Four or five young people were shooting pool one evening at The House of Beer in the Hunter's Creek area of Orlando, including a woman who became curious about the folks sitting at a nearby table and talking about the Bible.
Never mind what was she drinking. What was she thinking?
She must have had good thoughts because the woman put down her cue stick and walked over to the group. She asked what they were doing and took a seat.
|Rev. Jim Berlau, associate pastor at Peace UMC in Orlando|
“It was a really cool thing,” said the Rev. Jim Berlau, associate pastor at Peace United Methodist Church in Orlando and leader of the eponymous Jim's Peace Pub Group. “It wasn't really the goal, but it is.”
Jim's Peace Pub Group is one of about a half dozen “harmony groups” at Peace that focus on special interests. The goal of the pub group meetings, which are held Tuesdays for two hours every two weeks, is to reach as many people as possible by taking the Word outside the walls of the church and into the community.
When Jim's Peace Pub Group meets, the menu includes contemporary headlines discussed from a Christian world view, in addition to more than 300 draft and bottled beers.
About 35-40 people have attended sessions at one time or another. Session attendance ranges from a core of six to about 15
The group is populated primarily by church members who don't enjoy traditional Bible study and former members who are willing to re-engage and give the church a second, less-traditional look.
Some people who are not affiliated with any church now consider The House of Beer to be “their church,”
Berlau said. It's a bonus when people like the woman playing pool drop in Tuesdays to join the group.
When it began meeting about a year ago, Berlau expected attendees to skew young. But he has been pleased to see a mix of age and gender, with varying political and theological views.
“I feel like what God is doing through this is bringing a diverse group of people together,” Berlau said. “It's sitting down and sharing a beer together, which is enabling us to have conversations that I feel like we would never have had in the past in a study atmosphere.”Berlau uses Sunday school curriculum called “The Wired Word.” It breaks down current events and asks questions. He sends group members a reminder text on Tuesdays, along with a teaser about that night's topic, such a linked news article.
The sessions begin with a discussion about current events, which often include differing opinions and healthy debate. Respectful behavior is required. Berlau then introduces scripture into the conversation, and they “share a beer together,” he said.
A recent discussion was about money management and the difference between being ambitious and being greedy. Money management is just one of the real-world topics that comes up during group discussions.
“A lot of churches are trying to be an authentic part of their community, which is really the goal: supporting efforts in the community and being Christ to the community,” Berlau said.
—Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.