Hi Father Joseph!
How are you? At the fair last week someone asked me “Who are you with?” and I thought of your book.
I was waiting for the pig races to start and the family next to me was talking about, of all things, confession. The mom was talking about how going to a Catholic university she saw the ridiculousness of religion in how everyone used confession to basically do what they wanted.
I was worried primarily for her two teens, so I asked, awkwardly (with my face partially numb since I had just been to the dentist that morning), if I could interject. I pointed out that I wasn’t Catholic but that if confession is used in such a way it is making a mockery and actually worse than not going at all and that the purpose is genuine and real and that God knows who is confessing genuinely and who is not. The mom then asked, “And who are you with?” I responded, “Oh, I came here myself for the afternoon.” I felt silly when she clarified, “I mean, who are you with? What branch are you?” “Oh! I’m Orthodox Christian.” “And what is that?” “Well, um, once upon a time, there was the church… and then the Pope decided he was boss and left, and then the reformation happened, and well… the Orthodox Church, we’ve just been the same the whole time.”
She said thank you and then the pig races started but I kept thinking about what she asked, “Who are you with?” and finally it occurred to me why it sounded familiar and I started laughing when I remembered your book and “the Waffle House Story” …
So … here’s the honest to goodness Waffle House Story from We Came, We Saw, We Converted:
I remember once, in the Old Country (North Carolina), a parishioner and I were waiting in line for a sandwich at a Subway restaurant. I had a long beard and ponytail and was dressed in a cassock. The fellow wrapping the subs by the cash register, who had tattoos all over his arms and an attitude in his eyes, kept staring at me. I figured he thought I was some kind of nut job.
When we got up to his station, he said, “Who ya with?”
I said, “Excuse me?”
“Who you with?” he repeated.
Sheepishly, I said, “I’m an Orthodox Christian priest.”
“Oh, humph,” he replied.
And that was it. After we got outside, I turned to the parishioner and said, “You know, when he asked ‘who ya with?’ I should have said something silly like ‘Waffle House’.” We laughed.
A year or so later, on the way to St. Seraphim Church Camp, another priest and I were eating with the campers in a restaurant in the Old Country (Virginia) and I noticed a woman kept staring at us.
Later, as we stood outside talking, a deacon had joined us—that made three men in black dresses with long hair and beards—and I could see, out of the corner of my eye, this woman and her friends slowly approaching us. We kept talking until I felt a gentle tug at my elbow, and with a wonderful down-home Virginia accent, she said, “Excuse me, but, who’re y’all with?”
Without blinking I turned to her and said, “Waffle House.”
This woman literally lost it! She turned red in the face, burst out laughing, and hit me on the arm, saying, “Now you oughtta be ashamed o’ yo’self! I was so nervous—and now you go and say ‘Waffle House’—why, I oughtta . . .”
It was funny. So funny, in fact, that I later shared that story with an area “non-denominational” clergy gathering in a local restaurant.
About thirty minutes after its telling, a man who had apparently overheard our conversation approached our table and said, “Excuse me, but are you Fr. Joseph?”
I said, “Yes,” and he said, “Are you still with Waffle House?”