Located between a Latin American restaurant and a health clinic, The Potter's House at 1658 Columbia Rd. NW instantly stands out. The large windows reveal a warmly lit interior with tables and chairs on one side, and dozens of books and gifts on the other.

The Potter's House is one of the nation's first church-sponsored coffee houses, and it has been offering food, music and a peaceful environment for 27 years.

"It is meant to be a place of peace," said Beulah Rivers, assistant manager of the Adams-Morgan coffee house. "In the center of drugs, it is meant to be a steppingstone for the light of the church to shine."

The Potter's House Church is one of six churches that make up the Church of the Saviour, a nondenominational, ecumenical community. The church was founded in 1947 by a former Baptist minister, Gordon Cosby, and his wife, Mary, in an attempt to help World War II veterans better deal with the realities of life and death, and life after war.

The Potter's House takes its name from a biblical story in which the prophet Jeremiah was directed to go down to the potter's house. There he watched the potter mold the clay into a vessel, and he learned how God molds and reshapes people's lives.

The coffee house was opened in 1960 by the Cosbys in an effort to bring the teachings of the church to the everyday life of people.

"It began as a place where people could come and ask religious questions, amidst good conversation and good music," said Mary Cosby. "It wasn't until the 1960s and the riots following the death of Martin Luther King Jr. that we became aware of the neighborhood. There were a lot of poor people in the neighborhood who starting speaking up for their rights, and it was then that we became aware of the neighborhood."

Each of the six churches under the Church of the Saviour's umbrella has several mission groups that provide services for their communities.

In addition to the coffee house, Potter's House missions include a low-income housing program and services for the homeless in the neighborhood.

"We became aware of the housing shortages, so we began Jubilee Housing, a low-income housing program {on 1750 Columbia Rd. NW}," said Mary Cosby. "We became aware of the health of the people, so we began Christ House, an infirmary for the homeless {across the street from The Potter's House at 1717 Columbia Rd. NW}."

The coffee house attracts a diverse crowd; many of the regular customers are associated with the church or one of its missions. Other regulars are people who live or work in the neighborhood.

With its rich carpet, thick wooden walls and subdued lighting, the coffee house creates an atmosphere of warmth and peace. Staff members have a friendly greeting for everyone. Patrons include local business people, retired people and an occasional homeless person.

Open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, the Potter's House offers home-cooked soup, salads, sandwiches and desserts. A small attached bookshop offers gifts and a wide selection of religious, political, women's studies and self-help titles.

The coffee house is open Thursday and Friday nights, and on Friday nights offers live gospel, classical, pop or folk music. Every other Friday night, L'arche, a local group home for the developmentally disabled, operates The Potter's House.

To select Friday night entertainers, who play for gratis, The Potter's House hosts occasional open mike nights during which musicians play a short set and audience members submit ballots rating their performances. Those receiving the highest number of positive votes are invited to return for a regular show.

Rivers, who came to The Potter's House as a volunteer, said her life is testimony to the coffee house's importance. "I almost killed myself with alcohol," Rivers said. "I was a drunk; this place rescued me and I found peace here."