As TRAX trains whiz their way along Main Street and the lunch-time crowd downtown pounds the sidewalks on midday Christmas errands, Chauncey Webb is minding the bar.

The manager of the new Main Street Coffee House at 149 S. Main, is finishing the remodeling inside in anticipation of a big crowd on Dec. 31. The annual First Night celebration will be the inaugural "coming out" party for the coffee house, whose mission includes more than simply serving up a variety of hot brews.

In what may be a first for Salt Lake City, the locale's reason for existence is "grounded" not on coffee but on faith. And it is opening just in time for the biggest party this city has ever seen.

"We were planning this kind of ministry before the Olympics was really on the radar screen," said Pastor Clint Roberts, who is working with a Christian group called Global Outreach to establish the coffee house not as a money-making machine, but as a church with non-profit status.

"It wasn't done specifically because of the Olympics, but the more we looked, it has convinced us that downtown and Main Street was a viable spot to do it. We're looking to build a place where people will hang out." Most of those, he's convinced, are college students and Gen Xers who seek out the coffee house atmosphere. Building a church geared toward young people around such a venue makes sense, because it offers social interaction and relationship—building that is vital in amassing the fellowship that a church runs on.

The venue itself will become a worship center for Sunday morning services of Pastor Roberts' church, called "The Summit," which is based on Baptist theology. Its demographic includes young adults in the downtown area all the way east to the University of Utah community, where Pastor Roberts organized a successful Baptist outreach nearly four years ago.

When his group first started holding church meetings and contemporary Bible study, they did so at a theater on campus. "We knew back then we needed to do something more permanent," and The Salt Co. was the answer. Pastor Roberts organized it in a house owned by the Baptists about a block from campus.

With the new venue on the horizons several blocks west of the U., Roberts says he'll be drawing heavily on The Salt Co. clientele to get it up and running, both as volunteer counter help and as parishioners. That atmosphere is part of what Global Outreach believes will draw people in during the Olympics, as they seek out a place to warm up and socialize. Connecting with friends and family back home will be another draw, Pastor Roberts said, because an internet cafe inside will allow patrons to send and receive e-mail.

While the concept is believed to be new to the Salt Lake area, it has worked well in other cities, including a spot in Atlanta where the Summer Olympics were held called "Heart of Atlanta" ministries. The realtors mantra, "location, location, location" was the biggest consideration for Pastor Roberts, as he tried to determine whether he could actually draw enough of a crowd downtown to make a go of it.

Salt Lake City administrators helped ease the decision-making. "Because they're trying to revitalize Main Street, they liked an idea like ours where we plan to be around a while. We live here, and our vision for this is a place that constantly has people, live music and poetry nights. We'll have the computers, the lounge area, books, and we'll be open very late for students."

A web site dedicated to information about the coffee house and the church has been created at www.MainStreetCoffee.org and will have information about musicians, poetry readings and other events.


E-MAIL: carrie@desnews.com