Beer evangelists spread the gospel at bars

Each month, a self-described group of "seekers, sinners and saints” gathers at a local bar to drink beer and sing traditional hymns.

“I love the crowd here.”

— Ashley Wilcox, Quaker minister

“You don’t have to drink beer, but you do have to sing loudly,” joked Karen Slappey, a Lutheran seminarian and young adult minister.

Atlanta Beer and Hymns is associated with House of the Rock, a ministry of Atlanta’s Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. However, the monthly events attract people from many different denominations and all ages.

“I love the crowd here,” said Ashley Wilcox, a Quaker minister. “It’s a really great group of people. We have people from Candler School of Theology where I study, people from church and people who would never go to church.”

While a bar may seem unorthodox to some traditional churchgoers, organizers say Atlanta Beer and Hymns is about bringing the church to where the people are — a concept as old as Christianity itself.

“Jesus wasn’t the clean-cut guy that everybody likes to put on a pedestal,” said Brother James Dunstan, an Episcopal monk and regular Beer and Hymns participant. “He was the guy who went amongst the prostitutes and the tax collectors and the dregs of society.”

Organizers say bringing hymns and prayer to a bar is a nonthreatening way of spreading Christianity beyond traditional church walls.

“I think evangelism has gotten a bad rap because there have been some people who have gone out and just been nasty or hateful or judgmental,” Slappey said. “No one wants to say the ‘E-word.’ But I think it’s a word that can be reclaimed.”