Friday, February 22, 2008

God in pub


As part of my placement with the chaplaincy at Manchester University this week I was in one of the student bars. Me and one of the chaplains were doing 'Pints of View' where we sit in the main bar of the huge hall of residence and try to get some conversations going around religious and ethical issues.

Last week was just me and the chaplain, sitting in the bar thinking - how the hell are we going to get people to talk to us? This week we had lollipops and postcards with questions on, and a guest speaker from the local humanist group. But there was still only us, the invited speaker and one other person for the first hour and a half. Then a student stumbled across us saying 'oh can I have a lolly?' And stayed to talk about religion. From then on we had a really vibrant table with loads of people wandering in and out of our conversations, talking, disagreeing, thinking in a cheerful non-confrontational way. It was a brilliant evening, and the kind of thing that is the reason I'm going into ministry.

There are three separate relflections I want to share about this experience:

First, this shows to me the importance of hope and trust in the spirit and patience when doing mission, doing something a bit out of the comfort zone. It's worth doing, but it might take a while to get going. Keep the faith.

Secondly, it was really easy to get people to talk about religion. Someone came for a lolly and I shouted at them over the music and sounds of the bar - 'You have to tell me what you think about God first!' And they did. Just like that. It seems in churches, and often in Unitarian churches, we so often avoid talking about deep things. Yet here I was in a bar without pretense or tact bluntly asking what people believed and getting blunt and honest replies. Dare we be as brave in our congregations?

Thirdly I got into an interesting conversation with one of the people there about drinking. I have given up alcohol for Lent and the other chaplain was getting over a cold so neither of us were drinking alcohol. Someone suggested that it might be off-putting for people to see us not drinking alcohol. Now I'm not teetotal, but at the same time I'd like to affirm that drugs aren't necessary to have a good time. So I'm left pondering a classic missionary question: should I go along with the culture to be relevant to that culture, or do I take a counter-cultural position in order to be a witness to a different set of values?

It was a good night, anyway. We'll see what happens next week.

9 Comments:

Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Well done Stephen!

Now that`s what I call missionary work. ;-)

Next time buy some crisps and you
can perform Holy Communion Unitarian style. . . If U*Us can have Water Communion why not have a Beer Communion too?

Seriously, I would encourage you to keep Pints of View going. I would happily join you for a pint or two, or even three. . . the next time I am over your side of the pond.

3:50 am  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Full disclosure. I am sitting at my keyboard with a beer stein that is less than half full of McAuslan`s St. Abroise Pale Ale, it was preceded by a St. ambroise Griffon Pale ALE, and I have been snacking on a 180g bag of Yum Yum Cheese Sticks. I dare say that I am in virtual Beer Communion with you right now. ;-)

Allah Prochaine,

Robin Edgar aka The Emerson Avenger aka The Dagger of Sweet Reason aka GodKnowsWho aka GoddessKnowsWho every now and then. . .

PB2U*Us

3:57 am  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Come to think of it. . .

That is a far better way to generate some pub*licity for Unitarianism in Britain than the way the Padiham Unitarians are going about it. ;-)

4:16 am  
Blogger Naomi said...

"...the classic missionary question..."

How about a third way? If you fancy a pint, have a pint. If you enjoy a glass of wine, have a glass of wine. One would be good; two might be alright; three, and you could be seen as part of the 'drinking culture' - bad news - or as making out that you are part of the drinking culture - bloody pathetic, speedily seen through.

Surely you don't have to actually join one or other exclusive club to make contact with the members? Be yourselves; that's much more respect worthy than devising a strategy.

11:10 am  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Do you have any idea how much water Jesus allegedly turned into wine? Gallons and gallons. . . Is it such a terrible thing to "be seen as part of the 'drinking culture'"? Wasn't Jesus seen as hanging out with "sinners"?

Personally I think that doing some "missionary" work in a pub is a brilliant idea and certainly worth an experimental effort at least, although it can obviously have its drawbacks. Certainly one does not want to drink too much if one is doing such "missionary" work and one must also keep in mind that some of the people that you are sharing your religious beliefs with may be more than a little bit tiddly. The thing I would be most concerned about would be the increased potential for a belligerent reactionary response to bringing religion into the pub from an inebriated anti-relious bigot. Hopefully Stephen will keep us posted about how this all pans out in the end.

12:46 pm  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

I just came up with a great name for your pub mission. . .

The Church of the Lager Fellowship ;-)

4:04 am  
Anonymous tim f said...

"Do you have any idea how much water Jesus allegedly turned into wine? Gallons and gallons. . . "

And at a point in the party when everyone was already completely ratted, too!

4:57 pm  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Indeed. After all Jesus was (allegedly) pretty much doing a refill. . . ;-)

So how did the Church of the Lager Fellowship go this week Stephen?

Any Bitter experiences or was it more like Ales well that ends well?

4:38 am  
Blogger Stephen said...

Hi all. Just to update you we kept going with Pints of View for the rest of this term (now ended). Each night varied, but none were without very interesting conversations about all kinds of things. It was a really interesting exerices and I like to think all the people who took part got something out of it. I certainly did. Anyone interested in any kind of mission needs to do this kind of thing.

1:40 pm  

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