At­lanta Beer & Hyms and Bar Church

Mid­town area con­gre­ga­tion is do­ing church dif­fer­ently

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUNDERS

Most peo­ple in town know of Sis­ter Louisa’s Church of the Liv­ing Room and Ping Pong Em­po­rium, or as most peo­ple call it, “Church.” There’s even a neon sign in the win­dow say­ing “Church (It’s a bar!)”

Well, meet At­lanta Beer & Hymns and Bar Church—it’s an ac­tual church.

At­lanta Beer & Hymns and Bar Church, which has no af­fil­i­a­tion with the afore­men­tioned bar on Edge­wood Av­enue, is an LGBT-in­clu­sive “gath­er­ing of seek­ers, sin­ners and saints” that meets ev­ery other Sun­day evening at Smith’s Olde Bar in Mid­town.

It’s the brain­child of Karen Slappey, “Cu­ra­tor of Com­mu­nity” for the group, who just re­ceived her mas­ter of di­vin­ity from Emory Univer­sity’s Can­dler School of The­ol­ogy and is pur­su­ing or­di­na­tion. But church, in a bar?

“For me the ‘Why in a bar?’ ques­tion came from the fact that I was raised Pen­te­costal and some­one tried to cast a de­mon out of me when I was 16. It didn’t work,” Slappey tells Ge­or­gia Voice. “I found com­mu­nity in bars, and in­vari­ably I would end up talk­ing to peo­ple at the bars about God, and most of the peo­ple who I have met who are seek­ing com­mu­nity at bars are peo­ple on the LGBTQ spec­trum be­cause they had be­come dis­en­fran­chised from the church.”

Af­ter all, al­co­hol and re­li­gion aren’t to­tal strangers—”wa­ter into wine” and such. It’s an al­ter­na­tive form of wor­ship that is catching on in the city’s LGBT com­mu­nity.

A new home and a new ser­vice

Slappey got the idea for At­lanta Beer & Hymns and Bar Church af­ter vis­it­ing the Wild Goose Fes­ti­val, a so­cial jus­tice and spir­i­tu­al­ity arts and mu­sic fes­ti­val in North Carolina. The sight of peo­ple drink­ing al­co­hol while singing hymns moved her to bring some­thing sim­i­lar to At­lanta, and in March 2014 the first Beer & Hymns event was held at Manuel’s Tav­ern, with peo­ple rais­ing a glass as they sang old-school church hymns.

Later that year the event moved to Smith’s Olde Bar, al­though man­age­ment had wor­ries about bar sales.

“There was just this as­sump­tion that be­cause it was a church thing, there wouldn’t be drink­ing. I said, ‘I think we’ll be okay,’” Slappey says, laugh­ing.

As time went on, those who took part in the Beer & Hymns event be­gan to want some­thing more—they still didn’t want to go to a church, but they wanted to take com- mu­nion. So they added a full-fledged church ser­vice called Bar Church, al­ter­nat­ing with Beer & Hymns ev­ery other Sun­day evening.

Bar Church in­cludes hymns, prayers, tak­ing com­mu­nion, and even a break to pack hun­dreds of lunches for lo­cal home­less shel­ters—all in a bar. Con­gre­gants of­ten re­place tra­di­tional hymns with sec­u­lar mu­sic that has a spir­i­tual theme. So far they’ve had litur­gies from U2, the Bea­tles, Mum­ford & Sons and Cold­play, and at the ser­vice on Nov. 30 it was REM’s turn.

Both Bar Church and Beer & Hymns av­er­age about 50 to 60 peo­ple a night, al­though Slappey says they haven’t done any ad­ver­tis­ing save for pro­mot­ing the events on Face­book.

‘It’s just … heal­ing some of those past wounds of the church’

Noe Her­ren heard about At­lanta Bar Church and Beer & Hymns from her friends in sem­i­nary at Emory Univer­sity’s Can­dler School of The­ol­ogy. As a les­bian who had had bad ex­pe­ri­ences with the church, this was some­thing that spoke to her.

“The rea­son I’m in sem­i­nary is be­cause of years and years of bad the­ol­ogy be­ing shoved down my throat and think­ing some­thing was wrong with me and think­ing God couldn’t love me this way,” Her­ren says.

She stepped away from the church for sev­eral years but came back when she found some af­firm­ing peo­ple, and now she says she wants to be that af­firm­ing voice for oth­ers.

“It’s just kind of heal­ing some of those past wounds of the church. I think that’s some­thing that a lot of LGBTQ per­sons in the South can re­late to,” she says. “Those harsh mes­sages from the church and just get­ting to a place where you re­al­ize ‘ Oh wait a minute, God does love me and I can be a part of this in a way that’s fruit­ful.’”

Her­ren is now an in­tern and plays with the band at At­lanta Beer & Hymns and Bar Church and is pur­su­ing or­di­na­tion in the Evan­gel­i­cal Lutheran Church in Amer­ica.

Christ­mas carols are in store for the next Beer & Hymns event on Dec. 13, with a Christ­mas Eve Bar Church ser­vice up next af­ter that on Dec. 24 at Smith’s. It’s a sense of com­mu­nity that Slappey plans on spread­ing into the New Year, with new­com­ers rou­tinely find­ing more in com­mon with the reg­u­lars than they ex­pected.

“Ev­ery­thing that we do kind of comes from the fact that we all, even those that are do­ing this, have huge doubts,” she says. “I mean I doubt more than I be­lieve most days. But we are a place of rad­i­cal wel­come. That’s non­nego­tiable.”

“Ev­ery­thing that we do kind of comes from the fact that we all, even those that are do­ing this, have huge doubts. I mean I doubt more than I be­lieve most days. But we are a place of rad­i­cal wel­come. That’s non­nego­tiable.” —Karen Slappey, Cu­ra­tor of Com­mu­nity at At­lanta Beer & Hymns and Bar Church

Reg­u­lars sing old-school church hymns at one of the Beer & Hymns nights at Smith’s Olde Bar in Mid­town. (Photo cour­tesy At­lanta Bar Church)

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