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From Super Bowl to Parade, NYC churches combine traditions of faith and celebration

Many churches in New York City have Super Bowl traditions that are as memorable as the best tailgate parties.

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The Rector of Historic Trinity Church, Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, left, blesses the floats during the New York Giants NFL football Super Bowl parade in New York, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The week started a little louder in New York City this Sunday at the Solemn Evensong and Benediction at St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church on West 46th Street. And it got  louder.

On Super Bowl Sunday, St. Mary’s parish hall could have passed for any of the neighboring packed bars near Times Square: fifty-six Giants fans gazed at the game projected onto the wall, fortified by five and a half gallons of light and dark ale on tap and everything from beer-cheese to pulled pork lined up on two long buffet tables.

“Not many churches do stuff for fun,” said Grace Bruni, altar server and co-planner of the church’s seven-year running Super Bowl event. “I don’t actually think too many of us are big football fans, but this is an opportunity for fellowship.”

Many churches in New York City have Super Bowl traditions that reinforce the idea of the church as a family. An admired founder, hand-me down recipes, and team work make these gatherings as memorable as the best tailgate parties.

St. Mary’s former priest, Fr. Matthew Mead, started the tradition seven years ago. His love of football, beer and infamous “abusive chili” got the event off the ground. He used to grow chili peppers off his balcony above the church and put them in his Pepto-worthy recipe. “Whatever it was, I think it was radioactive,” said Bruni.

Fr. Mead was just under thirty when he started the event, and parishioners said his youthful energy drew over 80 people during the event’s nascent years.

In 2007, Fr. Mead transferred to a church upstate and though the chili Bruni prepares nowadays is a, “kinder, gentler version”—hot sauce on the side—the tradition of a

Grace Bruni and Richard Thielmann have taken over planning the annual Super Bowl party at St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal church in Midtown. This is the event's seventh year. Photo: Teresa Mahoney/A Journey through NYC religions

Super Bowl party at St. Mary’s still flames brightly. A good beer helps.

St. Mary’s is one of the few churches with a wholesale account at Brooklyn Brewery. Sipping from his father’s

1948 authentic German beer stein, Richard Theilmann recalls how it happened. Working as an IT contractor for the brewery, one day he put two and two together and thought, “How do I get beer to the church?” Evidently, the idea  was welcomed. Pretty soon, beer was being served after services.

But naturally beer became part of St. Mary’s Super Bowl tradition. Thielmann also set up the technology for the TV projector.

“We take the important things seriously, but know how to have fun,” said Julia Miranda who prepared 16 pounds of pulled pork for the event—all of which was devoured by the end of the night.

“Our church is unique because of its location. Most parishioners go to a church because it’s in their neighborhood. Nobody really lives in Times Square, we all choose to be here,” Theilmann said. “We’re committed to each other, not just the worship.”

At the Super Bowl parade down at Wall Street area yesterday, Episcopalians brought their celebrating to a climax with a blessing of the NY Giant floats as they passed by Historic Trinity Church. Decked out in a Giant-blue robe and cap, Rev. Dr. James. H. Cooper waved his incense pot like a swaying pom-pom over the champs as the crowd roared.

Now, we need their prayers to start for next year.

Phot: Teresa Mahoney/A Journey through NYC religions

Grace’s Chili Recipe


3 lbs. of beef

2 cans each of kidney, pinto and black beans

4 28 oz. cans diced tomatoes

½ cup lemon, ½ cup lime

¼ jar crushed garlic

1 large onion

1 pack cilantro

4 types of pepper to taste: pancho, cayenne, chipotle, paprika

  • I love this article! It's funny that a sport can bring so many people together in such a joyful manner! love it

  • Teresa - Great article! Sometimes we forget that churches are places where people share life's experiences. No doubt the emphasis is to carry out the liturgy of worship and to bestow values and faith to the congregation, but some of what makes churches special is their integration into the community surrounding them.

    People come into worship spaces with more than religion on their mind. More than a few church members tend to check their watches frequently when the hometown team is scheduled to be on the field. Not only do sports carry into places of worship, but in a year that Tim Teabow's faith was the subject of much media coverage, we often see faith carried into the sports arena. Your article reminds us that sports, religion and even a few good beers are often taken in good humor. A passionate New York minister has been known to say with a chuckle "We know God doesn't favor one team or the other, but I am praying for the Giants!"

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