The Crypt Tea Room in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist reopens this summer, heading into its 23rd year. A visit to the Tea Room has become an annual tradition for locals and is often a must-see for many visiting tourists
The Crypt Tea Room came from Derrice Bellamy, the wife of the former Dean, Bill Bellamy, who recruited Stella Jones to help create the Tea Room in the mid-nineties.
The idea was born from the Bellamy’s trip to England, where they visited a number of tea rooms. Thinking about the unused space in her place of worship back home, Derrice Bellamy envisioned making use of the space in a way that would benefit the Church.
The space was originally used for coal storage, and many years later, converted into a space for Sunday School. In 1996, the space was reborn as the Tea Room in the Crypt. Operating five days of the week, the Tea Room was hugely successful for a couple of years, garnering a feature in the New York Times in 1999.
The Tea Room was in such high demand that the Church decided to close for one summer and renovate its kitchen to accommodate the growing needs of the volunteer committee. Jones figured the Dean’s retirement would mark the end of the Tea Room, but a new Dean, Josiah Noel, urged Jones to keep it going.
“People just loved it, so I stayed on then, for seven years,” the former coordinator said.
Marilyn Sooley, was still in the workforce at the time, joining in the early 2000s and later becoming the coordinator, a title she still holds in 2019. Jones is also still on board, as a volunteer.
Upon the departure of Dean Noel a few years later, Archdeacon Roger Whalen joined the Cathedral and continued to support the Crypt Tea Room and its volunteer committee, which also features numerous young people from the Church’s congregation, and from outside the Church as well.
When asked if Jones thought she would still be involved with the Tea Room after nearly two and a half decades, the woman shook her head and laughed.
“When Archdeacon Roger came here and Dean Noel went to Spaniard’s Bay, I thought, ‘Thank God I’m done with the Tea Room,” Jones joked. “Marilyn took over coordinator … but I just can’t leave it,” she said.
The ladies noted that they remain dedicated to the Tea Room for a number of reasons, with one of the main reasons being the amount of money that the Tea Room raises for the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
“We enjoy not only taking in the donations but also meeting the people,” Jones said. “We get the same people back every year.”
For some, enjoying an afternoon tea and snack at the Tea Room has become an annual tradition. Local bed and breakfasts and museums, including the museum in The Basilica Cathedral of St. John The Baptist, have also been supportive, suggesting the Tea Room to visitors and locals alike. Many tourists incorporate a visit into their vacation itineraries. “We’ve had tourists who have said that their friends went to the Tea Room, and told them to not forget to visit the Cathedral during their trip to Newfoundland,” Jones said.
“We had a whole choir from California who came right down here off the plane,” Sooley added, noting that the Tea Room’s social media presence has bolstered attention and attendance.
People have also used the Crypt Tea Room for wedding showers, anniversaries, baby showers, birthday celebrations, and more.
“We’re so busy now that people have to phone the office to make reservations,” Jones said, with Sooley noting that the Tea Room fits about 70 people.
On one occasion last summer, the Tea Room had 65 reservations made before the door even opened that day, plus a line-up out the door waiting to get in for a bite.
The Tea Room offers exclusively home-made snacks, such as breads, various cookies, tea buns, and a sweet treat, like a tart or a mini-cheesecake, washed down with a cup of hot tea or coffee. Jones herself made over 2,000 tarts last summer. Sooley is no slouch either, creating hundreds of gorgeous meringues garnished with fresh fruit. Many of the ingredients used in creating the delectable snacks are donated by members of the church and community.
The baked goods and beverages are included in the price of admission, which is $10 per person, and $6 per child.
The use of money raised varies from year to year, depending on the Cathedral’s needs at the time. The funds can be used to help preserve the structural integrity and hallowed decor of the ancient building, which is a municipal, provincial, and national historic site, Archdeacon Whalen explained.
“The funds that come in from Tea Room help us – beyond the building – with programs in the community or different ministries,” Archdeacon Whalen said, including the Emmaus food bank.
After a particularly successful summer, some of the money was used to purchase a dishwasher for the Tea Room – a blessing for the committee, who had been hand washing every dish for years. Archdeacon Whalen noted that the Cathedral, as a whole, sees about 7,000 tourists annually. He guesstimates that the Tea Room brings in approximately 1,500-1,800 people.
In 2019, the Crypt Tea Room opens in July, operating from Wednesday to Saturday. “Not to brag about us, but we do a nice afternoon tea,” Jones shared with a smile.
For more information on the Crypt Tea Room, www.visitstjohnsanglicancathedral.org/ctr.html. To become a volunteer, email [email protected].