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Santa Cruz Church to Serve Pints With a Purpose

August 14, 2018 – It’s no accident that the Bible is loaded with references to food, drink and community. Caring for people is about feeding bodies as well as souls. Now a local church is adding another dimension to this idea—by building a restaurant and brewery in downtown Santa Cruz where Sunday services will also be offered.

Leaders of the progressive Greater Purpose Community Church have leased the huge space that previously housed iconic Logos bookstore on Pacific Avenue and are planning the remodel, with a hoped-for opening in summer or fall of 2019.

Envisioned is a full restaurant on the street level and a brewery in the basement, going by the name Greater Purpose Brewing Company.

“I hope it totally changes people’s perception of Christianity,” says GPCC pastor Christopher VanHall, who notes that there won’t be anything religious in the restaurant signage or merchandise—nothing to indicate, on first glance, that this is anything more than a family-friendly brew pub.

It’s all about getting creative in order to do good work in the community. VanHall says that traditional ways of raising money are difficult when people’s budgets are increasingly squeezed, but they’ll still go out to eat or have a beer.

Pastor Christopher VanHall of the Greater Purpose Community Church

The church plans to donate between 30 and 60 percent of restaurant proceeds to worthy causes, including Planned Parenthood—which is in the same building—as well as the Homeless Garden Project, Save Our Shores, and the Diversity Center.

What’s attractive about this model, says VanHall, is that GPCC doesn’t have to create more programs to help people in need.

“We’re blessed to live in a city that is very empathetic and compassionate,” he says. “We have really good nonprofits, and we’re supporting people who are already doing great work.”

Food and drink are already intertwined with GPCC’s philosophy. The church has been hosting “Faith on Tap” evenings at the Santa Cruz Food Lounge, where craft beer, wine and nonalcoholic beverages are offered along with discussions. Earlier this year, GPCC sold its Garfield Park church and has been holding Sunday services at the Food Lounge as well.

The progressive church emphasizes inclusiveness and acceptance of all who come, with a special emphasis on serving the LGBTQ community. Even atheists and agnostics are part of the GPCC congregation, VanHall says. The church’s hashtag: #AllMeansAll.

Brewing and winemaking have long been associated with religious orders, so the combination of libations and liturgy is nothing new. The camaraderie of clinking glasses has long been known to encourage the feeling of family and community that congregations strive for.

Serving craft beer at church “has done wonders for breaking down people’s assumptions of Christianity,” says VanHall, who says the idea that Christians can’t drink is bad theology. “Literally, Jesus’ first miracle was turning gallons of water into wine and serving it at a wedding.”

He and brewer Michael Kostowskyj are planning to brew beer, mead, and hopefully cider for the restaurant: “We’ll have beers that are dear to Northern Californians as well as unique beers you can’t get anywhere else.” They’ll also brew nonalcoholic beers and ginger beer.

The Greater Purpose Brewing Company’s logo includes subtle signs that point to its philosophy as well as its Santa Cruz roots: monarch butterflies, symbolizing transformation and rebirth, fluttering around a stalwart redwood tree, with rainbow stripes bordering the artwork.

Pastor VanHall at the Santa Cruz Pride Parade

The restaurant will serve up what VanHall calls “Southern comfort food,” with vegan and vegetarian options as well. “I’m from the South, and the food is one of the few things that I miss,” says VanHall. “There’s not really anyone who’s doing that style of food here.”

He’s now working on plans with an architect and an interior designer, but is anticipating that the restaurant will have 150 to 200 seats. So far, city officials have been receptive and it’s also received the stamp of approval from the police chief, VanHall says.

The restaurant is planned as a family-friendly establishment where there will be drink limits, VanHall says. After a certain number of ounces, “probably 30 to 32,” customers will have to wait before being served again.

News of the church brewery/restaurant has been greeted by a flurry of TV reports, with a video clip on Fox News generating some nasty comments regarding the idea of drinking at church, as well as criticizing the church’s progressive agenda. VanHall says it doesn’t bother him at all: “We’re upsetting all the right people for all the right reasons.”


About the author

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Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about the environment, sustainable living and health for numerous publications and websites. She is the co-author of “Humbled: How California’s Monterey Bay Escaped Industrial Ruin.”