DENVER - For more than a century, it blended in, until bright colors bled from the walls and windows of a 113-year-old church in Denver.
“It looks like an old church that had some stuff painted on the outside to be quite honest,” Cat Vielma said.
Vielma lives across the street from the church at South Logan Street and East Dakota Avenue. She noticed the new, cosmic-themed mural just as she noticed the church’s new, colorful tenants.
“I hope they’re respectful of neighbors of folks who have lived 50 years on this block,” Vielma said.
On 4/20, the International Church of Cannabis will open its doors at 400 S. Logan Street. Elevation Ministries, a Colorado non-profit religious organization, now calls the church home.
“Our life stance is that the cannabis is a sacrament and that we use it to elevate our lives and achieve the best versions of ourselves that we can be,” Lee Molloy said, one of the members of the church.
Molloy said he and his friends in the congregation consider themselves “Elevationists.”
“Elevationists believe that one can find the path to spiritual fulfillment through the ritual use of cannabis,” Steve Berke said.
The message can perhaps be best seen in a video on the church's fundraising page.
In the video, the church claims that their building will be the "first large venue in the world where adults can legally consume cannabis in a social environment." The spokesperson also says the church will serve people who "take the sacred flower to find inspiration and meaning."
Their church will not sell marijuana or accessories, but it will give people a space to come together and use cannabis. Leaders will also bring in guest speakers, artists, comedians and musicians, and show documentary films.
Berke is the landlord of the church. He said his family bought the property initially in hopes of turning a profit.
“We were looking at condos and apartments,” Berke explained. “Then ultimately, a group of my friends convinced me to keep this as a community church, but with a little different angle to it.”
It’s certainly a church with a different angle, and a lot more color.
“We have two of the most famous artists in the world who’ve contributed murals to this space,” Berke said.
The mural on the outside of the church was painted by artist Kenny Scharf. Inside the church, Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel painted bright-colored designs onto the ceiling of the chapel.
“It’s a visceral experience to walk into a 113-year-old church and see this much color,” Berke said.
Neighbors seemed to appreciate the restoration of an old church, but were concerned about how the new tenants would use the space. Many have voiced their concerns to Denver City Councilman Jolon Clark, who admitted he still doesn’t know what to make of the International Church of Cannabis.
“I share my constituents concerns in that I want to make sure we have safe and vibrant neighborhoods and that we have people playing by the rules,” Clark said.
Vielma was most worried about what she called “dual-messaging” from church leaders. Berke is also CEO of a company called Bang Digital Media, which does marketing work for the cannabis industry.
“You’re kind of moving away from the church you told us about and kind of stepping into this for-profit church place that I don’t really feel comfortable with,” Vielma said.
Berke insisted he was not opening the church or operating his business there for financial reasons.
“The most profitable use of this property is not a non-profit church,” Berke said.
Berke said the church and its members will be good neighbors and responsive to concerns about noise, parking and consumption of marijuana.
“This is not just a bunch of lazy stoners getting together to get high,” he said. “We really want to positively impact Washington Park West neighborhood. We want to do great things for the community.”
The International Church of Cannabis will open its doors on 4/20 with a celebration Berke said would include academic panels, guest speakers, musicians and comedians.
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