Ale and evangelism!
For millions of Christians, they go together like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. After all, Lewis and Tolkien were ringleaders of the Inklings, who famously haunted the Eagle and Child (the pub in Oxford shown in today’s two photos) along with Charles Williams, Hugo Dyson and sometimes other writers and scholars. Eventually, the friends were gathering to read aloud and discuss their works most Mondays and Tuesdays in a room of the pub still known as the Rabbit Room.
Not long ago, we passed the 30th anniversary of Theology on Tap—the very popular American Catholic version of pairing pints with preaching. That particular American format has flowed back across the oceans East and West to a dozen other countries’ public houses. Countless Catholics have partaken since the early 1980s in conversations led by priests—as well as some of the church’s leading lights. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin enjoyed Theology on Tap. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington D.C. since 2006, once showed up to try his first evening teaching at a pub and received a huge round of applause.
“That’s the warmest welcome I’ve ever received in a pub,” Wuerl told the patrons. Then he smiled, and added, “That’s the first welcome I’ve ever received in a pub!”
Dr. Benjamin Pratt, author of Guide for Caregivers and the James Bond Bible-study book called Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins reports that he is not personally a regular at brass rails. However, he does occasionally enjoy a good pint, and he recognizes the long-standing tensions between secular and sacred communion rails in many communities around the world. For those bridging the gap in the rails, he offers this prose-poem—a prayerful meditation he invites you to reflect upon and share with friends.
He calls it simply:
The Brass Communion Rail
By the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt
Ever present Lord,
I was sitting on a bar stool
At the local Sports Bar,
My feet on the brass rail,
Having a Guinness and a burger.
Keeping an eye on the game,
I opened my laptop,
Taking notes for an upcoming sermon.
Three young men approached—
Teased me about drinking black, bitter mud.
I said, “Guinness is Gaelic for ‘genius’!
I’m hoping to be one
Since I’m trying to write a sermon.”
They teased me some more:
“Your team’s losing Pastor!”
I loved those guys right away.
They kept me laughing and finally said,
“Maybe we’ll see you Sunday, Pastor!
Hope the Guinness works,
But if it doesn’t—
A fiver says your Heart and Faith will!”
They were off, their laughter ringing.
Back at my pint and portable,
Sipping and tapping notes,
I noticed a man a few stools over—arise.
He shuffled my way,
“Excuse me, did I hear those guys call you Pastor?”
“I’m surprised to meet a Pastor drinking in a Sports Bar,
But maybe things have changed!
I haven’t been in a church since …
Well, the truth is: I left! They made me so mad!
I couldn’t or wouldn’t ever live up to their standards of perfection.
Hypocrites! They didn’t live up to them either.
I knew what they did when they weren’t at church.”
“You still have a lot of sadness about that,” I said.
“I thought I was only angry, but—
Maybe I am sad about how it all worked out.”
“You wouldn’t have spoken to me if you were only angry.”
“Where’s your church, Pastor?”
“Lots of places. Sunday mornings on Elm Street.
More often in hospital rooms, funeral parlors, gardens, offices, the jail,
Or at this Brass Communion Rail.
Looks to me like you’ve already joined us.
He sat again.
This time on the stool next to me.
My silent prayer:
Bless us to know that our
Brass Communion Rail
Is where we join You in tending bar,
Bringing grace to anyone in need.
CARE FOR MORE FROM BENJAMIN PRATT?
There are links to Dr. Pratt’s two books, above. If you’re looking for fresh ideas to use in your congregation, we can report: A growing number of congregations nationwide are forming small groups to discuss the spiritual support of America’s 65 million caregivers. Ben’s book is a great guide in that process. Plus, this autumn is the 50th anniversary of James Bond movies—so Ben’s Bond Bible study book is a timely choice for a fall series. This meditation, The Brass Communion Rail, is posted jointly into ReadTheSpirit and the website for Day1, the nationwide radio network. If you are active in your congregation, click on that Day1 link and bookmark Ben’s section of that website. Each month, Ben posts another resource you’ll enjoy—and want to share with friends. He welcomes you to share these words.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.