50,000 Pancakes


 I recently asked long-time choir member and organizer of numerous Pancake Supper events Jim McCarley to give me an estimate as to approximately how many pancakes are served at the annual event sponsored by the Chancel Choir on Shrove Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. He
did a few mental calculations and replied, “Around 700.” As we talked about the earlier days, Jim said that the number would have been higher back then. He recalled some of the old-timers who worked in the beginning years of the Pancake Suppers telling him how the line would extend out of the old Fellowship Hall and down the sidewalk! So, based on that, we arrived at a conservative estimate of an average of some thousand pancakes served each year. The Supper scheduled for Tuesday, March 4 of this year marks the 53rd time for this annual event. Which means that Choir members, spouses, and friends have served over 50,000 pancakes since the event began. When you throw in estimates for the sausages, the butter and the syrup, you arrive at some pretty amazing numbers, all of which serve as testaments to a dedication that began over half a century ago.
Minister of Music George L. DeHart devoted some space in his regular column on “The Ministry of Music” for March 2, 1962
to an explanation of the upcoming event the choir was sponsoring. Choir members had determined they needed a fund-raising event to underwrite the travels of the Wesley Bell Ringers. This outstanding group had been invited to perform at the regional convention of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers, scheduled to be held in Houston later that summer and additional funds were needed.
As the musicians discussed what sort of event to attempt, food arose as a natural choice. Choir member Bob Boothe proposed a chili
supper but
the ladies promptly shot that idea down. The group decided to try a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper.

As DeHart explained in his column, “The day before Ash Wednesday is known as Shrove Tuesday.” The name Shrove Tuesday derived from the past tense of the English verb shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of Confession and doing penance. The shrift, or confession, was made before Lent began.

DeHart continued his account with a passage from
Edward Horn’s book on The Christian Year. “In the Middle Ages, carnivals were popular all over Europe on Shrove Tuesday which was known as Fasten’s Eve in Scotland, Fastnacht in Germany, and Mardi Gras in France (mardi gras
is French for Fat Tuesday). In Italy masques were worn and folk comedies such as Harlequin and Columbine, Scaramouche, and Pantalon and Punchinello were presented. In Germany the Fastnachtsnarr Hans Wurst presided over the masquerade of gigantic sausages, pretzels and beer kegs. In France the principal attraction was a fatted ox led through the streets to a barbeque. The French influence is perpetuated in the United States in the annual Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”

Following this description of exotic customs involving fatted calves, giant pretzels and kegs of beer, DeHart turned to the customs that underwrote the event the choir had planned. The English had associated the pancake with Shrove Tuesday. For the Germans it became the doughnut. Both customs grew from the tradition of using up whatever grease might be on hand before Lent began, during which time its use was forbidden.   

In 1962, a Pancake Supper was a novel event in Midland. In fact, First United Methodist may have been the first to provide this repast locally. They gambled folks would give the event a try and they were not disappointed. A large crowd came, either to eat their fill or support the Bell Ringers or both. Chef Ellis Conner supervised the cooking crew while members of the choir helped serve and clear space in the Fellowship Hall for folks to dine.

Everyone had such a grand time and the fundraising was so successful, the choirs determined to try it a second time the following year. After another great round of cooking, serving and eating, a tradition was born. The Pancake Supper became an annual time of fun, food and 
comradery. Church member Ted Johnson was there to work the second event and has manned a cooking spot for every year since!
The dishwashing crew of Gil Ward, Jane Schulte, Sharon Heidelberg and Monta Jo Johnson clown around at the 26th Annual Pancake Supper. From the March 13, 1987 church newspaper.

The dishwashing crew of Gil Ward, Jane Schulte, Sharon Heidelberg and Monta Jo Johnson clown around at the 26th Annual Pancake Supper.
From the March 13, 1987 church newspaper.

The particular goals for the funds have varied over the years but they have always supported some special travel or event of the church choirs. A few years ago, the monies helped underwrite a choir trip to perform as part of the Christmas season events in the White House of former Midlander and First United Methodist Church member, George W. Bush.

On March 4, this venerable tradition will take place for the 53rd time. Traditions are wonderful treasures of a church like ours. However, traditions remain alive only if each new generation is willing to carry them forward. So the choir (or choir spouses like me) must band together to cook for hours, serve for hours and clean for hours and members of the church community must come and pay their money (and eat all they can!). Otherwise, this tradition becomes history.

I hope many of you make a special effort to be a part of the annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper on one side of the serving line or the other so that, together, we can continue working our way through the next 50,000 pancakes.