The Divine Hours of Lent

Calvary Episcopal Church is one of the oldest churches in Memphis…so old that it is wedged in, quite literally, amongst all kinds of office buildings and municipal and county court houses and administrative buildings. It sits only a couple of blocks north of Beale Street and only another three or four east of Front Street where most of this country’s cotton used to be traded, meaning Calvary is only about six blocks east of the Mississippi itself.
It’s been there for 175 years now; and for almost a half of those years Calvary has been the place to go for lunch every week-day in Lent. It’s called The Waffle Shop, and what it really is is an exercise in the world’s most indulgent and deliciously sinful foods at a reasonable price. Exactly why such excess should seem appropriate in a season of Christian fasting has long since been lost either in collective memory or in collective guilt. It simply doesn’t matter, because it’s a civic habit now: Calvary for lunch.
Almost every parish or congregation in the Diocese of West Tennessee seems to furnish up part of the work crew that makes the thing work. That is, Episcopalian stalwarts of both sexes and all age groups come in every week-day on a tightly scheduled regimen to don the aprons, stir the pots, set the tables, serve the appreciative, and clean up the mess yet one more time. It’s amazing, and today is the first day of Waffle Shop 2008.
Along with the Waffle Shop part of things, which serves from 10:30 [if you can believe that!] until 2, there are services in the church itself from 12 noon until about 12:45. The joy of that is that–again, believe it or not–the place is usually full. The other believe-it-or-not thing, though, really is that those gathered for prayers and worship will not all be Christian. There will be Jews for sure and certain, and sometimes Buddhists and Muslims, perhaps even a Hindu upon occasion. I’m not much of an ecumenist, I confess, but there’s something so good…so Lent, for lack of a better way to put it…about sitting there in this time of communal sorrow and seeing around me those who follow a different belief system. Whatever may divide us, we at least have this one thing in common: We kneel together before a mightiness that each of us knows is there. It is enough for me on this first Thursday of every Lent.

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