More Than a Spectator

by Bill Haltom


I first set first foot in Calvary Episcopal Church some 40 years ago, thinking I was headed to a Waffle House or an International House of Pancakes. Stay with me, please, because I promise I am not making this up. I was in my first year of law practice, a baby lawyer, working in a downtown office building. One day around noontime, my boss (Col. Al Harvey) came by my office and asked if I would like to have lunch with him at “Waffle Shop.” Since I had never heard of “Waffle Shop,” I assumed he meant “Waffle House.” “Sure!” I replied. I grabbed my coat, and the Boss and I headed out of the building.


The next thing I knew, the boss was leading me into Calvary Episcopal Church. This left me momentarily confused. Was my new boss a profoundly religious man who liked to stop by his church and say Grace before he went to Waffle House or IHOP? But instead of going into the sanctuary for prayer, Col. Harvey led me downstairs to what I would later learn was the Mural Room. We sat at a table with a bunch of other lawyers. When a nice lady came to take our lunch order, my boss asked for “Fish Pudding.” It sounded terrible, but since my boss ordered it, I did too. Dress for success, eat for success. The fish pudding was brought to our table. I took a bite and experienced Lenten Heaven. For the next several days, I returned to Calvary each day, never setting foot in the sanctuary, but heading down to the Mural Room for fish and waffles.


At around this same time, my then-fiancée, Claudia, said, “Since we are going to get married soon, we need to find us a church home.” “Why?” I asked. “Two reasons,” my soon-to-be-wife replied. “First, it’s the right thing to do. Second, we hope to have children someday, and if we do, we need to do for them what our parents did for us: Give them something to rebel against someday.” I was persuaded. The next Sunday, my fiancée and I came to Calvary, not for fish or waffles, but to worship. My first reaction to my first Calvary worship was…What a great show! Inspirational preaching, beautiful music, choreography…and the tickets were cheap! Just put a little money in the offering plate! After Claudia and I were married, not at Calvary, but at the Methodist church in her hometown, we returned to Calvary as newlyweds, and I kept enjoying the show. Faster than you can say “confirmation,” we found ourselves kneeling in front of the Bishop, who announced that we were Born-Again Episcopalians! For several years after that, I was a spectator Christian at Calvary, as I enjoyed the show every Sunday.


But at some point (I can’t say exactly when), Calvary began to change for me. I began to see Calvary differently. The late philosopher Wayne Dyer was fond of saying, “When you change the way you see things, the things you see change.” Calvary became for me more than a great show. It became a place for me to share the joys and sorrows and mysteries of life with my family and friends, not as a spectator, but as an invested member of the church. I remember a Sunday morning service when my first child, Will, was baptized. Yes, Claudia and I were giving him something to rebel against someday. But we also prayed for God to give him “an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love (the Lord), and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.” And as we said this prayer for Will, I realized this was what I was seeking myself at Calvary, as more than a spectator. I still loved the great Calvary show and the Fish Pudding and the waffles, but I also grew to love Wednesday nights, Thursday mornings with my Baguette Brothers at Bible study, communion, coffee hour, and exploring law and grace and faith with my Calvary sisters and brothers.


Mark Twain once said, “When they say it’s not about money, that means…it’s about money!”  So in closing, let me say that when we are more than a spectator, we are called upon to invest in what we love—our families, work, schools, neighborhoods…and our church. And so I have shared my Calvary story with you in the hope that you will think about your own unique story about why you first came to Calvary and why you keep experiencing this special place. As we each reflect on our personal Calvary story, let’s respond to the 20/20 Vision Annual Giving Campaign with a heartfelt and generous pledge.