Prayer and a Latte: After Sale of Church, OC Parishioners Gather at Starbucks

On Ash Wednesday, customers grabbed a cup of joe and some ashes to go

The way the Rev. Canon Cindy Voorhees sees it, she's following in Jesus' footsteps by bringing the church to the people. On this Ash Wednesday, it just happens to be inside a Costa Mesa Starbucks.

The Episcopal church leader has been mingling her venti cappuccino and scripture for a while, using the coffee shop for pastoral care and other meetings, because her parish doesn't have a roof to pray under.

Two years ago, the diocese announced it was locking the doors at St. James the Great Episcopal Church. A buyer offered $15 million to tear it down and build condos. Since then, a court has ruled the congregation has no legal say in the matter. They have appealed. Another court ruling gave the diocese the right to sell the land, and that, too, is being appealed.

"The congregation is very cohesive and I think it's going to stay together," parishioner John Bailey said. "Whether it has the actual church building or not is another story."

So at the beginning of lent, customers like Isa Unsell grabbed a cup of joe and some ashes to go.

"I think it's perfect, I think it's fabulous and I think it's a perfect opportunity to reach a lot of people might not otherwise reach," Unsell said.

Parishioners have been meeting at fire stations and city hall. But they want to worship where they had for 70 years.

"They're an amazing group of people," Voorhees said. "I'm honored to serve them strong, faithful they've grown in the journey. But you really do need a building to thrive."

Until the church issue is decided in the court of appeals, the reverend and her flock will pray, latte in hand.

"I think it's an uphill battle, but I think the church is thriving in its own way no matter what happens," parishioners Tony Jones said.

Lawyers for the diocese and the congregation both say they hope a final ruling comes sometime this year.

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