Most of you don’t have beer on your minds these days as we progress through Lent toward Easter. I am also in the same boat. That being said, I have just completed a successful first year of ‘Theology on Tap’ here in Guelph, and I’d like to share with you some of my reflections from the four events that we’ve hosted.
The project began in the spring of 2013 when a member of a Catholic parish in Guelph felt called to do something for the Year of Faith, more specifically, for evangelization. He proceeded to assemble “the team” – a committee of people from the Catholic school system, other Catholic parishes, and the University community, of which I am the contact. Essentially, the goal was to reach out to young people (from nineteen to forty years old) who are “un-churched” and who definitely will not step into a Church on their own. That, at least, was the goal.
With this age group in mind, we then proceeded to pick topics that would attract the aforementioned audience. Our first event was in October 2013 – the topic was “Finding God in the Digital Age”. We didn’t know what to expect for a first event of this kind. We picked a strategic location: one of the more popular pubs in Guelph, the Albion Hotel. We recruited a live Irish folk band – named House of Good Cheer – that played as people mingled as well as after the completion of the talk and small group discussions. We ended up getting about seventy to eighty people for this first event. Not bad. Our second talk, in November, drew about eighty-five people. The topic of that talk was “Navigating the Quarter-Life Crisis”. We can’t get more explicit than that! Young adults definitely can relate to the identity crisis that so many of them have in their twenties.
Then someone had the brilliant idea of advertising the next two events in the local secular newspaper. Consequently, our February 2014 talk – “Know Yourself, Know God” (St. Augustine’s famous quote) – drew close to 120 people. The March talk – “The Joy of Faith” – attracted a little fewer, around 100 or thereabout. On the one hand, seeing these numbers for a first year of a new initiative is encouraging, but on the other hand, I have to keep telling myself that it’s not about the numbers.
What was most encouraging for me was the energy and interest at these gatherings. Many people did not know each other before coming. People from various Church backgrounds – Catholic, Protestant – had the opportunity to meet each other and discuss relevant topics related to their faith. Many people ended up coming back for subsequent talks and friendships deepened. As a result, small group discussions became more passionate, deeper, and often more personal, sometimes lasting over an hour after the talk ended.
As I look back at the first year of “Theology on Tap” in Guelph, I see how the Lord has blessed our initiative. We started with a small committee of eight or nine committed members who were unsure of the future of this new endeavour, and we ended up with a small apostolate, a ministry to young adults in the Guelph area, a ministry often overlooked in parish life. One member even drives in from Acton, a thirty-minute drive. I also point out that the group is not explicitly “Catholic”. Most members are, nevertheless. Some of the non-Catholics who come to our small meetings get to know the Church through the various conversations that take place at these meetings; they are not repulsed or frightened because they get to know the Church through fellow young adults who are also excited about their faith, in a very informal and lively setting.
In short, I think that the “Theology on Tap” movement should be organized as much as possible, in every town. From my experience, this initiative has truly reached out to the “un-Churched”. Of course, let us not pretend that the lukewarm or antagonistic have all become fervent Christians now thanks to these events. In the end, this may be the case for some. But the conversation has started. The connections have been made. A location and small community has formed and is available at any time for those who are interested. The 140-plus people on the email list that are forty and under get our emails and are aware of the events taking place. Now the ball is in their court. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit continues to lead them to a deepening of their faith life.