Faith, Hops, and Love: The Homebrew Movement Goes to Church
DeConto, Jesse James, The Christian Century
GEOFF LOSEE'S homemade beer bears a label with an icon of his Episcopal parish's patron saint, Paul the apostle, encircled with "God's Peace, Happy Yeast." His congregation was one of several that competed in the What Would Jesus Brew? contest in Wilmington, North Carolina, over the past two years.
"The whiskeypalians went 1-2," Losee said after his smoked barley porter, Thurifer's Choice, won second place at the contest this past fall.
Jeffrey Hughes, another member of the Brew Unto Others team from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Wilmington, won first place for his Dubbel Indulgences, a classic Belgian brewed with black plums, granola, and maple syrup to enhance the smooth, robust flavors. "This is what the monks made," Losee said of the concoction.
While medieval monastics did not invent beer, they did revolutionize the brewing process with refined recipes, sanitary strictness, and the introduction of hops as a preservative, which would become a key flavoring. The monks could apply the Benedictine rule of work to God's agricultural bounty and produce something of value for the people around them.
The work of monastic brewers inspired the third-place winner, Rob Smeaton, who organized the hosting team at St. Therese's, a Roman Catholic church in Wrightsville Beach. He started brewing after visiting Europe as a student.
"I was drinking Bud Light in college," he said. "Because beer and wine are cheaper in Europe, I was drinking really good stuff."
The rise of microbrewing in the 21st century has renewed interest among Christians in the church-related brewing heritage. Beer & Hymns and Theology on Tap events are bubbling up across the United States, bringing worship and Bible study into local taverns. In local parishes homebrew clubs have formed for fun and fellowship. They're also extending the monks' tradition of hospitality by offering a meeting place for non-Christians.
"It's a way to introduce Christ or Christian community without the churchiness getting in the way," said Dena Bead, rector of St. Paul's.
Despite Losee's joke about "whiskeypalians," brew club participants recognize the hazards of promoting alcohol while simultaneously ministering to alcoholics, as well as to youth who might be experimenting with underage drinking.
Bearl noted that, like most pastors, she ministers to people in recovery from alcoholism. St. Paul's is starting an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in its building. "I don't know any alcoholics that have said nobody should ever drink and alcohol should never be present at church," Bearl said. "I don't sense from them any discomfort with moderate and appropriate use of alcohol."
She insists that church events that include alcohol also offer nonalcoholic drinks--ones with as much flavor as the beer or wine that might be available--and she encourages parishioners to do the same when hosting one another in their homes.
Working out of the St. Paul's congregation, Hughes helped to organize the area's first congregation-based brewing competition in 2012. One of his aims is to change the perception that people have of Christians as judgmental and unable to have any fun--a perception he encounters a lot among the people he works with in Wilmington's "Hollywood East" film industry, which produces hit films such as Iron Man 3.
Instead of rejecting beer altogether because of alcohol's potential to create dependency, Hughes and others see gatherings such as What Would Jesus Brew? as celebrating the earth's abundance and encouraging creativity.
"This is not an activity that encourages the abuse of alcohol, but one that is about creating something you'd be proud to say you made," said J. D. Brown, who started homebrewing classes as part of a young men's ministry at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Garland, Texas. "The friendships that result in the process strengthen the community--which is the body of Christ. …