'Theology on Tap' in New Hampshire

In Manchester, N.H., the Catholic church's latest venue is the Strange Brew Tavern, where envoys from St. Marie's Parish hold forth on Thursday nights with a Fra Angelico, a Q-and-A session for young adults. It's part of the church's nationwide Theology on Tap program... a bid to reach the 21-35 crowd in a place where all can relax.

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If you're post-college or premarriage and going out for a beer in Manchester, New Hampshire, you might choose Flo's or the Uptown or Mike's Pub & Grub. But let's say you happen into the Strange Brew Tavern on a given Thursday night this fall. You'd get an in-person invitation from the Catholic Church to walk `into the deep.' NPR's Anne Hawke explains.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

Unidentified Man: Two beers.

Unidentified Woman: And the menus for food are...

ANNE HAWKE reporting:

At 6 PM, tables are filling up at the Strange Brew Tavern. It's a cozy refuge on a cold night. Posters of jazz greats, exposed brick walls and a banner, `My goodness, my Guinness.' Chris Paul(ph) walks table to table. He's from St. Mary's Catholic Parish. Paul is clean-cut with trimmed, dark hair, a red windbreaker and khakis. And he's leaving fliers about upcoming talks: Why We Worship and Understanding the Mass.

Mr. CHRIS PAUL (St. Mary's Catholic Parish): We're really targeting the--what we feel is the most missed and left-out group in our parish and in many parishes around the country, is the young adults, from, you know, 21 age up through 35 or so.

HAWKE: Polls show that of all American Catholics, young adults are the least churchgoing. Paul's hoping this lecture series in a bar will begin to change that.'

Mr. PAUL: Jesus didn't just preach in the temple. Jesus went out and met the people where they were. He went to people's houses and ate with them. He preached in the marketplace. He went where the people were.

HAWKE: Manchester is test-driving its own version of a program called Theology on Tap, which began in Chicago in 1981 and has expanded to 46 states and five countries.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) I'm real down, baby, I don't mean maybe. Fire...

HAWKE: There's a microphone set up and not everyone at the bar is pleased to learn that it will morph momentarily into a pulpit. Thirty-two-year-old Paula Hayes(ph) is wishing she could drink her Bass ale in peace.

Ms. PAULA HAYES: Grew up Catholic, I was raised Catholic, and, you know, I was kind of forced into it. And I just feel like they're very narrow-minded when it comes to abortion and, you know, gay rights and women as preachers.

HAWKE: Just a few minutes later, tonight's speaker, Emmanuel Sogah of the Diocese of Manchester, addresses the crowd.

Mr. EMMANUEL SOGAH (Diocese of Manchester): Every single one of us here we believe as Catholics that we are created in the image of God.

HAWKE: Sogah calls his hourlong talk "Into the Deep" and encourages listeners to consider what it means to be human. During a Q&A, this bold question comes from 22-year-old Michael Litchen(ph), who's studying theology.

Mr. MICHAEL LITCHEN: How do we evangelize those who have been wounded by the church?

Mr. SOGAH: How do we evangelize those who have been wounded?

HAWKE: Sogah gives a thorough answer. He says the church consists of people and it's people who wound other people, not the church itself. Listening attentively is McKenzie Rolfing(ph), age 32. He's smoking a long, thin pipe known as a churchwarden.

Mr. McKENZIE ROLFING: Religion isn't something that should happen on, like, one day of the week and then you live your life. Bringing it into presence on just a random weekday is a kind of good idea.

HAWKE: Sogah's got the attention of several dozen bar patrons. And as he closes, his voice slows to a hush. He instructs them, `Take a quiet moment before sleeping this evening.'

Mr. SOGAH: And as you got bed, just say, `I love you, dear Lord Jesus.' God bless you all.

(Soundbite of applause)

HAWKE: After the talk, Sogah sits at a table with organizer Chris Paul drinking a Frangelico. They're encouraged by the turnout. Then a nine-piece horn band called Machuka starts heaving amps and keyboards up onto the platform by the mike, preparing to fill the Strange Brew Tavern with disco and Tower of Power tunes. Anne Hawke, NPR News.

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