Sometimes I am in conversations with friends who talk about having certain types of ministries. Confessional Lutherans have only one type of ministry — Word and Sacrament — so the terminology always amuses me. When my friends tell me they have a young mothers ministry or youth ministry or music ministry, I always try to fit in by telling them I have a bar ministry.
I picked this one because I find bars to be a great place for discussion of theological matters. Folks who hang out in bars tend to understand the sinful condition and the alcohol lubricates the discussion. Also, I am in bars a lot.
Roman Catholics in the Washington area also have a bar ministry, where young people gather at a local bar to talk theology with a priest. “Theology on Tap” is hardly a new concept and one can find such groups throughout the country, but Washington Post reporter Leef Smith did a great job covering the Catholic Diocese of Arlington’s bar night.
Church leaders say the “six-pack seminars” — each seminar consists of six weekly sessions — are not intended to replace worship services. Instead, they are a way of integrating religion into parishioners’ daily lives, while building and sustaining church membership. Each seminar consists of six weekly sessions.
Smith answers all the questions one might have about such a group — is it a glorified singles’ night? How does the bar owner feel about the invasion of theology? How do unsuspecting bar patrons feel when they come in that night?
But what I particularly liked is how Smith subtly explains to the reader the Catholic understanding of the importance of these sessions relative to partaking in the sacraments. For many Christians, sacraments are central to the life of the church. And yet they tend not to be covered by reporters as much as politically-infused sermons or charity work. That’s understandable in the sense that sacramental concepts can be difficult to grasp. But I like how Smith subtly brings it out, by letting Rev. Daniel Hanley, who leads the sessions, speak freely:
“A lot of people haven’t had a connection with a priest since they were in the second grade,” Hanley said. “Here, they can walk right up and shake my hand. That’s big.”
Or maybe someone hasn’t been to confession in a long time and feels burdened. Perhaps, Hanley reasoned, the person doesn’t feel that God will grant forgiveness.
“We hope they see the face of Christ in us,” Hanley said. “Suddenly, they open up and they say, ‘Father, can I talk to you?’ And then, bam! There it is. That stuff happens in airports and all over the place.”
Maybe, it is suggested to Hanley, bars are a logical place for priests to do outreach. After all, they offer emotional and psychological counseling — a lot like bartenders.
“Only, we serve a much more potent cocktail,” Hanley said. “It’s heartening to see young people desiring to be close to God. That’s what I see. . . . Young people interested in knowing God more deeply.”
I have known about Northern Virginia’s Theology on Tap for years. But I still found the article interesting and informative. The piece is full of color, quotes a wide variety of observers and participants, and permits its subjects to express themselves on their own terms.