- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2015

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) - It may not be a combination that people typically think of, but it’s one that’s working.

In its second year, the Brews & Views conversation series, sponsored by the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is bringing together people outside the church to discuss important faith and life topics over drinks.

“It’s more of a relaxed setting. Everybody is welcome to just walk in and it’s a great place to have conversations about important issues,” says the Rev. Brian Kirk, lead pastor at First Christian Church. “It’s both a chance to come and have a drink but also to share your views on different topics.”

The St. Joseph News-Press (http://bit.ly/1kBj2uP ) reports the idea stemmed from a nationwide program called Pub Theology, the Rev. Kirk says. The First Christian Church program is held for a limited number of weeks at Foster’s Martini Bar in Downtown St. Joseph and features different guided conversation topics.

“It basically is to open up dialogue so maybe people who were open to the conversation may be able to get more understanding or maybe even have paradigm shifts,” says Patrick Hall, outreach director with First Christian Church. “Even though we may be different and have different ideals, we can learn from each other. That was really the principle.”

Recently, the group discussed the question “Is there anything wrong with believing in God?”

“A lot of people said, ‘What do you mean by that question?’” the Rev. Kirk says. “… Your answer could be that there is nothing wrong with believing in God. Then some people said they think there are some problems with how some of us think about God. Then off and running was the conversation.”

Although the discussion topics vary, faith usually plays a role, the Rev. Kirk says.

“Sometimes the conversation is more around art. It could be around sexuality. Politics certainly comes into the discussion about every time we get together,” he says. “It’s very wide-ranging. Because it’s sponsored by a church, faith always finds its way into the conversation, but that’s certainly not the whole intent of what we are doing.”

Andrew Kar attended the session on Thursday where the topic was “What Is Your Sacred Text?”

“For me, it’s an opportunity to talk about a topic that consumes me,” he says. “I love talking about theology and faith and its relationship to all aspects of life. It really encompasses everything.”

The goal of the discussions, led by a church facilitator, isn’t to reach a consensus or change opinions, the Rev. Kirk says.

“Our goal is not to say by the end, ‘OK, what have we all figured out and learned here tonight?’” he says. “It’s simply to just have that open discussion.”

The bar setting helps encourage conversation and open up the meeting for everyone, the Rev. Kirk says. They have church members and nonmembers at the meetings, as well as people of a variety of ages and viewpoints, he says.

“We do feel like doing it in a bar is kind of a place where you drop all your pretenses about what you maybe can or can’t say in a church,” he says. “Sometimes, in a church building, we are reluctant to be completely open and honest.”

The reception has been predominantly positive, the Rev. Kirk says. They have seen an average of 15 to 20 people at each gathering.

“I think it has been an asset,” he says. “It intrigues people. A few people in our church said, ‘Really? We are going to do an activity in a bar?’ But I think even then it was like, ‘That’s interesting.’”

It’s a model for success as the church is changing and now requires work outside the physical building, the Rev. Kirk says. Brews & Views is one way to help reach out to “meet people where they are,” he says.

“The model, going back 50 years ago, would be to have a building and people will walk in,” he says. “That certainly is not the way it is anymore. We know that folks want to know if your faith community is engaged in the wider things that are going on in the community that they live in. … that’s exciting.”

He hopes to see more churches joining in on similar conversations as the program grows, the Rev. Kirk says.

“We are trying to look for different ways to be an expression of church, an expression of justice and peace and compassion and love in the community,” he says. “This may just be the first idea that will springboard into other ways of how church might look in the coming decade.”

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Information from: St. Joseph News-Press/St. Joe, Missouri, http://www.newspressnow.com

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