No joke: a pastor walks into a bar and starts a church.
Also no joke: it works.
Five years later, the Rev. Jerry Herships’ AfterHours Denver is a thriving bar ministry with a real-world mission to feed the poor and homeless downtown.
Every Monday night at a different host bar around Denver, up to 50 people gather to have community, talk about God, and most importantly, make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The rest of the week, with the help of 12 other churches and numerous corporate sponsors, Herships and his “rogue disciples” hand out PB&Js, water, and communion every day of the week … 7 days week/365 days a year in Civic City Park, adjacent to the State Capitol, to the hungry and homeless. This year, AfterHours hosted its 8th annual Christmas in the Park, and gave away 500 new winter coats and more than 600 sleeping bags to folks in need of warm shelter from the cold.
AfterHours Denver is a church plant of the United Methodist Church. After several years of serving as one of the pastors at St. Andrews UMC in Highlands Ranch, CO, Herships felt a tug to a very different kind of ministry. A former professional comedian (he emceed at the famous Improv Comedy Club in Los Angeles in the late 80s and early 90s, working with comedians like Adam Sandler, Jay Leno, and Jerry Seinfeld), Herships realized he needed more. Earlier, during his years as a bartender, Herships discovered that the connections and conversations he was having with his customers at the bar were deeper and more real than anything he’d ever experienced in a church. Five years ago, Jerry was appointed by his Bishop to start AfterHours, a faith community to the poor and spiritually independent in metro Denver.
His remarkable journey from comedian to pastor is told with laugh-out-loud hilarity and street-smarts spiritual insight in his new book (and a serious “must-read”), Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus. His friend and fellow Denver pastor (and also a former comedian) Nadia Bolz-Weber says of the book: “Twisted, hilarious and amazing, Jerry pastors in the exact places I’m pretty sure Jesus would be hanging out today. Let The Church take note.”
We caught up with Herships (whose email address, by the way, is GodDoesntSuck@gmail.com) for our new “Patheos 10+1” Interview Series (we ask the same 10 questions, plus one ‘bonus’ question, of Christian game-changers and thought-leaders to share with you weekly). Enjoy our interview below, and then go and learn more about Jerry’s extraordinary, yet also very ordinary, bar church and homeless ministry here.
What is your work in the world?
Well in its most stripped down answer, to create joy. The world we see on the news sucks most of the time. I think it’s my call to remind people that God doesn’t suck and that there are moments of beauty and laughter and joy. It’s easy to focus on the darkness and ignore the light. Part of my work in the world is to shine a light…on the light.
What are you most energized by, professionally or personally, at the moment?
I think we are living at time when there is a groundswell of people wanting to engage with simple human kindness. There is a subtle shift in people wanting to do good. It might not always be attached to dogma and creed (although sometimes it is and that’s ok too), but I think the bonding factor is the kindness shown to another human being.
What’s inspiring your work right now?
Same as it has been for the last 4-5 years…the guys in the park. The homeless of our city have so little, like, damn near nothing, and yet THEY are the ones that teach ME about joy and gratitude. They inspire me not just to do better at work but to do better at LIFE.
What’s the last book you read?
I’m reading two right now. Miles Davis autobiography and Whatever you Think, Think the Opposite by Paul Arden. The Miles book reminds me to focus on things that come from passion. Watching or reading about anyone doing anything that they love is always inspiring. The Arden book reminds me to trust my instinct and that, these days, playing it safe is what’s actually risky.
What’s something few people know about you?
I have a passion for Whoppers with cheese minus pickle…and have since I was eight.
I have an embarrassing number of shoes.
I got my sommelier certification the same year I graduated from seminary. Both certificates hang on my wall proudly.
Why are you still a Christian?
Because I think J.C. had it figured out. Following Jesus has been a good blueprint for my life. It…fits. I have found I am a better person when I try to live like him. There are still sucky moments in my life, but pretty much across the board…it would be worse if I DIDNT have him as a model to compass my life.
What’s your favorite theological word?
Well transubstantiation is fun to throw out at parties.
Besides that? Has to be love. …and joy. Those are pretty solid. Hard to go wrong with love & joy.
How do you pray?
Only half kidding. My prayer to God is like a conversation 99% of the time. I also like the idea of living your life like a living prayer…something you offer up to God, through service, through kindness, and through the things that you enjoy knowing that it all came from God.
What’s a guilty pleasure?
Too many to count! I like a good cigar once every few months. I like Bruce Lee movies, Dive bars, bourbon and Irish Whiskey. Oh and I could eat cheeseburgers every meal for the rest of my life.
What’s one cause you’d like more people to know about/support?
To be honest, AfterHours. I think we do good work with the poorest of our city and offer them dignity, grace and love. I think the more people know about the work AfterHours does, the more maybe they won’t won’t see the world as such a dark place. I want to show more people the light (smile).
Bonus Question: What’s your favorite beer and why?
The Reverend by Avery Brewing Co.
It’s a Belgian Style Quadruple Ale, was named in honor of an ordained Episcopal Reverend, comes out of Colorado and is smooth despite its high alcohol content.