My wife and I have friends who live in Lancaster, and they frequent a very nice restaurant (with a very beautiful bar) on a regular basis. They like to go on Monday night for happy hour, so we decided to go. They were out of town, but there were other folks sitting there enjoying the ambience. As people tend to do, we started conversations – there was a 30 something man to our right who teaches at the War College in PA and was reading a book that he was asked to review. To our left was a couple from the mid-west. They were in Lancaster visiting her elderly parents, and it turns out they visit every 6 weeks or so. We struck up a really deep conversation, and have been in contact ever since. I went in and had dinner by myself with them last week.
You meet the nicest people in bars. I am not advocating bar hopping or excessive drinking – I am merely saying that we church folks have a history of demonizing certain behaviors. I was raised as a United Methodist, and that church was historically against alcohol, although I don’t think I ever met a Methodist who didn’t drink alcohol. This concept came from John Wesley’s concern about gin mills – the crack houses of his time. He himself like a good glass of wine or beer. Sometimes, in our zeal to be “right”, we go too far.
Our churches are suffering from agoraphobia. We need to be outside of our walls, talking about God in non-threatening ways, and showing people that not all Christians are like the hateful people they see on TV or have experienced in their past. We need to share our faith in ways that lift up people. We need to put judgment aside – that’s God’s job – and accept people as they are. We are in a new age, and we are, like it or not, the radical minority. If you attend church regularly you are part of the counter-culture – especially if it is a church that is about love. There are nice/searching/mean/caring/indifferent (etc) people everywhere, and we need to accept them where they are with the hope that they might find in us fellow seekers of truth. While I have experienced mean people in bars, I have to say that I have experienced more meanness in churches.
I used to love to watch “Cheers” – it was, for me, an example of what the church might aspire to. Think about the song – “Where everybody knows your name” – and think about how our congregations might be changed if we just adopted that as our theme song. You might remember when Norm would walk in, everyone would shout his name. We need to do that – maybe not quite so loudly, but with meaning. When new people would come to the bar, people would talk to them and include them in conversation. We must do the same. If bars are more welcoming, inclusive, and friendly than church, it is only church people who are to blame.
You meet the nicest people in bars – in churches – in social clubs – in restaurants – in…..
Pastor Steve Ohnsman has served Calvary UCC in Reading, PA, since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an M.Div from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a D.Min in Christian Ethics from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD from Alvernia University (PA).