[Booze Issue 2013]

Prayer with a twist

Atomic Liquors’ Pub Church offers an alternative to the Sunday norm

Buck Belmore, who presides over Pub Church, is a real, retired Episcopal reverend.
Photo: Steve Marcus
Molly O'Donnell

They’re all here: the worshippers, the wine, the white-collared priest. Only this is no normal house of religion; this is Pub Church.

“It’s a little too real for me,” says a 60-something guy in a Hawaiian shirt holding a mimosa. People rarely complain about something being “too real,” but I get what he’s saying. Standing in Atomic Liquors at 9 a.m. on a drizzly Sunday chomping on communion wafers is a little unnerving. Particularly if you grew up Catholic.

Pub Church is Atomic owner Derek Stonebarger’s answer to the American Sunday experience: God and football. Apparently, I’m not the only one whose childhood consisted of this odd ritual. My dad would dress me up, bat my head with a hairbrush and then pack us into the car to see what Father Donovan had to say that week. Afterward, we’d sit on the rug at my aunt’s house, eating donuts and ogling the Redskins as my uncle either swore under his breath (“H-E-double hockey sticks”) or cheered loudly.

As I shake a stranger’s hand in an offer of “peace,” it occurs to me that Mr. Mimosa’s too-real feeling might actually be the point. It is real. Buck Belmore, who presides over Pub Church, is a real, retired Episcopal reverend. A lot of the people in the room are real believers. And he’s really blessing the wine right where I sat last week listening to a story about plastic surgery.

The über-short mass and non-denominational sermon seem to suit the crowd of around 25 just fine. You still get all the group prayers, peace offerings and communion, and you still get to do what a lot of people find most inviting about organized religion: socialize.

After the five-piece jazz band serving as choir breaks down, the TVs switch on and everyone queues up for the $6 Make-Your-Own Hail Mary bar in preparation for football and chit-chat. It’s a Sunday one-stop shop.

Even with the perks of Pub Church, this ritual doesn’t seem to be converting any devout heathens. But on this rare rainy morning, it is giving us an even rarer moment to reflect.

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