Dawn is an hour away when the men meet for coffee and donuts in the dining hall of First United Methodist Church of Brandon. They lay out tablecloths and bottles of maple syrup and honey, and as the oven warms up, so does the conversation. Faith, family, the fate of the modern world. The usual topics.
In the kitchen, the men line up five 10-pound bags of Krusteaz Buttermilk Pancake Mix, $7 a bag at Sam's Club. Soon they'll begin mixing, pouring, flipping and dishing.
Once a month, this is how a dozen or so members of the church's Methodist Men spend their Sunday mornings — making hundreds of pancakes for members who are, at this moment, mostly still in bed.
"Where Methodists meet, Methodists eat," says Sherman Hendry, a member since the '70s.
Methodists aren't alone. When it's time to feed their flocks at breakfast, men of all faiths, from Methodist Men to the Knights of Columbus, always turn to flapjacks.
Why? For starters, they're easy — the Krusteaz recipe calls for nothing more than water. They're filling, so not much else needs to be made. And of course, they're warm — and few things have the power to unite men like a hot cooked meal.
"People love them because they are quick, easy, and fun and inexpensive, which makes them a good way to raise money. And a great way to feed a big crowd," said noted cookbook author Marie Simmons, whose books include Pancakes A to Z. "The process of making them is communal, which adds to the festivities."
In Brandon, the Methodist Men have been preparing pancake breakfasts for at least 15 years, and they have the process down to a science. Every man has a job — some take money, some fill plates, some make sure the coffee and sausage links stay hot.
Flipping flapjacks is Pedro Rocha's job. At 54, he is the youngest member of the crew — and he is particular about pancake preparation.
"When I'm here, I pretty much take over," says Rocha. "I stand here and I don't move."
Using a professional dispenser, he plops nine moons of batter onto a griddle. Ninety seconds on one side, 90 on the other. When the cakes are toasty and golden, he scoops them onto a foil-lined tray, where they are covered with a damp towel and stored in the oven. For four hours, Rocha makes some 300 pancakes, and he's proud of every one. "They're so fluffy, they can just float away from you," he says.
On this Palm Sunday, the menu is special. One of the men, Doug Stafford, brought a bucket of blueberries from his U-pick farm, so they're making blueberry pancakes. Wally Ingram stands out on the sidewalk, calling people inside. "Hand-picked Stafford blueberry pancakes!" he hollers as the congregation emerges from the 9:30 a.m. service. "Come on, come on! The line is worth it!"
Families settle in for late breakfasts and early lunches. Men wander in and out of the kitchen, sneaking bites of sausage, chatting about this and that and the other.
And the pancakes are good. Fluffy. Just as Rocha likes them.