Go where the people are. Do church differently. Jesus and God are not restricted to Sunday mornings in a place with pews.
Over 100 folks gathered at New England Brewing Company on Sunday, March 18, at 6:30 p.m. for a new missional experiment within the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, #CraftChurch. This idea came to be as a product of several churches in ECCT collaborating together to think outside the church walls. The Rev. Tricia Pasley from St. Andrew's in Milford (one of many ECCT parishes and worshiping communities represented on Sunday evening) floated the idea after a conversation about low church attendance of folks in their 20s and 30s, "What if we did church at a bar?".
Pasley reached out to her brother, Rob Leonard, owner of New England Brewing Company, about potentially hosting the evening, and he agreed. Craft Church was a go.
This isn't a completely foreign idea, as Christians have been gathering in unique spaces and places since Jesus' time, and throughout recent history in other Christian denominations. But, this doesn't mean everyone was on board. Holding a church service with Eucharist in a bar is not for everyone. For some, it pushes the relationship between Church and alcohol, is not accessible for folks who battle with addiction or alcoholism, or overall believe it is not a safe environment for church to happen. These are all very valid concerns, especially with regards to Safe Church practices and policies. And yet, with proper care and attention to those policies, there was something beautiful that did happen Sunday evening when over 100 folks sang, prayed, ate, drank, and worshiped God at New England Brewing Company.
So even though Craft Church is not for everyone, much like the 8:00 a.m. Rite I service is not for everyone— God is still present.
Trying something different and new was very much the feel for the evening. Before the service, folks enjoyed a short pour of craft ale, soda, and seltzer over conversation and food—a twist on the classic “coffee hour.” Then right at 7:00 p.m., after an opening worship song, a holy space was created on the bar with candles, a cross, and an open bible.
Pasley presided over the service with the help of the Craft Church Band, a collaborated effort led by Fabian Ortiz, St. James’ in New Haven. The sermon focused on the parable of the mustard seed from Matthew's Gospel and dove into the concept of Craft Church. Pasley focused on the oddity at hand—that having church in a brewery or bar is weird and non-traditional, just like Jesus was at his time. Pasley compared this missional experiment to a “mustard seed," warning the group how it may just grow into something worthwhile, "beware of the seeds that may be planted here tonight." There was already buzz going on about when the next Craft Church would be.
The service continued with an open-ended Prayers of the People, where folks lifted up prayers for loved ones and strangers who are in need. Then what may have been one of the longest exchange of peace in ECCT’s history occurred. People mingled around the space, offering a sign of peace to one another and commenting on how glad they were that they showed up. Ortiz gathered everyone back together with a song, and the evening transitioned into a non-traditional Rite II-esque Eucharist. Beer was used rather than wine, utilizing the resources at hand, just like Jesus did.
Volunteers assisted Pasley and concelebrant, the Rev. Rachel Field, with distributing the elements around the brewery, and offering blessings to those who did not wish to take Eucharist. The service concluded with everyone reciting a closing prayer, and singing a final song.
The brewery remained open until 9:00 p.m. for fellowship, and the offertory and all proceeds went to the opening of a new food pantry in Milford.
While this idea for a church service at a brewery blossomed from a conversation about where people in their 20s and 30s are, the majority of the crowd on Sunday evening were beyond that age demographic. This sparks the question, did it succeed? And the short answer is yes, and it will continue to grow and mold as it proceeds organically. The inaugural event always brings hype and a crowd, which is amazing, yet the real witness to this mustard seed will come in the follow-through and nurturing of a uniquely crafted idea for church.