If a man was proclaiming religious ideas from a soapbox on Hennepin Avenue, what would you — or Jesus — do?
Perhaps you could try pondering the issue over a brew.
A small group imbibed and pontificated on this scenario recently in a northeast Minneapolis living room. Booze, scripture and YouTube helped anoint the latest Bible and Brew hosted by Nicholas and Kristin Tangen, both 30 and members of Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church in Northeast.
“We really try and look at the intersection of faith and life,” Nicholas Tangen said of the group he founded last summer. “I think that fits well with sitting around a table with some beer.”
The gathering is one of many monthly events across the Twin Cities area combining faith-based activities and alcohol.
Some are local, such as Humble Walk Lutheran Church’s Beer and Hymns, which is in its fifth year at Shamrocks in St. Paul. Others are chapters in national series, such as Theology on Tap, hosted by parish cooperatives West Metro Young Adults in Minneapolis and Cathedral Young Adults in St. Paul.
Some are aimed at specific audiences, such as a women’s Wine and Dessert night at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Minneapolis. Others focus on craft beers, including St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, which hosts What Would Jesus Brew?
“We’re not trying to lure you as a bait and switch into our organization,” said the Rev. Jodi Houge of Humble Walk Lutheran Church in St. Paul. “If you show up, you’re already in. There’s no secret agenda.”
The groups all uncork ideas in spaces outside God’s house, and drinking is neither encouraged nor required.
As the number of U.S. Christians wanes, according to studies by Pew Research Center, the groups offer alternative ways to strengthen religious worship, reaching out to people who are looking for something beyond the traditional.
“It’s much more likely for twenty-somethings to get together at a local pub for food, fellowship and faith, rather than a church basement,” said Peter Engelmeyer, 27, of West Metro Young Adults. “It’s a lot more of a relaxed atmosphere.”
The weekly events, held most recently at Champps in Minnetonka, allow Catholics to connect with one another and explore their faith, including a “grill the priest” opportunity, organizers say.
“When you’re preaching from the pulpit, it’s a very one-sided conversation,” said the group’s adviser, the Rev. Joseph Johnson of Holy Family Catholic Church in St. Louis Park. Instead, “there’s a give-and-take in conversation, so that you can hopefully flesh out what questions people have.”
A night at the Tangens’ roundtable deep-dives into economics, politics and social issues.
To prompt the 7:30 p.m. discussion, Nicholas Tangen toggled a PlayStation 2 remote to play a video of a street performer in New York City. In the video, performer Matthew Silver plays John the Baptist. Shirtless and bearded, he bellows at the crowd, “Live in the moment! Don’t get old! Don’t judge people!” Nicholas then read the gospel (Luke 3:7-18).
The group of 10 debated: Does mortality pack the same punch these days as during New Testament times?
“There’s a sense of non-urgency around death now,” Kristin Tangen said about an hour into the group’s three-hour chat.
That same attitude might apply to being proactive about goals or recognizing the threat of global warming, she said. We all nestle comfortably into modernity’s promises, she added.
Her husband added, “ ‘Live today like it’s your last’ sounds so trite,” but does it have credence? He wondered: Should we dismiss such simple adages?
“Where does YOLO [you only live once] fit into all of this?” posed Josh Meuwissen, 25, another congregation member.
The conversation, complemented by snacks, stewed more questions: What makes a prophet?
Suddenly enlivened, Tanner Hall interjected: “People who use strategic communication — they make their point in a way that made people want to write it down.” Someone felt motivated to transcribe biblical preachings, the group noted, right?
“Was John the Baptist this autonomous person who had full agency in making things this way?” Hall wondered.
It was almost 9 p.m. by then, and his glass was half-empty. Or maybe half-full.
Come one, come all
The Tangens started hosting Bible and Brew because its ingredients existed: a rich beer culture in northeast Minneapolis and a desire to connect over subjects often left unspoken. They also pointed out that their faith’s founder, Martin Luther, was known to dwell in pubs.
Bubbly people, the Tangens — who are hoping to expand with a pedal pub during the spring — direct the conversation into fluid, judgment-free zones.
Alyssa Meuwissen, 25, started attending the meetings because she missed the intellectual conversations at her alma mater, the College of St. Benedict. For Adithya Connerton, a first-timer, the gathering was another pillar in her ongoing struggle with Christianity. Connerton, 29, belongs to a Presbyterian church and is married to an atheist, who has taught her kindness and patience, she said.
The group discussed misunderstanding parents, work-life balance, questions of systematic discrimination and effects of social media. And they talked about the stranger shouting on Hennepin Avenue.
Is this orator a soothsayer? Is he beckoning for attention? Or, perhaps, mentally ill? And would you ignore him or stop and listen to the diatribe, maybe even dropping a coin in his bottom-up hat that was serving as a collection plate?
There were no easy answers.
“That’s the question we should leave with here tonight,” Hall suggested.