Theology on Tap
Gatherings mix spirits, spirituality

By Jennifer Roes / The Boston Herald / Sunday, January 27, 2008

Jesus and the apostles drank wine in their times of fellowship. Is a beer-and-theology pairing really that far off?

At Theology on Tap, a religious lecture series held periodically at bars around Boston, beer and the Good Book are increasingly the norm. First belly up and order a cool draft. Then settle in for an intriguing spiritual discussion.

During a recent evening chat at Cheers, part of the “Portraits of Jesus” series sponsored by the Church of the Advent, an Episcopal church on Beacon Hill, the relaxed atmosphere was a big draw.

“It’s comfortable,” said Nathan Cleveland, 27, of Somerville. “We’re used to going out and having a pint with our friends.”

“We don’t sing hymns. That’s church,” added the Advent’s associate rector, the Rev. Patrick Gray. “It’s sponsored by a church, but it’s not church.”

Theology on Tap is a Catholic program that got its start in Chicago in 1981. Since 2003, it has been administered by the [Newark] Catholic archdiocese’s RENEW International.

There are about 100 locations in several countries, according to Deirdre Malacrea, director of communications for RENEW.

The Archdiocese of Boston’s series last year featured Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley at Bad Abbots pub in Quincy. “Part of evangelism means you have to take the message to the people,” said Terry Donilon, communications director for the archdiocese.

The series at the Beacon Hill Cheers is the 14th for Church of the Advent, said Gray, who aims to organize three series a year. Summers feature a series called “The Gospels According to . . . ,” drawing on such influences as the Simpsons, J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Matrix” and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

“It’s incorporating culture, arts, hot topics,” said Sarah Livingston, 25, of Jamaica Plain, who attends Park Street Church. “It’s intellectual and stimulating. It’s relevant.”

Theology on Tap is just one way that churches are reaching out to adults in their 20s and 30s. The Friends at the Advent, for example, sponsors community groups, a Flannery O’Connor reading group and a dart night at a local bar.

Park Street Church’s Cafe (for 20-somethings) and Crosswalk (for 30-somethings) ministries draw 200 people total most weeks, according to assistant pastor Dr. Chris Sherwood, who pointed out that Park Street has had young-adult programs since the early 1900s.

“Once you hit a critical mass, it becomes a gathering place for folks,” added Rev. Jeff Schuliger, Park Street’s minister of small groups. Currently, associate minister Rev. Daniel Harrell is leading a group of parishioners blogging about “Living Levitically” in conjunction with his sermon series (www.parkstreet.org).

At the packed midweek Theology on Tap session, Christa Carter, 25, of Roxbury, pointed out that often the church feels like it belongs to the previous generation.

“People our age are disillusioned with the church,” said Carter, who doesn’t attend Advent but regularly attends Theology on Tap. “I want it to be mine . . . to see how it fits in with our generation.”

“It’s a healthy place for a skeptic to walk into,” added Cleveland. “They can ask a challenging question and not be brushed off.”

This Theology on Tap series continues Tuesdays through Feb. 5. Go to theadvent.org for details.

Reprinted with permission of The Boston Herald

Click here to learn more about RENEW Theology on Tap.