The Revs. Tom Purdy and Tommy Townsend sat together at a cozy table in Palmer’s Village Cafe on St. Simons Island, piping hot coffee before them. Chef John Belechak appeared, two heaping plates of pancakes in hand.
“These are our oats and nuts pancake. They’re very popular, but of course, Buddy’s Banana Pudding Pancakes are our most popular. They have vanilla and banana infusion with crusted ‘Nilla Wafers,” Belechak says.
There are a plethora of options on the menu at Palmer’s, but for Purdy and Townsend it was a dry run of sorts. Purdy, the priest at Christ Church Frederica, and Townsend, priest at Holy Nativity, have teamed up to join their congregations for an observance of Shrove Tuesday. It’s a festive day, ahead of the more solemn observance of Ash Wednesday, which heralds the beginning of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter.
“Shrove Tuesday gets its name from an English word that means ‘absolution,’ because Christians would often confess their sins in the week before Lent began as a way to begin this season appropriately. For some people, it now means you have ‘absolution’ to eat and celebrate on this day before Lent begins,” Purdy says.
Enter the pancakes.
“Our tradition is to eat pancakes and sausage on Shrove Tuesday. ‘Pancake Day’ is actually what it’s called in England, although it has other names and other places. In Germany, it’s known as ‘Fosnot Day,’ which replaces pancakes for lard enriched sugary donuts,” Purdy says.
In previous times, the churches have held their own celebrations ahead of the Lenten season. But a couple of years ago, Christ Church and Holy Nativity, decided to host a breakfast at the Casino on St. Simons. Of course, they were sidelined last year due to the pandemic.
“Here at Holy Nativity, the men in the church would take charge of the kitchen and prepare a traditional meal of pancakes, bacon, and sausage. The parish hall would be decorated in all of the beautiful things one might expect to see at Mardi Gras, on the Fat Tuesday Celebration in New Orleans. It was just a time to celebrate our life together as a parish, but also to mark the beginning of Lent that would take place the next day on Ash Wednesday,” Townsend says.
“A few years ago, we decided to break tradition and join our brothers and sisters from Christ Church in a more public celebration inviting our neighbors here on the island to join in for the celebration. We did not know it, but it would be our last public event together before COVID came and the world changed.”
This year, after so much difficulty and heartbreak, they are looking to bring it back. The churches are inviting their congregations, and the community in general, to their Pancakes at the Pier program, which will return from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 1 at the St. Simons Casino. There is no cost, but donations are certainly appreciated.
As they move into the Lenten season, both Purdy and Townsend encourage the faithful to use the time for reflection. That can be done through giving up vices, prayer or fasting, as well as meditation.
“It’s important to Christians because it does signify the start of a time of penitence, prayer, and fasting. It is part of a healthy spiritual life to be able to recognize the places where we fall short, make amends, and seek reconciliation, which makes Lent an important time for so many of us. Shrove Tuesday is like the trumpet blast that reminds us that the season is upon us,” Purdy says.
Townsend agrees. And he encourages individuals to spend the time taking inventory of one’s life as a step toward repentance and giving up practices that keep one separate from God.
“We must take an honest look at the things in our lives that keep us from being the reflection of Christ in the world — personal habits, relationships, attachments, that hold us back. Once we identify them and clearly seeing our part in that brokenness, we can then turn our hearts back to God and lay them at the foot of the cross,” he says.