It's a lazy Sunday afternoon at Pete's Candy Store, a low-key watering hole on Lorimer Street in Williamsburg, the famously bohemian neighborhood popular with the young and the scruffy. A few men and women stand around the bar chatting and sipping on pints of beer next to a sign listing happy hour specials, while Dave Lagerman, a lanky young man with shaggy blond hair who lives on Long Island, sets up a row of chairs in a smaller, more intimate room in the back. A chalkboard easel outside the front door advertises the evening's offerings, including a popular open mike jam session kicking off at 5pm. An hour earlier, at 4pm: "Revolution."
"I grew up Lutheran, but I get more feeling here," says Dave, nursing a two-dollar can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Dave and the other odd twenty-five souls who have made their way here today on a winter New York afternoon, some sipping on cocktails, others fingering personal copies of the Bible, have gathered for what is a fairly typical ritual, albeit in a fairly atypical location. For one hour every Sunday, the backroom of Pete's Candy Store--a space with the feel of a boxcar dressed up as a cabaret, where red lights dot the ceiling, and the stage is done up in red carpet and lined with red wallpaper--is converted to a chapel for the weekly meeting of a nondenominational charismatic Christian church called Revolution.
At a few minutes to four, a man makes his way to the front of the room wearing black boots, a green biker's satchel, a cap, and a web of ink up and down his arms. He has a small piercing in his lower lip and a big Toys "R" Us bag in his hands. After a final announcement is made inviting everybody at the bar to enter the "sanctuary," the tattooed gentleman announces a holiday toy drive for kids with HIV and encourages people to dig deep into their pockets. In a mellow Southern accent he shares a memory from his own childhood, when a friend at school brought him a football one day out of the blue, and how happy that made him feel. "And believe me, when I was a kid I had everything. I was a spoiled brat."
By most any standard, at least until the bottom fell out when he was a teenager, he was. This is Jay Bakker, the only son of Jimmy and Tammy Faye Bakker, founders of the Praise the Lord Club--or PTL--at one time the largest Christian satellite broadcast network in the world. They are the same Bakkers who found themselves at the tabloid epicenter of overlapping fraud and sex scandals in the 1980s that ultimately led to their ouster from the church they founded and to Jim Bakker's imprisonment on embezzlement charges. It was one of the most storied chapters in the annals of American scandal, and now the Bakkers' son preaches to a tiny congregation whose members sip draft beer and thumb through their iPhones while contemplating the gospel.