A vintage model Ford sits behind a shiny Honda Civic on A and 3rd streets SE. It's Sunday afternoon, and the strains of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" waft into the street from the huge, red brick building that is St. Mark's Episcopal Church.
Minutes later, the rector, the Rev. Jim Adams stands at the back of the church greeting parishioners on their way home. Other worshippers remain behind to spend some time in the church pub in the basement.
To some people the picture of a pub in the basement of a church may present as unexpected a sight as the old Ford on A Street. But worshippers at St. Mark's view the pub as an early, northern European tradition that has transcended time to serve a vital purpose.
Before the Puritan influence spread across northern Europe, pubs, known as Mead Halls, were an integral part of community life in countries such as England and Germany, Adams said. In the absence of church buildings, church services were held in the halls, which were also social and cultural centers of the community. After services, members talked over a dring of fermented honey and beer.
Drinking beer in church back to the sixth century and the reign of Pope Gregory the Great. The pope instructed his missionaries in England not to interfere with the Saxon celebrations but to incorporate them into the life of the church, "that thus, by allowing them some satisfactions of sense, they may relish Christianity the better, and be raised by degrees to the more noble pleasures of the mind."
Eventually church layman were elected as brew masters by the congregation to make beer and ale for large festivals -- such as those held at Easter of Pentecost -- to provide money for the upkeep of the church. Even after church buildings were erected, church pubs and the holiday celebrations, known as church-ales, remained a vital part of the commmunity.
The tradition survives in some European cities, said Adams. During a sabbatical in Europe seven years ago, Adams said he first encountered a church pub. Church officers at St. Mark's voted to try the concept after learning about it, Adams said. Seven years later the pub is still going strong.
St. Mark's pub, however, is only a small part of the overall church program. Members spoke enthusiastically of the leadership provided by Adams, the religious education program, which includes courses on being single, parenting, marriage, death, confirmation and Bible study. About 540 people are actively involved in the church.
Volunteer task forces also plan full church services during each liturgical season, and the church has an acting troupe and creative dance studio, among other creative outlets, Adams said.
"When I came here (12 years ago) I asked the elected (church) leaders what we were here for," Adams recalled. "They said, 'St. Mark's is training unit for the battles of life and not a combat unit.'
"All we do is try to help people find the spiritual equipment to deal creatively with life as they see it."
The pub, known as the Winged Lion Pub, is part of that creativity, members contend. It provides a relaxed, social atmosphere where church members can come after servicxes or for a meeting, to get to know other church members, they said.
The pub, which is unlicensed and considered private by the church, is open to persons attending evening classes, services or meetings at the church on weekdays and Sundays.
Banjamin Chaplin, assistant director of the city Alcohol and Beverage Control Office, said a license is needed any place alcoholic beverages are consumed unless it's a private house or by invitation only. Chaplin said he did not know, however, if the church was required to have a license.
Jim Steed, the pub's first steward, said that years ago "a friend of ours" checked about licensing "informally" with the corporation counsel's office and determined that it wasn't needed as long as the pub wasn't public, profit-making business with funds exchanged across the bar.
Therefore, individual tickets are purchased for 35 cents in the main hall of the church and redeemed in the pub for a glass of imported or draft beer, wine, soda or Perrier water. Cards worth $5 or $10 also can be purchased and redeemed for a specific number of drinks.
No distilled liquor is served in the pub. And Adams said there never has been a problem with drunkenness or rowdiness.
Before the pub opened, Adams said many of the young, single and married persons living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood near the church either went home or scattered to one of the fashionable bars on Pennsylvania Avenue after church.
"Scattering made it very cliquish," he said. As a result, prople were alienated from the church community for want of "a relaxed, informal way to get acquainted," Adams said.
"There was much more mephasis on distilled beverages. Now people (at the pub) drink more moderately," he said. "Members of the congregation have changed their habits."
"There aren't too many places you can come and (bring) the kids," said Eileen Everleth, who has been coming to the pub several years with her husband and children. "I certaintly don't think it's a bad influence. I would perfer to have my kids here so we can be a family rather than ship them off with a babysitter so we can be with our friends."
Jane Harris said she's been attending the church and the pub about a year and a half now. "I gurss not too many chuuches have a pub in the basement," she said. "I think it's really a neat place for people to meet and talk. Usually we have a pub lunch -- a sandwich and soup -- and you can also have birthday parties here.
"Of course, I don't tell my southern relatives we have a bar in the basement of the church," she said, smiling.
The pub is a comfortable, softly lit room inhabited by playful children who scamper around while their parents stand in small groups talking with friends over a glass of beer. Adorning the walls are photographs of birthday parties, church meetings and other church events. Most prominently placed is a handwoven brown and beige colored rug of a winged lion, representing St. Mark the Apostle and the name of the pub.The figure is etched in black and the rug is bordered by a row of crosses.
The rug was presented to the church by Pat Wyman, wife of the deputy counsel to the U.S. Mission in Addis Ababba, Ethopia. It was woven by patients in a physical rehabilitation center in Ethopia, according to the history beside the rug. The wool was taken from the first shipment of lambs after the recent drought in Ethopia. All the colors are natural.
Warren Wanlund, a 24-year-old employe with the Big Brothers' Association, is pub steward. He said the pub takes in $4,000 to $5,000 a year, most of which is used to pay pub expenses, "so we're not a burden to the church." Any profit is used for other church expenses, he said.
"Up until I started coming to this church I was a Lutheran," Wandland said. "What attarcted me to this church, in general, was I got a very strong sense of community and joy going on between the people. I didn't find that in any other church, indluding the one I stayed in 21 years in the Midwest."
"Making sense out of everyday life is St. Mark's (church) definition of religion," added Betsey Johnson, a North Carolinian who moved here recently with her husband Bradford. "If someone is taking a drink here, I think it's better than being in some old dive."