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‘Theology Pubs’ mix faith, fellowship

 
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7:00 A.M. EST July 30, 2010

Many United Methodist churches are reaching young adults by meeting outside church walls in places such as bars and restaurants. A Web-only illustration by iStock photo.
Many United Methodist churches are reaching young adults by meeting outside church walls in places such as bars and restaurants. A Web-only illustration by iStock photo.

Take one part God, one part theological questions and one part food and drink. Stir gently, then pour a way to reach young adults outside the church walls.

United Methodist churches from Georgia to Wisconsin are finding one way to draw people into conversations about God and Scripture is to invite them out for a drink.

Several churches have adapted an idea started about 30 years ago by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago called Theology on Tap. Monthly meetings are held in bars or restaurants. Everyone is invited and the subject is always God.

Beer and theology might be an uncomfortable combination for some United Methodists, but the pastors mixing the two say the rewards are too great to pass up.

The idea behind Theology on Tap is that people do yearn for deep theological conversations about things that matter to them, but the church isn’t the first place they think about to have those chats.

“People are hungry for those conversations and for some, having it in a bar or pub or other casual environment is not something they get to do very often,” said Adam Walker Cleaveland, minister for youth and young adults at Asbury United Methodist Church, Livermore, Calif. Cleaveland facilitates the monthly Theology Pub gatherings.

“I have made interesting connections with people who are members of the church who come to this, but I don’t see as often on Sunday mornings,” he added.

Safe, loving environment

The United Methodist Church has a long history of recommending abstinence from alcoholic beverages and formed a Board of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals in 1916.

This Theology Pub logo is found on the new outreach and ministry Facebook page of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Livermore, Calif.  A Web-only photo courtesy of Adam Walker Cleaveland.
This Theology Pub logo is found on the new outreach and ministry Facebook page of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Livermore, Calif. A Web-only photo courtesy of Adam Walker Cleaveland.

At the same time, the church says, “Persons who practice abstinence should avoid attitudes of self-righteousness that express moral superiority and condemnatory attitudes to those who do not choose to abstain.” (2008 Book of Resolutions #3042)

The Rev. Kaye Glennon, pastor of Franksville (Wis.) United Methodist Church, said she wanted to start an outreach group like Theology on Tap for a long time, but was concerned about “flak” from the congregation.

“As it turns out, I got very little, if any,” she said. “We’re all conscious that this is not an occasion for getting drunk, but for a social drink, some appetizers and some really interesting discussions about God.”

Participants discuss topics such as heaven and hell, images of God, intuition and being happy.

John Blimling, 25, a member of Franksville, started going to the monthly gatherings to meet people in the church.

“I have found that I enjoy the meetings,” he said. “We oftentimes spend the entire two hours discussing one question and all of its tangents. I find it stimulating hearing the many different viewpoints that get offered up, and the whole interactive feel of it makes it a nice change of pace from a standard sermon.”

Another member, Betsy Welch, 31, said the monthly gatherings are “a night out in a safe and loving environment that gets me thinking.”

‘Cool thing’ to do

Christine Humrichouse, an ordained deacon at Solon (Iowa) United Methodist Church, was part of a Theology on Tap group while she was in seminary and wanted to start one when she got to Solon.

“There are some people who have hesitated to be part of other groups here in the church because they think, ‘I don’t know anything,’” she said. “This takes some of the edge off; we are just sitting around having conversations and everyone has something to contribute.

Participants gather for a Theology Pub session. A Web-only photo courtesy of Adam Walker Cleaveland.
Participants gather for a Theology Pub session. A Web-only photo courtesy of Adam Walker Cleaveland.

“We gather at a local business, have munchies and whatever and talk God stuff.”

At Christ United Methodist Church, Greensboro, N.C., no one offered resistance to the idea of meeting in a bar, said the Rev. John Bletsch.

“In fact, most everyone thinks it is a cool thing for us to do. Some have suggested that it is very much in the spirit of John Wesley who went to where the people were rather than waiting for them to come to him,” he said.

Young adults at the Franksville congregation said the program makes church a bigger part of their daily lives.

“I think this is a great fellowship opportunity for other churches that are looking for a unique way to get more people involved ... not necessarily just the young adults, but I think that is probably the group that would find it most interesting,” Welch said.

“I have talked with some of my friends outside of our congregation and they think it is ‘cool’ that our church has it and seem very curious about it.”

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter of 18-34 content at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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