Todd Fadel, at piano, leads singers at a recent gathering of Beer & Hymns at First Christian Church Portland.
With mainline religious congregations dwindling across America, a
scattering of churches is trying to attract new members by creating a
different sort of Christian community. They are gathering around craft
Some church groups are brewing it themselves, while
others are bring the Holy Mysteries to a taproom. The result is not
sloshed congregants; rather, it's an exploratory approach to do church
Leah Stanfield stands at a microphone across the room from the beer taps and reads this evening's gospel message.
She's a 28-year-old leasing agent who's been coming to here in Fort Worth, Tex., for a year, and occasionally leads worship.
find the love, I find the support, I find the non-judgmental eyes when I
come here," she says. "And I find friends that love God, love craft
Every Sunday evening, 30 to 40 people gather at Zio Carlo brewpub
to order pizza and pints of beer, to have fellowship, and have church —
Leah Stanfield, a leasing agent in Fort Worth
and regular attendee of Church-in-a Pub, hands out bread during
communion at the tavern.
Pastor Philip Heinze and his Calvary Lutheran Church sponsor Church-in-a-Pub, whose formal name is the Greek word, Kyrie.
patrons are understandably confused. They come in for a brew and
there's a religious service going on in their bar. They expected Trivia
Night and they get the Holy Eucharist.
"I tell 'em, it's a
church service," says bartender Les Bennett, "And they're, like, 'In a
pub?' And I'm, like, yeah. Some of 'em stick around for trivia, some of
'em take off, some of 'em will hang out and have another pint or two."
one of the objectives: A guy sits at the bar nursing a beer, he
overhears the Gospel of Luke, he sees people line up to take bread and
wine, he gets curious. Phil Heinze says pub church has now become an
official — if edgy — Lutheran mission.
"I'm not interested,
frankly, in making more church members," Heinze. "I'm interested in
having people have significant relationships around Jesus. And if it
turns out to be craft beer, fine."
For most of the folks who attend regularly, this is their Sunday night congregation.
Church leaders, initially skeptical, are now paying attention. Last
month, the regional council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America named Church-in-a-pub a . Next year, it will call a young pastor to expand the idea to other taverns around Dallas-Fort Worth.
think the institutional church now is getting onboard," says Heinze,
"because there's a lot of anxiety frankly about the church's decline and
they're trying to think outside of that institutional box."
downtown Portland, Ore., at the stately old First Christian Church, one
Saturday night a month they open the parish hall for an event called
The sign for Beer & Hymns at First Christian Church in downtown Portland, Ore.
There must be 100 people here tonight, most of them young, the
kind you rarely see in church on Sunday morning. They're swigging
homemade stout from plastic cups — with a two-beer limit. They're
singing traditional hymns from a projection screen like Be Thou My Vision. And they're having way too much fun.
Like the crowd at Church-in-a-pub, a lot of folks at Beer & Hymns appear to be refugees from traditional churches.
hymns, people can stand up and say anything they want. Jolie Shempert, a
transgender person who's studying humanities at Portland State
University, steps up to the mike.
Shempert was raised in a
strict church that taught that animals don't have souls, only people do.
But Shempert's beloved dog, Gunner, has just died.
"I want to sing this song in defiance of that because Gunner was
my friend. And he has emotions and a personality and I had a
relationship with him that's as real as any relationship I had with any
The Christian Church Disciples of Christ — a
small mainline Protestant denomination — has experienced a steep drop in
membership in recent decades. Beer & Hymns is one attempt to
attract new people, in this hip, beer-loving city, while keeping a safe
distance away from stained-glass windows.
Rodney Page is optimistic. The 78-year-old is a long-time member of First Christian Portland and a Beer & Hymns convert.
know that initially there were some people who had some trepidation,"
says Page. "This church has had a history and background of being
anti-alcohol, so it took some convincing for some people. But eventually
people went ahead with it and it's been a great success."
one is suggesting that Beer & Hymns or Church-in-a-Pub — or any of
the dozens of other beer-in-church events that are popping up around the
nation — are permanent. They're transitional experiments.
is senior pastor at First Christian Church Portland. She's a
sixth-generation Disciple of Christ and the originator of Beer &
Hymns. She says in this postmodern age, what it means to attend church
"It's probably, in the very near future, not going
to be at 10 am on Sunday morning wearing your best shoes and tie or
dress," she says. "It's going to be something different. I mean, what
that is, we are still finding out, we're still learning together. But
it's still holy, God is still there, and that's what's most important."
To doubters, the Beer & God crowd has this pop quiz. What was the first miracle Jesus performed? Turning water into wine.