Spank thy neighbor: BDSM party at deconsecrated church is welcomed by South Philly community

The Fleisher Sanctuary where Sacri-Delicious is held.

With the blockbuster success of “50 Shades of Grey,” an erotic novel that shattered sales records this summer, kink is king. The topic of BDSM – an umbrella term used to describe all manner of bondage, discipline, domination, submission and masochism role-playing taboos – is, well, no longer so taboo.

“Even though ’50 Shades’ depicts a fictional and inaccurate view of BDSM, I actually have seen an influx of the curious,” said Mistress Zeneca, who hosts “Sacri-Delicious,” a religious-themed role-play party held amid medieval statues and 19th century theological tableaux at Fleisher Sanctuary, a deconsecrated 19th century Episcopalian church attached to Bella Vista’s Samuel Fleisher Art Memorial that now serves as a popular rental space for events, including weddings. “Pop culture opens the door, it is up to the community to offer the welcome.”

She said the book’s portrayal of a BDSM relationship depicts many traits that are actually unhealthy and abusive, but it has piqued the interest of many, leading to a largely positive impact on the city’s already-robust community of those who like to spank and be spanked. “I think for all the inaccuracies the book contains, the real power of the book is that it got people talking about BDSM and learning more about it,” said Zeneca, who declined to give her real name.

Zeneca herself began to dabble in BDSM culture 11 years ago as an apprentice to a mistress in Los Angeles. “I was amazed at the kinship and love that I felt in the air,” she said of the first play party she attended. “That welcoming energy is what I try to recreate for my guests.”

Though she finds Philadelphians to be more reserved about going public with their penchant for pain, Zeneca still estimates that there are over 1,000 people in the area who publicly participate in the practice in some way and another 10,000 who like it a little rough in bed but might not consider themselves part of the BDSM scene.

As far as the Sacri-Delicious’ sacred subject matter, Zeneca said religion and BDSM surprisingly share many themes. “The topics of guilt, pain, suffering, redemption and desire are common between both religion and BDSM,” she said. “The power in religion is that it is something we are both attracted to and rebel against.”

Fleisher Art Memorial officials referred to Sacri-Delicious as a “costume party” and stressed that it was a private event, though tickets are available to everyone over the age of 18. “Fleisher respects diverse backgrounds, viewpoints, and traditions and applies this value to all its operations,” the school said in a statement.

Zeneca hopes the interest generated by pop culture’s current fixation on fetish will open doors to more dialogue. “The tantalizing connection between pain and pleasure is a conversation heard more often now,” she said. “BDSM is no longer unknown and fearful. BDSM is now accepted as a spice that you can add to your relationship.”

‘Morality is a weird thing’

Though the event website features pictures from the last party that seem almost tailor-made to stir up controversy – including a “priest” groping a woman in the church’s pews and a fetish scene staged on an altar – community members interviewed voiced no complaints.

“We’ve been aware of it for many years,” president and founder of the Bella Vista United Civic Association Vernon Anastasio said of Sacri-Delicious. “We’ve been the official civic association of the neighborhood for almost 20 years and have never heard either praise or condemnation for the event. We’re a live and let live neighborhood. We believe that as long as someone’s private behavior isn’t going to impact the rest of the community, it’s their business.”

He called Fleisher a “real gem” in the neighborhood and said he is confident the school wouldn’t lease space to any organization engaged in illegal or dubious activities. “It’s completely legitimate,” he said of the event, though he acknowledged it might mildly offend some people. “Morality is a weird thing.”

Kink commandments

If you plan on partaking, here are some rules and guidelines to live by:

– The event will be held Sept. 15 from 9 p.m. to 2 p.m. at 716 Catharine Street. A religious-inspired costume will get you $5 off the door price and admission is free if you donate a piece of dungeon furniture for the night or bring three paying guests. Otherwise, tickets can be purchased by anyone 18 and older for $30 online and $40 at the door. Attendees will be carded to verify their age.

– No fire, alcohol, sexual conduct, “messy play” or nudity – a thong and pasties are required, at a minimum. Be respectful, kind, courteous and friendly, introduce yourself to Mistress Zeneca and, as far as the artwork goes, if you break it, you buy it.

– The event has a standard “play party” format with stations representing each of the Seven Deadly Sins, including a gluttony buffet, an envy-inspiring two-person scene performance space and a greed table featuring sex toys for purchase. Unsurprisingly, the lust station will be the largest.

– At some point in the night, participants will be invited to play “Wheel of Misfortunez,” described on the event site as a kinky party game in which a spin determines what “scene” a player or couple must act out. Submissives have 30 seconds to remove activities they don’t wish to engage in from the stack before the cards are placed on the wheel.

For more information, visit Mistress Zeneca’s website, Elegantly Kinky.


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