By Steve Rabey
He may not be as popular as St. Patrick or as revered as St. Francis, but St. Arnold, the patron saint of hop-pickers and brewers, is inspiring growing numbers of beer-loving believers.
“From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world,” said Arnold, a seventh-century abbot of one of France many beer brewing monasteries.
Arnold’s legacy has inspired members of Chapel of Our Saviour in Colorado Springs to sponsor an annual Feast of St. Arnold, which features beer and wine tastings, events for children, and fundraising for the community.
Nearly 1,000 people attended June’s second annual feast, raising more than $7,000 for Westside CARES, which serves the city’s needy. And more than 100 attendees enjoyed guided tours of the chapel, a beautiful church that’s hidden away behind walls and shrubbery not far from the tony Broadmoor resort.
For the Rev. Denson F. Freeman, Jr., rector of the chapel, the event is not about inebriation but evangelism.
“We’re trying to find a way to reclaim the Great Commission,” Freeman said. “This has become a way to reach out for a church that doesn’t have a whole lot of money to do outreach and evangelism.”
Freeman said some of the people who first got to know about the church through the feast now attend regularly on Sunday mornings.
The Feast of St. Arnold is run by church volunteers and organized by Brian Bennett, a financial adviser who dresses as St. Arnold for the event. A wine connoisseur for decades, Bennett was won over to beer by the work of quality-conscious craft brewers like fellow Chapel of Our Saviour members Mike and Amanda Bristol, founders of the popular Bristol Brewing Co.
“Craft beers are piquing people’s interest in beverages that have some of the complexities and flavors that have heretofore been ascribed to fine wines,” said Bennett, who with his wife, Becky, has published two books in a BrewDogs of Colorado series.
Bennett helped start a homebrew fellowship group at Chapel of Our Saviour. “Half a dozen guys spend an afternoon together brewing,” he says, “and it’s during the down times together that the Jesus conversations break out.”
Bennett grew up in the Evangelical United Brethren denomination, which later merged to form the United Methodist Church. But he drifted away from church during college, and is now a regular at the chapel since experiencing a spiritual reawakening there in 1978.
“My friends and I were playing bridge late one Saturday night when they said they needed to go home and get an hour’s sleep before going to church in the morning,” he says. “They picked me up for the 11 o’clock service. I was not used to the liturgical church, but I was struck to the heart.”
In addition to beer, Bennett embraces Anglicans’ intellectual honesty. “One of the things I appreciate about the Episcopal Church is that you don’t have to check your brain at door,” he said. “You’re actually encouraged to think your way through your own theology and work out your own way of living your Christian life.”
The 2014 feast was more festive than the 2013 event, which happened as the Black Forest Fire, Colorado’s most destructive, destroyed more than 500 Springs-area homes. Plans are already underway for the June 2015 feast.
“Evangelism has been kind of a dirty word in the Episcopal Church over the years,” Fr. Freeman said. “But we’ve found that people can come to the feast and ask questions about God without feeling like they’re going to get a regular ‘church talk.’”
Hops and the Lord
Jesus’ first miracle was to transform water into wine. But if our Savior had been incarnated in Texas, he would have turned water into beer, says author, bar owner and Episcopal priest William Miller in his lighthearted Beer Drinker’s Guide to God.
Miller leads St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Kauai, Hawaii, and is part owner of a bar called Padre’s in Marfa, Texas. He believes alcohol is a sacred gift of God that, if used rightly, can bring joy, but he realizes that not all believers imbibe.
Pilgrims and Puritans brought beer with them from Europe to the New World, but some of their spiritual descendants campaigned for Prohibition, and today some forbid any alcohol consumption and use grape juice during communion services.
“We have drawn lines in the sand between the sacred and the profane,” writes Miller, who says we should instead “embrace the holy whole.”
“We are much too serious in our attempts to understand a God who is far more playful than those who claim to speak on his behalf,” he writes. “But we shouldn’t necessarily throw the beer out with the baptismal water.”
Culturally, trends seem to be going in Miller’s direction. Christians nationwide host “Theology on Tap” gatherings at bars. Protestants organize events like “Beer, Bible, and Brotherhood” and “What Would Jesus Brew?” And even evangelical institutions like California’s Biola University and Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute have recently loosened their rules on alcohol.