The word ‘church’ is often associated with terms like Temperance, Morality, Purity, Asceticism, and Uprightness. A beer pub seems to be going in the other direction! A few church members might drink on the side but HOSTING a pub night is a different gig. What’s up?
First of all, I want to acknowledge that a pub in a church basement would not always be appropriate. If the congregation had a strong admonition against alcohol, than no, it wouldn’t fit. Likewise, if a church were in a community fraught with alcoholism, a pub night would just be flat out insensitive and damaging.
However, alcohol is one of those things in our world that slides between GOOD and VERY BAD depending on the context. There are lots of things like that in our world. The scriptures are clear that Jesus was a wine drinker – and, on occasion, made sure others had enough wine to move beyond a ‘buzz’ (that one wedding at Cana). On the other hand, the church has always condemned drunkenness and sought to foster a way of healing for families caught in alcoholic addiction. Beer and wine can bring much joy in celebration, or much hurt when abused.
I have good friends who go to churches or are from religious traditions that eschew alcohol entirely. Their traditions acknowledge that alcohol use can go very wrong, and they have chosen to be completely ‘dry.’ Anglicans have, apart from the temperance movements of the 19th century, largely been ok with alcohol consumption. You have likely heard how King Henry VIII's divorce created a structural break from the Roman Catholic church, but you might not have known there was an already brooding shift happening that actually centered around a pub. Some of the English Reformers - Thomas Cranmer, William Tyndale, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer among others - are said to have gathered at the White Horse Inn in Cambridge to read the writings of German reformers like Martin Luther. They had a deep desire to see the church renewed and brought back to more faithfulness to the scriptures.
Anglicans have recognized for centuries that some of our best theology often happens in a pub.
And this, I suspect, is what you might relate to.
Friends gather at a pub over a beer, not to get drunk, but to talk and connect: to be together. The way that alcohol loosens the tongue allows conversations and forthrightness that never happen elsewhere. For better or worse, we associate alcohol with celebration, with life transitions, birthdays and anniversaries. In my experience, people are never so open and willing to talk about God as when we are sitting over a pint in a nicely decorated pub-style context. I have never lived in one, but I understand that in rural England, the small town has (or did have) two major centers: the church and the pub, and the pub often comes after Sunday church. I am not talking about bars, where we have associations with sleazy guys, black walls, cheap and tasteless liquor. I am talking about the Public House – the gathering place of the town, the place where the local brewer dispenses his libations. Public Houses were also the town Inn – a place of refuge and hospitality for the stranger. I love the term “Public House” – it fits very will with my sense of what church needs to be. Beer-wise, the craft beer movement is largely seeking to reproduce this rural-UK-European diversity of beers that are not just homogenous and corporately produced by Big Beer, but caringly and expertly made by local folk and bearing local distinctiveness. The local pub draws us back to local living, community engagement, conversation, and joy.
A good beer is a joy – the fruit of the earth, of God’s Creation.
The community coming together over good beer and good food is very Anglican.
I suppose that Anglicans want to say that – “if it is good, it comes from God.” Some even say that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. I might believe that. There is goodness in all that God has given to us. Vineyards are beautiful examples of abundance, and fermentation is really an astonishing process. I love that the alcohol-making process involves interaction with a tiny incredible workhorse fungi we call Yeast - let alone the barley and the hops. In some of the trappiest monasteries that make some of the best beers in the world (Trappists themselves offering us a central and prayerful Christian beer expression), they have cultivated yeast for years and years such that their yeast have become distinctive to Place – like “terroir” in the wine world.
Alcohol making is such a powerful process that we need to guard it from ill-use. One of the ways we guard it is to make sure that consumption happens in healthy, supportive, and joy-filled communities. St. Augustine’s is one such community. And here a pub night seems right. Let’s keep alcohol out of back-alleys, and lonely evenings, and put alcohol in its rightful place as part of our community celebrations and spiritual conversations. Do join us!