Beer Saved My Faith

Beer Saved My Faith March 5, 2013

I’m taking an early Spring Break this week and will be running a guest blogger series featuring some of my favorite writers. Today meet educator, author and home-brewer Anderson Campbell.

 In 2011, I was fired from a church because of differences with the senior leadership. Being fired from any job is a trying experience. Being fired from a paid role in a faith community carries a different kind of baggage, though. I felt like I was fired from my faith.

My education and my experience were all geared toward a career in church-based ministry. In the wake of getting let go, I flailed around looking for something solid I could hold onto. Faith no longer seemed solid. I was angry with God, angry with the church, angry with myself. I went through a year-long period of intense spiritual isolation akin to what St. John of the Cross calls a “dark night of the soul.”

I found God again in an unlikely place: beer.

I started home brewing beer in 2005 with my friend Scott. Our entry into the craft was motivated by a love of good beer and a curiosity about whether or not we could make beer worth drinking. Our first attempt was nearly a failure, but we were hooked.

Nearly six years later, after the church let me go and I moved my family across the country to take a new job, I set up my home brewery and resumed brewing, as I have done after every move since 2005. This time, it was different. The only time I felt at peace was when I was brewing. It seemed to be the only thing that would take the edge off the anger and the sadness I was experiencing.

Brewing was one of the few things that was the same about my life after I was fired. Everything else was different. I had a different job in a different city in a different field. There was some comfort in the sameness of brewing, but the resonance I felt went deeper than just familiarity with the routine. There was something soul-satisfying about making beer. During a time in which I was highly suspicious of church, angry at God, and jaded with most other Christians, brewing served as my spiritual teacher. It seemed that every time I brewed, I gained some new insights into my own spirituality.

For example, from the water used in brewing, I was reminded that we all have unique stories. Water carries its story in its chemical makeup. As it flows down from mountaintop snowfields, through streams and rivers and aquifers, water picks up minerals and compounds that affect its flavor. No two regions have the same water. It is shaped and changed by the journey it takes.

As a home brewer, I must decide what to do with the story the water tells. I can highlight it or mask it. I can honor the story of the water and choose to brew ales that are well-suited to the water profile for my region, or I can chemically alter the water by adding things to it or removing things from it.

The same is true for my story, for my journey. I can honor my story, even the painful parts, by telling it honestly and leaning into my unique experiences, or I can mask those things about which I feel shame or pain and present a different story, an altered story to the outside world.

As I reflect on my story, which I have plenty of time to do while watching a kettle full of boiling wort, I’m slowly coming to grips with the notion that perhaps my story is a gift, not a liability. I wouldn’t be who I am right now without the experiences I’ve had, good and bad.

God has always been a part of my story, so has my faith in God. Even during times in which I perceived them as adversaries, they were players in my narrative. Now, every time I brew, every time I crack open a beer, I’m reminded of the unique qualities the water’s journey imparts to the beer, and that my own life has unique qualities imparted by my journey.

  Anderson Campbell works at George Fox Seminary and brews at his home in Portland, Oregon. He blogs at and is in the midst of writing on a book on brewing and spirituality. You can find him on Twitter: @andycampbell


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  • Chris Schryer

    Love this. As a guy of faith and a person who writes about beer, I love the parallel of water’s journey and our own. Nicely done.

  • When churches have offices (positions) where people (applicants) get training (colleges) to be hired for, which they work full time and get paid for, and from which they can be fired from… that doesn’t resemble the church family of the New Testament; instead it’s a business model.

    I think that churches have become businesses. Church goers must tithe to pay for the building and the salaries of the staff (employees) and in the modern church we see that many people love the worship (production) and sermon (entertainment), these are the products of the business. Evangelism is a sales gimmick and all to often American Christians are just swindlers selling used cars.

    • Thomas Koenig

      Hi Eddie,

      You are judging very harsh about that, what the german Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the “empirical church”. I understand your feelings and I often share them. But I also love church buildings (most of them, not all) and I definitely love the idea, that the employees working in them, can rely on getting their regular paycheck. The Lords Kingdom has not yet come. So even church staff has to pay their bills and feed their families, and somebody has to care, that the is money is there to pay them. That fact doensn´t make them to swindlers and salesmen of gimmick. On the other hand, I totally agree with you, that we should never identify the “empirical church” with the “sanctorum communio”, the follwers of Jesus Christ. The one is an imperfect but nessessary human work. The other is a gift from the Holy Spirit.

      • Thanks for responding Thomas.

        While I agree with you about the empirical church and how it is a human work, I believe that our cultural standard is anti-Biblical.

        When certain Christians are special, having a “calling” to ministry, that creates a caste system where some are closer to God and more gifted. These people work in the church while other normal Christians work in the world.

        This creates a class of spiritual elite. However the New Testament church model has no caste system, rather the church is modeled as a family.

        In America, it has been estimated that churches own 130 billion dollars of real estate; while the United Nations estimated that would cost 30 billion to feed all of the impoverished people in the world for a year. With these numbers, it’s seems clear to me that the American church culture has great financial power and little incentive to do anything with it other than to build buildings and pay staff; in essence, to be a business. Some pastors like Joel Olseen become millionaires, they are profit sharers of their cooperation.

        Other than Paul and Barnabas (who are missionaries who have no homes or families and travel from region to region, staying between 6 months and three years in each spot) does the New Testament give any other group financial privilege?

        I don’t think a case can be made that there are leaders, called “senior pastors,” who have no real world job and who settle down with a family and live off of the tithes and offerings of the church. On the contrary, in the New Testament a church was a group of people meeting in a home and lead by a group of elders, not a single person. The New Testament church gathered financial resources not to build a building but to feed the poor, including the poor inside the church.

        • Thomas König

          Good Morning Eddie,

          I think my comment was written in total ignorance of the extraordinary wealth of some american churches. Here in Germany churches are also very well funded. But pastors as millionairs? That´s really strange. I completely agree with your biblical point of view, how a christian congregation should manage its economic needs.

          • Thomas König

            In the meantime I visited the website of Joel Osteen. My understanding of your statemant has enormously deepend.

  • chuck

    I brew. I believe. And I continue to wrestle as well. ’nuff said.

    • Thomas König

      I will leave now, to have a few beers (factory brewed) with my friends – Non believers, but friends. Hopefully I will not have to wrestle too hard tomorrow morning.

  • jcon526

    This is an offbeat and very interesting article. A pleasure to read.

  • rumitoid

    “For example, from the water used in brewing, I was reminded that we all have unique stories. Water carries its story in its chemical makeup. As it flows down from mountaintop snowfields, through streams and rivers and aquifers, water picks up minerals and compounds that affect its flavor. No two regions have the same water. It is shaped and changed by the journey it takes.”

    Regardless of its character or flavor, water remains the essential incredient. Can the living waters be attuned to the image in which we were created, made to both enhance what is and nullify that which is not the essential self laid down before the foundations of the world?

    The thought of the good AND the bad contributing to who I am was utterly foreign until I came to AA: “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.” And ourselves. Loss, failure, and disappointment seem to be those things, if we cannot avoid them, that we look to overcome or somehow expunge from our record by renewed and concentrated effort. Mistakes are failures, not vital information. Taking away a useful lesson from sin or deficiency seems to go counter to righteousness.

    • That’s a profound insight, thanks for sharing!

  • Michael

    When I see Jesus, hopefully he can hit up the next barrel of water and turn it into beer. So we can have a toast to the fact that I’m off this planet of trouble. 🙂

  • Thanks for this post & encouragement to honour our stories