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Md. Church Rethinks Liquor License

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 17, 2005; Page B09

The elders of Evangel Cathedral in Upper Marlboro have withdrawn an application to serve alcohol at their new banquet hall after a state lawmaker raised questions about the propriety of a church holding a liquor license.

The application to the Prince George's County Liquor Control Board was submitted in January by caterer Frederick Johnson, who was hired by Evangel to operate "Camelot of Upper Marlboro" in a newly renovated building that once served as the church's Family Life Center. The church's address, 13901 Central Ave., is listed on the application.


Evangel Cathedral, in the 13000 block of Central Avenue, had sought a liquor license for its new banquet hall, Camelot of Upper Marlboro. (Rafael Crisostomo For The Washington Post)

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On Tuesday, Del. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George's), chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the county liquor board, said the application raised a "red flag."

"We now have a church in Prince George's County doing something that goes completely against the grain of our ministers and our churches," Benson said. "It is one thing to have a banquet hall. It is another thing to have another outlet for alcohol."

In an interview Tuesday evening, Kevin Mathews, Evangel's associate minister, denied that the church had a liquor license pending.

Yesterday afternoon, a clerk at the board's offices produced a copy of the application and said it had been withdrawn a few hours earlier.

In a letter to Johnson that he also faxed to The Washington Post, Bishop Don Meares, the church's senior pastor, said that "after much prayer and diligent consideration," the church did not want the catering company to pursue the license.

"We choose not to present this type of image to our church and local community," Meares wrote.

Johnson, president of Effie's Catering, said he understood the church's request. "We are on holy ground and we are going to be obedient to overseers of the house," he said. He said he still planned to run a "premier facility."

A brochure included with Evangel's application said the banquet hall would rival Martin's Crosswinds and La Fountain Bleu, two of the county's top venues for large events.

Evangel's application came at a time of growing concern among county leaders about the proliferation of so-called mega-churches and their impact on neighborhoods and the county's tax base. Evangel moved to Prince George's from the District in 1991 and opened a $22 million, 2,350-seat sanctuary in Upper Marlboro 10 years later.

"Many communities are concerned about the real intent of the church when people who are very devoted to the Christian principles apply for a liquor license," Benson said.

Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church opened a banquet hall in Oxon Hill several years ago, but, according to the Rev. Harry Seawright, "we have absolutely no affairs where alcohol is served."


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