The Rev. Jeff and Randi Cowmeadow are weathering with faith and humor this Easter the closure of their church — and pub — in Minneapolis’ Whittier neighborhood.
“All will be well,” said Jeff Cowmeadow, referring to 15th century Englishwoman, Julian of Norwich, and her “Revelations of Divine Love,” a work of faith and spirituality in a time of widespread famine, poverty, plague and death.
“That was a time of huge injustice,” he said. “Spring is here. We will get through this.”
This is the hope of believers at the time of Easter and Passover, and it’s also the hope of optimists in businesses around Minnesota and the country as they confront the downturn brought on by the coronavirus.
In 1988, the Cowmeadows began to lead Calvary Baptist Church. In three decades-plus, the church grew from a waning group of 50 members into a vibrant, multicultural congregation of 200-plus families.
Calvary today is an engaged stalwart of a revitalized neighborhood. It has a $400,000 budget, several employees and it rents space to a preschool and a commercial kitchen.
The Cowmeadows and their three adult daughters last spring opened a second enterprise, Prodigal Pub, at 26th Street off Nicollet Avenue, a couple blocks from the church and along the area many call “Eat Street.”
“Jeff and I still haven’t taken any salary,” said Randi about their labor of love that has gotten thumbs-up reviews for hospitality, potpies, cold beer and warm Irish whiskey.
Most small restaurants and small businesses don’t make much profit in the first year in business. Prodigal was on the way as a gathering place and to positive cash flow.
“Gross sales were up every month but September; with competition from the State Fair and back-to-school time for families,” Randi said.
“It’s exceeded our expectations,” said Jeff, who has presided over an impromptu renewal of 40-year marriage vows, tended bar, cleared tables and engaged in many, many discussions.
“I don’t believe in a difference between secular and sacred,” Jeff said. “This is also sacred space. We are among friends.
“Jesus had wine. But if he had lived in the British Isles, he would have turned the wine into whiskey.”
The Cowmeadows met in the 1980s while working at a restaurant.
They have economical lease on the pub, which can seat 50. Still, the instant public health crisis has led to one for the pub as it did for many establishments where people gather.
The Cowmeadows are concerned about fellow restaurateurs, other businesses and hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans now out of work.
“Reopening in May would be a lot better than August,” Randi said.
That goes for churches as well as restaurants.
Jeff has conducted Sunday services over the internet from home, although he planned to deliver the Easter service from the church. Randi handles the video camera. He misses the bustle of daily activity at Calvary.
The church hosts a chapter of Narcotics Anonymous, runs its own youth groups and provides free meals to those in need. Its other activities include a women’s book club, a neighborhood engagement committee, a men’s group, a contemplative worship group, Bible study group and a coed softball team.
Jeff loves to recall when a friend of the church, a financial planner, about a decade ago told one of his clients about its growth, success and spirit. A couple former homeless people who sought refuge became valued employees. The congregation is mostly neighborhood folks.
The church, which is paying staff through April, has been blessed with reserves thanks to a wealthy associate of a member who about a decade ago donated $2 million. The donor never visited Calvary, the Cowmeadows said. The gift was simply an act of faith.
They know that the COVID-19 virus will not miraculously vanish.
The miracle will be the spirit and effort of congregants, small businesses, generous customers, forbearing landlords and energetic workers who keep the church going, and resurrect Prodigal Pub and thousands of small businesses in our community.