"Through ritual, guided by spiritual practice, church members use the sacred flower to reveal the best version of self, discover a creative voice and enrich their community with the fruits of that creativity," states the church website.
Over its 114 years of existence, the brown brick church that stands tall among a row of unassuming houses on 400 S Logan Street in Denver, has housed a wide range of religious sects. Lutherans, the prohibitionist religious group Pillar of Fire, and several other Christian denominations practiced their respective religions in the space one after the other until it was finally left vacant for nearly two years in the early 2010s. Then in 2017, when followers of a brand new religion gave the church a purpose and appearance unlike anything it had ever seen before, it took on a new name: The International Church of Cannabis.
Since opening its doors to worshippers on April 20, 2017, this unconventional church has welcomed worshippers from far and wide as all came under its roof to practice Elevationism. According to the International Church of Cannabis website, "through ritual, guided by spiritual practice, church members use the sacred flower to reveal the best version of self, discover a creative voice and enrich their community with the fruits of that creativity. Unlike other belief systems, there is no need to convert to Elevationism. It claims no divine law, no unquestionable doctrine, and no authoritarian structure."
Speaking to KMGH-TV, Steve Berke — one of the founders of the church — explained that it's about elevating one's self to the best version of self. "We don't pretend that we've invented something new; we just gave it a title and a safe place for people to use cannabis in their spiritual journeys to come here, and worship, and pray," he said. "We don’t tell them who to pray to. It’s really an open-minded spiritual community. While we do believe that cannabis can help you on your way to your spiritual journey, it’s also okay if you don’t use cannabis."
"Elevationism is not a replacement to your existing faith. It’s more of a supplement to it. You can be a Christian and an Elevationist. You can be Jewish and an Elevationist. You can be a Buddhist and an Elevationist," Berke added. Lee Molloy — one of the Berke's fellow cofounders — told CU Independent that when the church stood empty for a couple of years, he and friends used to use it to "smoke cannabis and enjoy the space." This was when they got the idea to use the space "for its intended purpose" rather than "cutting it up into condos" or turning it into a "mansion for a football player."
He revealed that although the church's founding members all came from a "mixed bag" of religious backgrounds, they all shared the belief that cannabis will "break down the walls" of their "stamped identities." Elaborating on the subject, Molloy said: "Rather than looking for the differences, you start finding things that bring you together. And that was really what made this an important idea." Today, the church has between 30 and 40 active members who — before the pandemic — would hold a Sunday service in their sanctuary with speakers, music, and lessons to take away.
Although the Sunday service has been put on hold for now, they have continued with their daily BEYOND — a guided meditation paired with a light show. "Everybody takes something different from the meditation and that’s the goal. The goal is some people will take one quote of that mediation and apply it to their lives," said Berke. He explained that just like other churches, the International Church of Cannabis has always strived to give back to their community. "We’ve led by example. We’ve volunteered picking up trash in the neighborhood, volunteering at animal shelters, feeding the homeless. We do all of the things that a normal church does without preaching a dogma inside our church," he said.
They are currently working on more guided meditations. "We’ll have BEYOND Happiness, BEYOND love, BEYOND doubt, so all these different themes encouraging people to think and question existing establishment thought and really encourage their spiritual paths and journeys," said Berke, adding that the one golden rule of their ministry is similar to that of most religions: treat others the way you want to be treated. "We’re all one human race. We may have different beliefs. We may believe in different gods, but that’s okay, right?" he asked. "Because we’re all spiritual and we all ultimately want this world to be a better place for the next generations."