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A Rich Tradition Nourishes a Giving Present

The Downtown Presbyterian Church’s 95th Annual Waffle Shop

Their first church burned down in 1832. Their second in 1848. But their third church still stands, a remarkable structure that is both a national historic landmark and a Nashville epicenter of vibrant art and urban ministry. Meet the congregants of The Downtown Presbyterian Church, a relatively small group of folks—numbering just over 100—who make a major positive impact on our city. From providing a headquarters for The Contributor, the weekly newspaper that supports the city’s homeless, to supporting other groups such as Siloam House and Safe Haven, the members of The Downtown Presbyterian Church practice what they preach, feeling themselves spiritually called to minister to Nashville’s most marginalized and vulnerable residents. Each Saturday morning, for example, church members serve the hungry and the homeless, typically some 150 guests, a free, hot and nutritious breakfast.       

It is not an inexpensive undertaking. Therefore, to help support this ministry, church members volunteer to put on the annual Waffle Shop, a venerable Nashville tradition stretching back to 1925. Held on the first Thursday of each December from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Waffle Shop serves lunch to some 600 to 700 Nashvillians at $10 a plate. The food includes not only the waffles themselves, the recipe remaining unchanged since 1955, but also sausage and egg casserole or, a new option added just last year, Nashville hot chicken, an innovation that proved a huge hit. (Who says great traditions can’t evolve a bit?)  

But the Waffle Shop is more than just great food and live music, provided this year by singer-songwriter Les Kerr.

“It’s really made up of three components,” says Mary Turner, a church member and the Waffle Shop co-chair. “Along with the lunch, there is also the Holiday Shop and the Silent Auction.”

Neither is to be missed. The former features unique finds such as hand-knit woolen items, and the latter has wonderful offers from sponsors like The Corner Pub and Hermitage Hotel. Even two tickets to the January production of Hamilton at TPAC will be up for bid.

“We also have a number of congregants who bake,” Mary adds. “They make beautiful and delicious cakes and all types of desserts that typically go for dirt cheap.” 

Talk about a sweet inducement to get down to the Waffle Shop!  But there’s also the church itself. The structure is an extraordinary work of art. Built in 1851 by architect William Strickland, the man who designed the Tennessee State Capitol, the Downtown Presbyterian Church is one of the world’s best examples of Egyptian Revival architecture. 

“I recall visitors from the Midwest coming to see the sanctuary when I was a boy,” shares author and historian Ridley Wills II, a Nashville native and lifelong church member, baptized there in 1935. “They wanted to see where their grandfathers were cared for during the war.”

Ridley is referring to the Civil War. Along with Fellowship Hall where the Waffle Shop is held, the sanctuary served as a hospital during that conflict. Today, the sanctuary has been restored to its breathtaking, Egyptian Revival glory and is part of the downtown Art Crawl, which takes place on the first Saturday of each month.  

Waffle Shop tickets are $10, but buying a book of 10 tickets takes it up to $11. To order tickets or to get information, contact Dena at the church office at 615.254.7584 or by email at