The room was full as I got up to talk about beer, God and the Church. After similar events during Philly and DC Beer Week, this was all pretty normal. It’s just that this time the crowd was not the usual array of beer geeks, spiritual seekers and assorted others that I am used to addressing. Instead it was filled with Episcopal priests, deacons and yes, even our bishop.
We had gathered for our annual clergy conference and, as last year, I brought a sixtel of homebrew which the crowd enjoyed during the presentation. Needless to say the focus of our conversation was a bit different. Instead of starting with why beer and God are not at odds, this was more of an instructional session, explaining why a craft beer focused ministry can be meaningful and how to make it happen.
I won’t go into all the details of our discussion here. Essentially I talked about how our beer club started, what we do, what resistance we met, what measures we take to ensure safety and legality and of course, the kind of wonderful opportunities that have opened to us because we were willing to put beer back in its rightful place… namely, as a wonderful part of God’s creation. We even had two other priests share what they are doing with brewing their own beer and with pub based ministry.
But there is one particular point I want to share. Namely, that in the end, it’s not really about beer at all. That might seem an inconsistent if not sacrilegious claim, especially here. But it’s true. Beer is just one expression of a larger cultural trend that the Church needs to understand and learn to incorporate.
The reason why craft beer is skyrocketing in popularity is because it is real. It is creative, high quality and most importantly, authentic. People got tired of mass produced, cheap and largely flavorless. People were no longer satisfied with the same old beer. They demanded something better and when they couldn’t buy it, they made it. This gave birth to an industry that has grown exponentially for decades. It established a subculture that reflects the same values of other growing cultural trends such as the localvore, slow food and DIY movements.
Craft beer is simply one expression of those real and more important values that the Church needs to reconnect with. But it doesn’t have to be beer. It could just as easily be organic gardening, cheese making or baking. It could be knitting or canning or quilting. It doesn’t really matter so long as it reflects those core values quality and authenticity.
If the Church can find a way to do foster these kinds of ministries and activities, it will not only strengthen fellowship between our members, more importantly it will create credible way for us to connect with the community outside our walls.