We worked our way toward the fellowship hall in a chatty string of young and old until the air smelled earthy and sweet with maple syrup hitting hot waffles. Tables had been covered in Christmas colors and dressed up with tapers transforming the space into a cozy cafeteria.
Volunteers and church members have been seating guests at these communal-style tables long before communal tables in restaurants were cool. So I had no trouble finding a new friend to talk with over waffles, grits, turkey hash and spiced tea.
This year marks the 88th annual Waffle Shop at Downtown Presbyterian. The tradition started as a fundraiser in 1925 for the Presbyterian Women’s Group back when Nashvillians did most of their Christmas shopping downtown. These days, a congregation of just about 100, plus volunteers, helps keep the community event lively by feeding 700 to 800 people each year using the same secret waffle recipe from the year it began. They’ll go through about 34 dozen eggs, 250 pounds of sausage and about five industrial-sized pots of turkey hash.
The proceeds from tickets and tips now benefit the pastor’s discretionary fund, which goes toward buying medicine and securing the state ID cards that homeless people need to get work. (Downtown Presbyterian also holds a meal for the homeless and poor twice a week throughout the year, serving about 200 at each seating.)
“Rev. Ken Locke has been on a three-month sabbatical leave, returning three days before Waffle Shop,” said Jeff Koontz, organizer of this year’s Waffle Shop. “During that time he spent a month hiking the Appalachian Trail and two weeks in a monastery. I'm not sure that he didn't time his return to be back at DPC for our big event.”
Since my first experience at Waffle Shop eight years ago, it has become one of my favorite ways to catch the Christmas spirit. It’s not about shopping or sermons even. It’s about simple food, community, and friends and strangers coming together over a meal.
The Waffle Shop takes place this Thursday, Dec. 5, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Downtown Presbyterian Church, 154 Fifth Ave. N. Tickets cost $7, which includes hot waffle, turkey hash or sausage, grits and coffee or spiced tea. A craft and bake sale as well as a silent auction will be held during the event. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance by calling the church office at 615-254-7584.