Capitol Hill Church Gets OK to Construct Coffeehouse

Posted March 2, 2004 at 2:13pm

On the corner of F and Second streets Northeast, a tiny, dilapidated brick building with rotting wood paneling sits unused, dwarfed in the shadow of Union Station.

A hundred years ago, before food service was available on commuter trains, the building operated as a diner, serving butter and eggs to hungry Washington travelers. Today, after a quarter-century of neglect, the property appears to be little more another run-down eyesore.

But for leaders of the the Capitol Hill-based National Community Church, the little brick building represents an longtime dream that is quickly becoming a reality.

Two years ago, the church purchased the run-down former eatery for some $300,000 with the vision of building a hip coffeehouse and community center just a block from the Union Station movie theater where the church holds weekly services. And just last week, the group received unanimous final approval from the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board to begin construction on the $1.5 million coffee shop project.

The Hill-based NCC, which last fall expanded its services to the AMC movie theaters in Ballston Common Mall in Arlington, Va., hopes that by early 2005 the new location will become a place where the church and community will cross paths.

Lead pastor Mark Batterson said the coffee shop, which will be called Ebenezers after a passage referring to spiritual milestones in the Bible, will open early and stay open late for those who live and work around the Hill.

“I think it will provide a great place for those, especially on the Senate side, to meet and bring constituents,” said Heather Sawyer, a legislative assistant to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) who also works part time for the church.

The lower level of the coffeehouse will provide seating for more than 200 people, and Batterson envisions that it will be a place for the church to hold concerts and events to make the community feel welcome. Church offices will be located on the upper floor.

“There’ll be a lot of modern technology and a warm feeling,” said Christina Borja, NCC coffeehouse project manager, who is quick to boast plans for flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi Internet link-ups in the coffee shop. She said the NCC, an interdenominational church, wants Ebenezers to be a place where the entire community can come and feel comfortable.

If building trendy coffeehouses and praying in movie theaters seems unusual for a religious group, the eight-year-old National Community Church would be the first to say they aren’t a typical church. According to Batterson, who with his sharp goatee and laid-back manner seems to embody the edgy style and upbeat nature of his church, 80 percent of the NCC’s 850 regular attendees are under 35 and 80 percent are single.

“We’re very young, very single and probably a third of the church is Hill staffers,” Batterson, 34, explained.

“I think it’s a church that meets people where they’re at in their lives. We address real issues and real needs,” said Sawyer. “It’s very easy for people to plug into.”