I have heard the stories of young colleagues who have enjoyed a ministry often called, “Theology on Tap”. Persons meet at a restaurant or tavern, enjoy their beverages of choice, and simply engage in conversation. There is freedom to ask questions, to express opinions, to wonder with others about God and Jesus and church and life. These conversations spark interest in persons who simply are not candidates for Sunday School and worship attendance but who have a keen interest in spirituality. The informal setting, relaxed atmosphere and most important, the freedom to express opinion in a safe space, is also preferred by many church goers who have been looking for conversations that matter.
There are many in Zebulon Baptist Church who would appreciate “Theology on Tap”. But, I have made it this far in a long ministry without doing anything that would deeply trouble my wonderful mother, who has been gone from this earth for many years but who may be looking on from above. So, I will leave “Theology on Tap” for my successor to consider. This summer I have introduced an alternative, “Sweet Tea and Theology”.
For four weeks in this hot and steamy July we have are bringing our lawn, concert and tailgating chairs and setting up on a beautiful, shaded patio area on our campus. Meeting from 6:30 until 8 we fix our sweet teas or whatever drink we choose to bring and we open up a conversation. Thirty adults of all ages have given this a try in the first two weeks. It has been wonderful.
Our general topics of conversation have focused on the will of God in week one and the notion of salvation in week two. But, the conversation is open. And, the goal of creating a safe space for conversation has been met. I have marveled at the openness of the questions, confessions, and shared experiences. We are recognizing that we do not all think alike on so many levels. But, we are listening attentively to one another and learning that our friends have not reached their conclusions or developed their opinions without thought, without prayer, without sincerity. Respect is growing for those who see God and life differently than we see.
When I think of how Jesus encouraged growth in the disciples I recognize the importance of conversations. He talked with them about life and about God. He asked them questions and answered their questions. I still believe God speaks through the teaching and preaching of pastors, Bible study and Sunday School leaders. But, I also greatly respect the value of conversation in spiritual formation. Churches should invite persons from their membership ranks and from their communities to join in open conversation. In a sharply divided world the creation of safe space for honest talk is an incredibly significant ministry.
Two weeks in to “Sweet Tea and Theology” we have folks ready to build a fire pit on the patio and have “Hot Chocolate and Theology” this winter. I loved the comment of one woman who said that her appreciation for the open dialog with other Christians had instilled a desire for even deeper conversation – she would love an interfaith conversation with Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, humanists, seekers and skeptics. That sounds wonderful to me, too.
I am grateful for the friends who have come out to join me in “Sweet Tea and Theology”. I am reminded that honest talk paired with attentive listening deepens understanding. In the space created by openness and trust God can find a home, knitting together a beloved community. It is always worth the risk to create such a space.
– Jack Glasgow