- Associated Press - Sunday, November 12, 2017

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) - Bright blue and orange café tables fill the basement of Doylestown Mennonite Church twice each month.

Photographs of landscapes and teddy bears, quilts and more than a dozen trees decorate the room.

And everything in the underground Christian club has a design. The decorations give the room a warmth, the tables encourage closeness and the spiritual music connects them to the church and the community.

You see, Karen Curtis would have liked it that way, say the founders.

Karen loved to find ways to draw people together - especially to her social outlet, her church.

The 17-year-old Plumstead teen died in a car accident in 1996 on her way to Bible group at the church. In honor of Karen, who brought music, artwork and enthusiasm to the ministry, the teens from the church opened the music café in 1998 and named it after her.

Since then, Karen’s Place has expanded beyond a youth initiative and has been embraced by people of all ages. On the first and third Saturday of each month, the basement is transformed into a Christian club, offering live entertainment, coffee, snacks and a refuge for people to gather in what founder Don Heckler calls “an entertaining wholesome environment.”

Guests don’t have to be a member of the church to enjoy the free shows, which feature Christian bands of all types - rock, jazz and blues. Proceeds from the sales of coffee and snacks go to local food pantries and charities that help victims of human trafficking.

“People here feel safe, and they come feeling blessed and encouraged; yes, you hear the gospel, but it’s through music and not in your face,” said Heckler, adding that each event draws between 50 and 100 people, including teens and senior citizens. “You’d be surprised to see how many people in their 70s like rock.”

Heckler said Karen’s Place has even served as a “first-date” choice for a few couples, two of whom got married.

It’s an entertainment alternative that reaches people who want the social and aesthetics of a club or bar atmosphere, but not the drinking that goes with it.

“And if they are interested in faith, that’s great, but if not, they can sit down, have a cup of coffee and enjoy the music,” Heckler said. “Our slogan is: ‘Where the music does more than rock.’ And we think it does.”

John Accunzo, of Northeast Philadelphia, seeks out Christian clubs like Karen’s Place for a relaxed and fun social outlet. He has driven to the club in Doylestown about one Saturday a month since 2007; the drive is far, but it’s worth it, he said.

“It doesn’t look like a church or fellowship hall; it’s like a bistro, café or club,” Accunzo said. “The first time I went in, I felt right at home.”

And he found the club is a place to bring friends who “need a glimmer of hope in their lives,” without the distractions of big screens televising images of tragedies or talk of politics. “Karen’s Place is positive, and after learning about her, it made me want to go even more.”

The success of Karen’s Place is comforting to Alyce and Bruce Curtis, Karen’s parents.

Alyce Curtis said she knows Karen - the outgoing girl who sang in the youth ensemble and played in the bell choir - would have loved the café.

“She enjoyed music and people. She loved to bring people together; she had that way about her,” Curtis said. “Karen’s Place would be something she would be very proud of. And she would love knowing that it’s still reaching out to the community.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2hctPMZ

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Information from: The Intelligencer, http://www.theintell.com

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