Preaching, Waffles and Recovery
During Lent at my home parish, we host a well known Lenten Preaching Series featuring inspiring and diverse speakers from many different faith paths. We also, for the past 89 years, have hosted what we fondly refer to as The Waffle Shop.
The Waffle Shop is a unique, mostly volunteer, full service restaurant located in the basement of Calvary Church. It’s a place where we feed people’s hunger for good southern food - before, during and after we attempt to feed their spirits in the sanctuary with preaching. The haute southern cuisine is highlighted with items like tomato aspic, waffles and chicken hash and the most famous - fish pudding – something you have to experience to understand. For me it’s a time of seeking and celebration and often renewal that I don’t participate in during other times of the year.
I work in downtown Memphis and on the days that I can slip out of my office and walk over to the service and eat lunch the stresses of my everyday life tend to slip away and I am transported to the place of sanctuary that often eludes me during a work day.
Another thing that takes place every weekday during lent is a recovery meeting at noon in the same basement. The meeting has been going on for many years and although I am not a member of that group I often wonder what it feels like for them during lent. Are they excited like me to get to eat the annual treats or does it feel like they are being pushed aside for the pomp and pageantry and crowds that often accompany visits by nationally known speakers and preachers?
I’m not sure that I have an answer to that question, but I do know that when I went to The Waffle Shop for the first time this year, I found it curious that on the back entrance of the church was a sign posted that read, “The entrance to AA is now on Adams Street due to Waffle Shop”. If you’re not familiar with Memphis or Calvary, the Adams Street entrance is a side door. It’s actually a beautiful red side door that is normally locked during other times of the year but it has a more direct access to the AA room. The relocation to the side door entrance is simply logistics and has been that way for many years during lent, I’m sure, but still I found it curious.
Many of the men and women who come to that meeting are our neighbors. They could be parishioners or members of the downtown homeless population, or from treatment centers, or even just out of the jail two blocks away. They are often times hurting and seeking refuge, the people that Jesus may have called the “least of these.” During other times of the year the church is quiet at noon and relatively empty, but for these 40 or so days we invade their space. We fill it with downtown business people and the ladies who lunch and clattering dishes and smells of baked spaghetti and rye bread.
I do trust that God smiles on both of us, on the recovery meeting and on The Waffle Shop and preaching series, but today, I want to say thank you to the men and women of that meeting who welcome us into their space, their basement. I want to remember that for me, the spirituality and the love and the acceptance I feel upstairs in the Nave and over in The Waffle Shop would not be possible without the meetings through the side doors that helped open my heart spiritually.