The big screen at Bernie’s Tap Room in Waukesha flickers with a baseball game between Texas Christian University and Dallas Baptist. The players are nearly life-size.
But the action on-screen is lost to the 15 people seated at two long tables in front of the game. They are deep in conversation about Jesus, church and life, stopping occasionally for a sip from the pint glass at hand.
Jesus + Beer is in session.
In and near Milwaukee, some people are getting a little faith with their froth. Assemblages like Jesus + Beer are part of a national trend of groups combining Bible study with elbow-bending. Sometimes, it’s just easier to talk religion over a beer, one pastor said. It’s also an idea that goes back to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.
Brandon Brown, pastor at Collective MKE church, said he started Jesus + Beer because “people have left traditional church structures but still want to talk about Jesus.”
And he liked the selection of brews at Bernie’s, 351 W. Main St.
“That’s the trajectory of my life,” said Brown, whose Bay View version of the monthly Jesus + Beer sessions meets May 17 at Tonic Tavern, 2335 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. “Beer’s actually a late addition. Jesus’ love was there from the beginning.”
Not that these kinds of groups are unique. Or new. Pub talks about religion have been going on since the Middle Ages.
J. Patrick Hornbeck, chair of the theology department at Fordham University in New York, says pubs represent a space of freedom that churches don’t always offer.
“It gives people permission to say a little more,” said Hornbeck, who says pubs offer something of a theological lubricant. “It’s something more of an equalizing force.”
Drinking beer and talking religion played a role in the Protestant Reformation, said Steve Jerbi, pastor at All Peoples Lutheran Church, 2600 N. 2nd St.
The Reformation was funded by brew that Martin Luther’s wife made, said Jerbi, who hosts a monthly meeting at the Riverwest Public House, 815 E. Locust St., where people of all faiths — and, as often as not, no faith — drink beer and talk religion.
“This week, we had a Reconstructionist Jew, a secular Muslim, a candidate for the ministry in the Baptist church, a lesbian and a middle-aged mom,” Jerbi said.
“Part of it is that I enjoy having a good conversation over a pint,” he said. Jerbi’s group has been meeting since the Public House opened five years ago.
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