Grab a drink, let’s chat about God

Casual gatherings invite non-judgmental faith dialogue

No one wants to be told they’re wrong, including Chelsey Nickel, a 29-year-old Denverite who was raised Lutheran.

So she joined her Catholic husband, Andy, and brought questions about the faith to the new “Pint with a Priest” gathering at Platte Park Brewery in Denver. A crowd of beer drinkers posed questions and joined a casual discussion led by Father Brian Larkin of Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

“He’s so relatable,” Nickel said at the last gathering May 12. “I think more priests should do this.”

She had questions about the practice of confession and praying to Mary while others asked about predetermination, suffering and joy.

Father Larkin said the gathering is meant to be a casual way to invite a dialogue about the faith without catchy slogans or a specific agenda. And a bar is the most unintimidating place for that, he said.

“If I’m a fallen-away Catholic, I’m never going to come to an event at your church,” he said.

Pint with a Priest is one of several events held to make non-judgmental discussions about the faith more accessible to Catholics and non-Catholics alike in a popular setting. Father Larkin said it’s also an effort to respond to a secular world where faith is becoming more irrelevant.

According to the Pew Research Center, the Christian share of the U.S. population is declining and more adults are not identifying with a particular faith. In May, the center revealed a study that found self-identifying Christians dropped 7 percentage points in 2014 from 78 percent in 2007, and the religiously unaffiliated jumped from 16 percent to 22 percent.

While Christian-affiliated Americans may be on the decline, a desire for God and questions about the faith has not.

Father Ed Ruane, O.P., pastor of St. Dominic Parish, also launched a night of inquiry with Father Luke Barder, O.P. “Court of the Gentiles” is a twice-a-month event that’s drawn dozens of people from the community for an intellectually-stimulating dialogue on any faith topic of interest.

The idea is based on Pope Benedict XVI’s call for a place where non-Catholics would talk with Catholics, like in the Bible when the Gentiles would engage in dialogue with the Jews.

Speaker Chris Stefanick talks to a group sitting on the lawn outside St. Mary Church in Littleton.

Speaker Chris Stefanick talks to a group sitting on the lawn outside St. Mary Church in Littleton. Photo by Danielle Syrup

“He felt the Church needed that,” Father Ruane said. “What the Church needs today is not an environment that defends Church teaching, but where people can come and talk and not feel pressured.”

Past discussions included marriage as a sacrament, purgatory, Christ’s resurrection and the rosary.

“We try to help them think and reflect,” he said. “It’s more to really engage them and talk with them so that they have a sense of inner freedom to open up and to speak with us.

“And there’s no obligation to come back.”

Danielle Syrup, coordinator of parish and family life at St. Mary Church in Littleton, also cited Pope Benedict as the inspiration behind the summer series “Getting Grilled.”

“Pope Benedict said it best when he said first and foremost (faith) is a personal and profound experience with God that you have, and then you share it,” she said.

This is the second summer the parish has held gatherings on the parish lawn. Attendees enjoy beer and brats before a speaker presents on a current topic.

“It’s a really laid back and cool atmosphere,” Syrup said. “We have some Protestants or non-believers who do attend just to learn more about what the Church teaches. For Catholics, it’s to understand and more fully explain their faith.”

A crowd listens to speakers at the monthly Theology on Tap series at Katie Mullen's Irish Pub and Restaurant in Denver.

A crowd listens to speakers at the monthly Theology on Tap series at Katie Mullen’s Irish Pub and Restaurant in Denver. Photo by Jason Taylor

The hope is not simply to impart information but equip those with faith to share it with the outside world.

“Apologetics is about defending the faith, but we also want people to be prepared to bring up the conversation and not just wait for people attack you or ask the questions,” she said.

Theology on Tap in Denver and Fort Collins and St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center’s Thirsty Thursdays in Boulder are similarly geared toward young adults. However, the idea is to open a discussion about the faith to everyone.

“It’s trying to help form deeper Catholics who are really engaged in their faith, but it’s also an opportunity for them to invite a friend in a non-pressured situation,” said Mary McGeehan, events and hospitality coordinator for the Archdiocese of Denver’s Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries. “You never know how God’s going to work on them.”

 

Upcoming faith-dialogue events 

Get connected at http://archden.org/dcya for a complete list of events.

Pint with a Priest, 6:30 p.m. July 23
Platte Park Brewing Company

Court of the Gentiles, 7 p.m. June 10
St. Dominic Priory

Getting Grilled, 6:30 p.m. June 11
St. Mary Parish lawn

Theology on Tap, 7 p.m. Sept. 14
Katie Mullen’s Irish Pub and Restaurant

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash