Smoking pot at this repurposed Wash Park church is not just tolerated. It’s part of the ritual.
Steve Berke, 35, turned the former Cavalry Church at 400 S. Logan St. into a different kind of holy ground, with multi-colored murals splashed above its pews like a psychedelic Sistine Chapel, ashtrays placed beside mid-century lounge chairs like basins of holy water, and lighters in place of devotional candles.
Berke is a Yale graduate, a YouTube personality, an advertising startup founder and a real estate investor. He’s also a member of the International Church of Cannabis.
Yesterday, Berke’s main occupation was lead promoter for the church’s IndieGogo campaign, which went live Tuesday and seeks to raise $100,000 to upgrade the 113-year-old building with a new boiler, new windows and features for ADA accessibility. He’s also busy promoting the church’s first slate of public events, which kick off on 4/20 weekend.
Berke first came across Mt. Calvary Apostolic Church while visiting two 4/20s ago. At the time, his family was looking for real estate to buy as part of a 1031 Exchange deal.
“Then I saw the For Sale sign,” Berke said.
City records show that Berke bought the church in August for $1 million. It wasn’t long before he decided to rent the building to the International Church of Cannabis, he said, rather than build condos or put the property to some other use.
Berke joined the church, whose members use marijuana, after working in the industry and using cannabis himself.
Elevationists, as the church calls its followers, believe their members can become their best selves, in part, via the ritual use of marijuana. Elevationists started worshiping at the church in July, then got to work on renovations. The church has 50 members, Berke said.
The building’s main event is the chapel. Its soaring ceilings were blank, so Berke commissioned Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel to blanket them with kaleidoscopic portraits of creatures that resemble bears and rams.
Berke then furnished the fellowship room, a multi-purpose space on the church’s ground floor that Berke imagines members will use for everything from wedding receptions to board games.
In its current configuration, the space is one-part lounge and one-part rec room. One corner has a patent leather green lounge chair that curls in a full C-shape, flanked on one side by a pair of nearly life-sized Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a small table with a thoughtfully-placed ash tray and a red-and-yellow neon sign that reads “Fatburger” in all caps.
Berke said he’s financing the renovations out of pocket, mostly using money from real estate investments. He estimates that he’s spent between $100,000 and $150,000 on the project.
There’s more to do, like redoing a kitchen at the back of the property and replacing boarded-over windows. For those updates, the Elevationists are turning their faith to IndieGogo.