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October 21, 2014

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Move over, Terry Bradshaw: Pub church delivers heavenly pregame show

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Steve Marcus

Buck Belmore, an Episcopal priest, gives a short sermon during an inaugural pub church service at the Atomic, 917 E. Fremont Street, in downtown Las Vegas on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013.

Pub Church at Atomic

Deacon Bonnie Polley, left, and Episcopal priest Buck Belmore  conduct an inaugural pub church service at the Atomic, 917 East Fremont Street, in downtown Las Vegas Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. Launch slideshow »

The Rev. Buck Belmore, flanked by bottles of booze, called the faithful to put down their bloody marys, mimosas and coffees and to come together.

On this, the first Sunday of the NFL season, more than spirits were being mixed at The Atomic bar. Prayer and pigskin also were.

Welcome to the inaugural nondenominational pub church service at The Atomic in downtown Las Vegas. Conducted an hour before kickoff, the weekly event is a modern cocktail of Sunday staples church and football — mixed with a little alcohol.

“It’s kind of your reward,” said Derek Stonebarger, The Atomic's co-owner and general manager. “You get through church and then you get to watch football. That’s what we’re going for.”

Belmore and bar co-owners Stonebarger and Lance Johns kicked around the idea of a pub church about eight months ago. While bars and church don’t normally mix, the concept intrigued Belmore, who is a retired Episcopalian priest and works as a volunteer Chaplin at Clark County Detention Center.

The Bible told several stories of preachers going to the people for services (including bars), and pub churches are common in England, Belmore said. Plus, he liked the fact that the bar’s congenial atmosphere helps to tear down the formal barriers that exist at a normal church.

“This is what the institutional church has to do if it’s going to be viable in today’s world,” Belmore said. “Don’t ask people to come to the temple; you go to the temple.”

Stonebarger felt it gives people who normally choose between football and church the chance to have their communion bread and eat it, too. So they decided to make the concept a reality.

On Sunday, about 15 people congregated at the bar wearing everything from their Sunday finest to a Drew Brees jersey for a church service among liquor bottles and televisions. Most visitors heard about the event through a friend and attended out of curiosity.

For about 30 minutes, the bar transformed into a church. Belmore led the service and gave a 15-minute meditation, while the congregation sang a few hymns, prayed and had communion.

“I hope the sermon sparks interest and will (start) the conversation,” Belmore said. “We welcome all seekers; it doesn’t matter what your past has been. We’re not trying to convert individuals.”

After the service, the TVs flipped on and the sound of cheering NFL fans filled the bar. Kickoff was minutes away; church was over.

Regular Las Vegas tourists Ann and Dave Pryor of London attended out of curiosity and enjoyed the service. Meanwhile, Jose Herrara was surprised to see that bars and church do mix. The Dallas Cowboys fan said he would likely return for another service.

“It’s nice,” Herrara said. “After church we can watch football right here.”

Belmore chatted with a few people, then ordered a bloody mary from the “Hail Mary” bar and settled at a table with his family. He plans to continue doing the services every Sunday and hopes it will expand into community service projects.

But for now, he’s enjoying his bloody mary. After all, church is over and he’s in a bar.

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