Once, not so long ago, churches sold indulgences to raise money. Now houses of worship all over the city have taken to selling cappuccinos and tea cakes instead. "Food is at the center of worship," says Rector William Tully, of St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue. "This is really a return to the idea of the medieval cathedral as a community space -- and a market space."
On sabbatical in London a few years ago, and faced with declining church revenues, Tully was struck by the burgeoning trend of church cafés. He returned to New York to open his own boîte on a terrace next to the church. (The newly renovated Café St. Bart's opens next week.) While you might expect wafers and wine, the offerings are thankfully less austere, including soups, salads, and beer.
The Change 2000 café at the Riverside Church calls itself the "best-kept secret in Morningside Heights," touting its farm-raised salmon, all-organic munchies, and catering service. The eatery is run by the diminutive Honie Ann Peacock, a Columbia grad who ran a catering service called Hon's Buns before getting divine inspiration.
Not to be outdone, Trinity Church has developed a relationship with its tenant Brownie's Cafeteria just across the street, where the Trinity flock feeds at post-church gatherings (Brownie's also provides catering services to the church). Perhaps the city's most unusual church café is the bare-bones coffee shop Post Crypt, in the basement of St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University -- little more than a coffee pot and some chairs, suitable for hungry worshipers who frown on worldly display.
Can it be long before ministers incorporate the daily specials into their sermons? Ray McGarrigle, general manager of St. Bartholomew's, isn't prepared to take such a step but notes that the café has been a blessing. "It hasn't solved our deficit problem," he allows, "but it helps offset some costs."