- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

The Washington National Cathedral community yesterday prepared for the somber period of Lent with a little fun and tradition.

Priests, students and administrators ran against one another while trying to flip a pancake in a frying pan as part of the traditional Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race, held each year on the day before Lent begins.

“This is the last bit of fun we get to have for 40 days,” Ray Foote, the church’s senior director for membership and development, said jokingly. “And if at any time your pancake hits the ground — you will die.”

This was the seventh year that the cathedral has held the event.

The most famous one is in Olney, England, and features women dressed as housewives who race with the pancake and frying pan along an S-shaped, 425-yard-long course. Contestants must flip the pancake before and after the race to ensure they have not glued it to the pan. Some accounts of the race trace its origins to as far back as 1445, according to the book “Origins of Festivals and Feasts.”

The tradition also is tied to Christians who made pancakes to use up their eggs and butter before Lent — a period of contemplation, fasting and other sacrifices that begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts until Easter Sunday.

The term “shrove” is associated with confessing sins, and people are said to be “shriven” when they have confessed, according to the book.

Yesterday, contestants raced down a flagstone walk in front of the church, at the intersection of Massachusetts and Wisconsin avenues NW, flipping a pancake at least three times along the way.

The first race pitted two male students from St. Albans School against two female students from the National Cathedral School for girls.

A group of St. Albans students walked along the church grounds before the race carrying a golden cross and singing “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war.”

St. Albans senior Peter Wallach took the words to heart as he pulled ahead of the others with a late sprint to the finish line. He received a golden spatula as his reward.

“It was fun,” said Peter, 17. “It’s a good time, and this is a good event.”

The race became more heated during the “Loose Canons” event, which pitted the Rev. Jean Milliken, the church’s canon for pastoral ministry, against the Rev. Howard Anderson, the warden of Cathedral College.

Mr. Anderson’s staff cheered him on and waved signs that said “Cathedral College is No. 1,” but the race ended in a tie.

“All God’s children are equal in the kingdom,” Mr. Anderson conceded.

Three of the event’s five races ended in a tie, including one that featured Stephen Lott, the cathedral’s verger, against Mary Sulerud, the cathedral’s canon precentor.

“I have a very special flipping technique that some people find questionable,” Mrs. Sulerud said while admiring the gold medal hanging around her neck. “So, I think I’ll settle for the tie.”

Mr. Anderson said the event is something the cathedral community looks forward to each year.

“It’s fat Tuesday,” he said. “And it’s been a tradition to let it all hang out before Lent starts.”

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