Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Lenten season everywhere. In Birmingham it marks the beginning of the Lenten Lunch series at the Cathedral Church of the Advent downtown. And this truly is one of the best programs in the world, and I am not exaggerating.
There are two great reasons for coming. The Advent’s Dean Limehouse will tell you the most important is your spiritual being. And every weekday during Lent the Advent will present renowned and accomplished speakers on a theological subject from all around the country, and the world, and also from right here in Alabama.
The service is very ecumenical—that is to say, non-Episcopalian. There is not a lot of standing up and kneeling and jumping up again and keeping track of the page in the Book of Common Prayer. The program starts with a simple prayer and a single hymn and then features the speaker for fifteen or twenty minutes, period.
Contrary to what the Dean, if he is doing his job as your spiritual shepherd, must tell you, some people think the best part comes after the speaker as the congregation retires to Klingman Commons to enjoy the best lunch in town. Even the Junior League with all the cookbooks it can throw at you cannot hold a candle to it.
Don’t worry, though, because both the food and lectures will reach your soul. About that, there is no debate.
I have gone with friends of every religious persuasion who have enjoyed the intellectually-stimulating talks. I still remember the central conceit and metaphor of one of the speakers from last year, who based his talk on Beach Boy Brian Wilson who wrote the famous surfer ballad, “In My Room,” and then did not leave his own for several years. You will hear such contemporary slants, and also speakers who illuminate the pages of history to bring a Bible passage into focus. All offer compelling insights.
No need to be so insulated as Brian Wilson, though. The Advent will have Lenten Speakers this year that range far and wide in background and even religious belief. The Right Reverend John McKee Sloan, Bishop of Alabama, will kick things off on February 22. Five days later we will hear from the Right Reverend Michael Hill, Bishop of Bristol, England.
In addition to pastors from New York and Chicago—and from Highlands Presbyterian and 16th Street Baptist here in Birmingham--there are even some lay speakers, such as a trial attorney from Santa Barbara, California, and a former captain of the U.S. Olympic swim team.
Now, a word about the food. One little-known fact is that the Lenten Lunch is where the popular restaurant chain ZoŽs Kitchen got its start, and ZoŽ and Marcus Cassimus have remained heavily involved with the food preparation through the years. The menu varies each day of the week, and I highly recommend the chicken and wild rice soup, which will be the best you ever put in your mouth. Another popular entrée is the Elegant Shrimp, with mushrooms and artichokes over a rice pilaf with a mixed green salad with mandarin oranges, strawberries, sugared almonds, poppyseed dressing, and yeast roll, for a bargain at $7.
Speakers every weekday during Lent, February 22– April 6, 12:05-12:30.
Lunch follows. The Cathedral Church of the Advent offers this wish: “May the God of hope fill you”…Romans 15:13.
For full information on the lectures and the lunches, go to http://adventbirmingham.org/ministries/lenten-preaching-and-lunches/ --the publisher