Why I kept going to beer club this Lent

Why I kept going to beer club this Lent

On Monday nights I go to beer club – and it’s (mostly) brilliant. Now, before people get too concerned, my primary reason for attending the club is the people – not the beer. Monday nights are busy in our household, and our family of three is often going four different directions. But beer club has become a priority for me because of the whole vibe of it. The brew crew is a weird collection of blokes, including a bunch of Christians from a range of backgrounds, some people on the fringes of the church and others for whom this whole faith thing is a bit foreign.

But we meet, brew beer and talk about family, work and life. Surprisingly often, questions of faith come up – usually quite organically – and we all throw our two cents in and sometimes we come to a kind of conclusion. More often, though, the questions are raised and explored and left. Chris is the host, brew master and all-round good bloke. A man with an inexhaustible well of dad jokes and a brilliantly intuitive way of making people feel welcome. It has been a blessing to be a part of this always changing group, especially during lockdowns and times of isolation.

This lent I gave up alcohol in what has become a (mostly) annual tradition. Avoiding a drink is not that difficult for me and neither is it a major act of sacrificial discipleship or purification. But I have found that giving up something for lent (or at any other time really) is a helpful way of interrupting life and to remember what is important. If I’m out for dinner and might have a drink, for instance, my usual habits are interrupted. I am forced to stop for a second and remember that it’s Lent, that Easter is coming and something important is signified in my life and for my community. Giving up something is not an amazing discipline, and I know it’s not for everyone, but I find it a helpful way to break into the regular chaotic habits of life.

This year, even though I gave up beer during Lent, I kept going to beer club because beer club is a space for nurture and conversation and growth and there is a deep sense of Christian hospitality which is not defined precisely but lived out authentically. We make beer together, we talk together and we support each other – often finding ourselves on the road with care packages (not just beer) for those stuck at home with Covid. There is nothing amazingly special about the crew and its members – and we sometimes have arguments, and people drift in and out. But it has been a good space for me.

One of the challenging questions for people of faith in Australia at the moment is: “where would you send/bring someone who wants to find out more about what it means to be a Christian”. I know that ministers and church leaders often develop great relationships across their towns and neighbourhoods – but don’t necessarily have clear ways to connect people from “outside” the church with the Christian community. What do we do when we encounter people who want to know more about faith? Those people we meet people in our community service or advocacy work? Or those we stand with in advocacy for the vulnerable and the health of the planet? Or simply those we play basketball with?

When we are clear that we are Christians and our lives are shaped by faith we often find that our conversations veer towards deeper questions. For me, the sweet spot seems to be during the second beer after a grand final win (or a loss) – but I am sure you can identify similar moments in your experience. Those times when the conversation gets deep and people are surprisingly candid about their sense of identity and purpose, their views on faith and the church – and show a genuine sense of wanting to find coherence and even community. And the question for me is often – where to next?

Now the first (and often clearly correct) answer is: catch up for a coffee and talk further one-on-one. Deepen the relationship and share your stories together – including your Christian journey. But when it becomes clear that a friend may want to connect with the Christian community more broadly, where do you take them? Almost always the answer is not Sunday morning worship at your local church. Why? Because worship, as important as it is, is designed for people who already profess faith and it is a strange and disconcerting experience for people who are exploring for the first time. Add to this the fact that many of our worship services do not exactly explode with life and energy and welcome, we soon realise that we need some other places, in-between spaces, for developing relationships and exploring Christian faith for the first time.

So where do I take people who might be interested in exploring faith? Where possible and appropriate, I bring them along to beer club. Because beer club is a place where people can gather and share life but also because it is a place where we are not embarrassed to talk about how we have been shaped by our faith.

One of the joys of my job is the opportunity to travel across NSW and ACT visiting ministers and congregations in all sorts of different places, encouraging them to grow and learn in the midst of the challenges of life and the difficulties of being church in Australia in the 21st century. I love this work in part because I am able to hear rich stories of life and witness – and about beer clubs, and sewing groups, walking collectives, coffee mornings and so on. All those places that have the character of beer club without the beer.

I encourage you to identify and nurture the beer clubs in your neighbourhood – or whatever your version of beer club is. Those places which are wholesome and welcoming and become Holy because of it. For these spaces are good, and desperately needed in an age when the cultural divisions between church and world seem so great.

Rev. Dr Niall McKay

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