Jottings, Curios, Ramblings and all



Rector’s Jottings (No 32/2018)


Alcohol and faith – it’s complicated, isn’t it?

To be honest, alcohol is pretty complicated even without the added aspect of faith. On the one hand, a nice glass of wine with dinner. On the other – alcoholism. The one, an ordinary, unremarkable, pleasant part of daily life. The other, a destroyer of lives. It’s a challenge we live with all the time – we all know that alcoholism is brutal but it’s not a problem for all of us, so we learn to look away.


And that complexity is particularly challenging in the context of the Christian faith. Because there’s no getting away from it – alcohol is at the heart of our faith, literally part of the centrepiece of Christian worship. When we gather on a Sunday to give praise and thanksgiving to the God who creates, loves and sustains us, we do so with wine. When we remember, in holiness and awe, Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, we do it with wine. And we do it because Jesus commanded us to – “Drink this, all of you”, he said. “Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me”.


And the rest of the Bible doesn’t really simplify anything. Yes, the Bible condemns drunkenness, frequently – but then again, here is Jesus, first miracle, and what does he do? Turns water into wine, specifically so that people could party. We are warned against drunkenness in the Bible, but really not discouraged from drinking.


It’s a mixed message and one we need to think about. Alcohol is part of our lives – but it has the potential to be tragically destructive. So in this complicated context, why are we putting on a Beer and Hymns event in the church?


Well, because we are called to witness to God among the people – not just our own people, the people who come to church anyway but the other people, the ones who don’t come at all or don’t come often. And witnessing to God among people who don’t come to church means either going out of church or tempting them in.


And because worshipping God isn’t only about mystery and awe and the solitary, personal experience – it can also be about joy and delight and the pleasure of social contact.


I love Beer and Hymns. Partly because I like both beer and hymns, but more because of the joy of celebration, of being happy with people while praising God. The Lord knows I love the mystery of the Eucharist. But that’s not the only way to encounter God. We also meet God in one another – God is present in our joy as well as our contemplation, and if silent stillness is one way to pray, so are music and praise and singing and rejoicing.


It is good to be joyful in the Lord. And one of the best ways I know to do that is to make worshipping God a proper celebration, with music and food and drink, and to invite people to come and join us.


And that’s what Beer and Hymns is – it’s an invitation. An invitation to people who don’t come to church or don’t come much but who remember singing hymns. People who sing hymns on the football stands or at rugby matches, who love nothing more at Christmas than to sing carols, but who don’t go to church. People who are much more likely to come to an event where there is beer and the promise of a relaxed sociable night, and more likely to join in after a pint.


Make no mistake, Beer and Hymns is an act of worship, not a booze up. It’s not a service like our Sunday Eucharist, more like a carol service – it’s just that we keep the mulled wine for afterwards at the carol service, whereas at Beer and Hymns we drink and sing at the same time. It’s true there will be people there who would say they are not interested in God. But yet here they are, in church, singing praise to God.


Yes, it’s complicated. But complicated is what we do.

“Eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do.” Ecclesiastes 9.7


Beer and Hymns takes place in church this Friday, from 7.30pm.

Hornsey Parish Church