites have returned. It’s delish,” Mauldin said. “And there’s no tipping and there’s no tax.”
In addition to a sit-down lunch with table service by volunteer servers, the Waffle Shop, which has served as many as 500 patrons in a single day, offers lunches to go.
“You can place an order in our great hall on the second floor right before the speaker starts, and by the time the speaker is done, your lunch is waiting in a bag with your name on it,” Mauldin said.
All food is prepared and served by dedicated lay volunteers from various houses of worship across the city, some whom arrive as early as 4:30 a.m.
“There are Methodists and Presbyterians and Catholics and Episcopalians and Jewish groups,” Mauldin said.
All proceeds from the Waffle Shop benefit the church’s charitable outreach programs, which include tutoring and holding book and backpack drives for underserved public school children, feeding the hungry and helping homeless individuals get back on their feet.
Visit www.calvarymemphis.org for more information.