Local church will hold Sunday service at a brewery

Churches have been talking about dwindling attendance for years, and brainstorming ways to draw young parishioners into their pews.

The Rev. Tricia Pasley from St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Milford recently had an idea to boost attendance, and it’s an idea that either makes her brilliant, or the coolest minister in town: Beer.

Talking recently with others about church attendance, Pasley said she pointed out that folks in their twenties and thirties are not in the pews.

“I said, half joking, I know where they are,” Pasley recalled. “They’re in the local breweries.”

The comment led to more talk, and eventually to plans to hold a service in a local brewery.

Her brother, Rob Leonard, happens to own the New England Brewing Company in Woodbridge, and offered to host what may be the very first Craft Church.

On Sunday, March 18, The New England Brewing Company, located at 175 Amity Road in Woodbridge, will offer up its tasting room to church goers and spiritual seekers alike for a special Sunday night service.

Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and guests will be treated to a variety of appetizers, sparkling cider, and two free samples of The New England Brewing Company’s latest creations on tap.

At 7 p.m., a Eucharistic service, open to all, will take place around the bar, joined by the Craft Church Band. Afterwards, people are invited to stay and purchase a glass of craft beer, with a portion of the sales going to fight local hunger. Attendees are also welcome to hang out, meet some new friends, “and/or try to stump the priest with questions about good and evil,” states a press release announcing the event.

“It’s definitely going to be church pub style,” Pasley said, pointing out that the bar is going to be the altar, and instead of a chalice, the service will use a beer stein.

Two other Episcopal churches are joining the Milford congregation in holding the event: St. James in New Haven and the Church of the Good Shepherd in Orange. The Craft Church Band will consist of Fabian Ortiz, director of music at St. James Episcopal Church, as well as musicians from the Church of the Good Shepherd.

“And, although this service is sponsored by the Episcopal Church, it will be ecumenical in style and open to all,” Pasley said.

A 2016 Milford Mirror article about dwindling church attendance quoted Phyllis Tickle, founding editor of the religion department of Publishers Weekly, as saying that every 500 years a church goes through significant change. This latest change, she says in the article, focuses on deinstitutionalization.

Tickle also says, at Faithandleadership.com, “If history is a fair index of what’s coming, a good predictor — and it almost always is — those denominations are going to have to change the way they do business.”

Well, that’s the case here for Pasley and her followers: Uniting beer and church is definitely a change in the business model.

Or maybe it’s not: Maybe it’s about going back to the way things were a long, long time ago.

Pasley, in announcing Craft Church, poses the question: Why church in a brewery?

“It's simple really,” reads the event announcement, “because we remember that once upon a time, a carpenter came to Earth to feed the hungry, talk with the spiritually curious, and console the heavily burdened. And he did not ask for church membership or a particular code of conduct before he came. He just came.”

Reiterating that Jesus preached where the people were already gathered, she said, “It’s an experiment. We’ve got nothing to lose. We’re trying to tap into what is already happening, and we think we have a life-saving message.”

And, she added, people in their twenties, “They’re idealistic. They want to make the world a better place.”

She’s hoping Craft Church will take off and can be done once a month.

“Too often, people think of churches as boring, not willing to change, and not interested in getting out of their own building,” Pasley said. “But, this is not the example Jesus gave us. He moved around often, was comfortable with all kinds of people, and — if we believe scripture — enjoyed a good party.”

For more information, email office@standrewsmilford.com.