Beer and Hymns is an event at the annual Greenbelt Festival in London. Since 1974, Greenbelt has brought people together to explore faith, arts and justice issues.
Drew McLellan /Courtesy of Greenbelt
On Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR's John Burnett describes how some churches are trying to attract new members by creating a different sort of Christian community around craft beer.
This is actually nothing new. For centuries, beer has brought people together to worship God. And God has inspired people to make beer. We've selected a few of the best examples:
- As far back as the 18th century, Paulaner monks in Germany would brew and drink a heavy, malty type of beer called Doppelbock for Lent. The Paulaner monks weren't allowed to eat solid food for the duration of Lent, so the next best thing? Beer. The beer was so nutritious that it kept them nourished for the entire 40-day fast. The Paulaner Brewery in Munich still brews the Doppelbock beer today.
- Arthur Guinness, creator of Guinness beer, was a devout Christian who grew up in a time when drunkenness, mainly from liquor, was rampant. Brewing beer was safer than brewing liquor, and it was a well-respected profession. Monks had been brewing beer for ages, and Guinness decided to do it to give people in his community a less potent alternative to liquor. He used the teachings of God and applied it to his business. As Stephen Mansfield wrote in RELEVANT magazine: "The Guinness tale is not primarily about beer. It is not even primarily about the Guinnesses. It is about what God can do with a person who is willing and with a corporation committed to something noble and good in the world."
- Imagine a huge music festival with a heavy dose of religion. That's the vibe at Greenbelt Festival in London, where people come to the Cheltenham Racecourse to be inspired by God with the help of art and music. The roots of the festival are in the Christian tradition, but non-Christians are welcomed as well. What sets this religious festival apart is the beer. Take, for example, an event called Beer and Hymns (which was the inspiration for the service of the same name held at First Christian Church Portland featured in John Burnett's story). People gather under the beer tent during the festival, grab their cup of beer and sing along with words on the screen. With hands raised high up in the air, people are free to drink and praise God.
- Beer brewing is as ancient as the Sumerians, who had a goddess called Ninkasi with a recipe for beer. The recipe was pressed into a clay tablet that dates back to around 1800 BCE. It was called The Hymn to Ninkasi, and it gives hints on how to brew beer. Ninkasi made sure that the people of Sumer had fresh beer made daily. The goddess predates the Christian St. Arnold of Soissons, who was one of many Saints believed to bless and protect their beers.
- A long-standing belief is that Benjamin Franklin was quite the beer lover. This may stem from a quote attributed to the founding father, stating, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Not to burst the beer lover's bubble, but Chicago-based brewing historian Bob Skilnik went back to take a look at the real quote. He found that the quote actually reads: "Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy." Companies like Elevator Brewing Co. had to recall T-shirts with the quote printed on them. In a press release, owner Dick Stevens said, "I have no doubt that ole Ben enjoyed a tankard or two of beer with friends and associates, but this beer quote, while well-meaning, is inaccurate."