Theology on Tap
Theology on Tap (TOT) is what happens when church and happy hour collide. Six times a year more than 150 young adults of all beliefs and perspectives gather at an inner loop ecumenical setting to have a beer together and discuss matters of faith. This innovative mixer of sorts is the brainchild of several pastors and youth leaders.
Two years ago Chapelwood UMC’s young adult ministry leader Rev. Andy Cunningham rallied some young adult ministry leaders in central Houston to discuss how to engage their demographic in the church. Young adult ministry leaders Rev. Michael Jarboe from Memorial Drive UMC, and Sarah Stone from Memorial Drive Presbyterian, readily agreed to pool funds and jointly find a context for ministry that would be appealing, interactive and non-threatening.
Theology on Tap launched with topics ranging from the realities of being a Christian in the workplace to discussing what other religions believe. “It is less of a taboo to ask questions about faith these days,” says Michael Jarboe, “so we set out to create a safe space, in the midst of a polarized culture, for everyone to join the conversation.”
Thanks to social media and word of mouth, a diverse Theology on Tap audience has been growing ever since. Messages are high on creativity and low on religiosity. Publicity teasers challenge prospective attendees with questions such as, “How can we know truth in a world full of alternative facts and fake news?”
These two-hour hang outs begin with a 30-minute social hour during which attendees can use their two tickets for beer or other beverages and free munchies. Many participants come after work, intrigued to hear a guest speaker or pastors of different denominations address faith and science, and even the controversial faith and politics. “We see every career represented from Starbucks baristas to medical folks in their scrubs,” Michael says, “and sometimes young adults sit together and root for their pastor on stage.”
Not every meeting features a heavy discussion. The December event will present a panel of pastors giving a three-minute theological backstory on obscure Christmas carols, their history and what that might mean in today’s world.
As the emcee each evening, Sarah can look over the crowd and instantly evaluate attendees’ level of engagement. “During the commentary portion of the evening I don’t see many people looking at their phones,” she says, “then after our refreshment break my phone blows up with over 50 plus texts offering questions about the topic.”
The other leaders behind TOT are Broun Stacy (Grace Presbyterian), UMC pastor Meredith Mills (Gastrochurch), Oscar Villanueva (City Church) and Mike Whang, who is filling the shoes of founder Andy Cunningham from Chapelwood UMC.
Young adult Dylan Cumberland loves attending an event where people with wildly different views can listen to the other’s beliefs and “still be united in faith, recognizing each other’s sacred worth.” Dylan is looking forward to the February meeting.
Theology on Tap organizers have a heart for young adults, but they have also created an environment that appeals to singles and young married couples, as well as non-Christians. Each event also introduces attendees to a church related nonprofit they may want to support as a volunteer or contributor. “As we head into our third year, we know this has been a successful forum to show that Christians, and others, can respectfully disagree and still have a beer together,” shares Rev. Meredith Mills.