What if people who wouldn’t attend church would come to a Bible study, if it were at a different kind of location?
That’s the question that prompted a local Christian leader, Kurt Faust, to host the “Bible, Blessings, and Brews” pub ministry at the Midland Brewing Company on N. Saginaw Road this summer.
Last month, I was invited by Kurt to come and lead the pub ministry’s Wednesday evening discussion on the topic of forgiveness. Now, you might expect the pastor of a conservative-ish holiness congregation like ours to say “no” to the invitation. But truthfully, I only hesitated a moment before saying “yes.”
I was a little nervous beforehand, not because of the location but because of the “unknown”: the prospect of meeting new people who would expect something profound or meaningful from me. (You may not know this, but I feel this way pretty regularly when I am in a new situation.) However, I had prepared what I believed to be an adequate amount of material, and off I went to the meeting.
Kurt and his wife were there, as was another pastor of a couple of small Methodist congregations in our area. In addition, there were three or four other men about my age, perhaps slightly older, in attendance. We each got our drinks and sat around the picnic table outside – it was a beautiful July evening. After a few minutes of conversation among these people (who had met together on previous Wednesdays – I was the only “new guy”), Kurt turned the meeting over to me.
It was a week or two after the shooting deaths of nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. Family members of the murdered individuals had already, unforgettably, extended their forgiveness to the killer via a courtroom video feed. I shared a short audio recording of a nationally-renowned religious podcast that discussed this situation at length. I found it easy to talk about forgiveness because of these current events. I also told the story of Desmond Tutu, about whom I had read in detail in my DMin class last fall: he had worked for many years in his native South Africa to bring about forgiveness and reconciliation after the demise of apartheid in that nation some years ago.
The conversation around the picnic table was thoughtful, meaningful, profound. Each person contributed carefully to the discussion. Questions were raised, issues were argued, personal stories were revealed. We each considered how difficult it is truly to forgive someone who has wronged us. We pondered the example of Jesus forgiving those who were crucifying him to death. We prayed together and asked God to strengthen us to be agents of reconciliation and forgiveness. And then we parted ways.
Kurt told me afterward that a couple of the men in attendance were new Christians. I wonder if they feel comfortable going to church on Sunday mornings. I wonder if they identify as Christians and are “at home” in a traditional sanctuary. I wonder if they see “regular” church life as essential to their spiritual growth.
But I don’t wonder this – instead, I wonder, I marvel, at it: these individuals were willing to discuss Jesus and issues of faith while drinking beer at a local brewery.
What if we were each as willing? Whom could we meet? With whom could we share life and Jesus’s love?