How St. Dorothy’s lost its chapel and found a home in a bar
Independent Catholic church community now calls St. Matthews Tavern on Mills Avenue home
Published: January 15, 2014
“Well, I guess you have to do some sinning in order to have a reason to be saved,” Father Jim Profirio-Bond laughs as he literally disrobes to reveal an Orlando Gay Chorus T-shirt. He’s just wrapped up Sunday Mass on Dec. 15, and, as people of his congregation scurry to move the rollaway altar and secure the chalice and religious iconography, Father Jim returns himself to the secular world. How secular? Well, we’re in a gay bar, for starters.
“Last week, I got hit on by a guy at the bar after Mass,” Father Jim says. “I got a real kick out of it.”
In early December, Father Jim and his followers in the St. Dorothy Catholic Community – “We’re considered a schismatic offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church,” he says – were forced to relocate. Their previous home, the Winter Park Wedding Chapel on West New England Avenue, was slated to be razed (it was eventually relocated) by its owner, controversial Winter Park developer Dan Bellows. As fate would have it, a young new bar owner, Matt Fassl, had made his first visit to the church just as the news broke. He did what any good Christian would do: He quietly offered up his space for the church to hold services. That space just happened to be the longtime former home of a bar called the Cactus Club (and more recently Paradise and Orlando Nights) on Mills Avenue. Holy water was turned into holy wine and St. Matthew’s Tavern and Beer Garden was born.
But even given the odd circumstances under which hedonism and heaven met here, St. Dorothy’s is clearly no joke. In setting up the photographs for this story, Father Jim refused to pose in full priest regalia with a beer in his hand because “that’s a step too far,” he says. Moreover, Father Jim’s Masses, though executed at times with the assistance of a remote-controlled CD player before a congregation of casually dressed people of all stripes, are full of the same spiritual messages you either loved or hated if you grew up going to church. He delivers Communion with a palpable solemnity, mixing water and wine and carefully draping a cloth over his arm. It’s a real church with an active congregation – one that seems to match the more populist shift of the Catholic church under Pope Francis.
“I always say, ‘Everyone is welcome at Communion.’ I don’t give a dang if you’re a Lutheran, re-born Pentecostal or whatever. If you believe that’s the body and the blood of Christ, get your fanny up here,” he says. “You’d never see that in the Roman church. If you’ve had an abortion, if you’ve been remarried – that’s all man-made laws. We don’t bother with that. It’s your relationship with Christ, your personal relationship. And we’re there to help that, you know, make it real for you.”
“We’re trying to go back to what the church was, way back when,” he adds. “It’s awesome what [Pope] Francis is doing. I bet you if we sat down with him one-on-one, I bet you he’d say, ‘You’re welcome. We see what you’re doing. You’re doing nothing wrong.’”
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