Opinion Column

Could your church become a brewery?

By Rev. Eric Strachan


Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life.

Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of Him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ.

THE MESSAGE BIBLE, Ephesians 5:18-19

At first glance from a distance you’d be apt to think that the building at 1523 Niagara Stone Road in the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake in Southwestern Ontario

was a church, but once you get closer and step inside the door you quickly realize that what you thought was an old church building is actually a micro brewery pub owned and operated by the Silversmith Brewing Company. It’s not alone. Not too far away in this beautiful part of the province you’ll find another church that’s been converted into a brewery.

In Ridgeway, Ont. the Brimstone Brewing Company has turned another early 19th century old church into a lively pub. Sounds like they must have got that name from the ‘fire and brimstone’ preaching that maybe at one time thundered from the pulpit.

Before you enter the Brimstone you’ll notice that the letter ‘T’ in the word is in the shape of a cross, a sure reminder that this facility was once a house of worship. There’s more visual reminders than that of course. You can order up a ‘Sinister Minister’ IPA which is a tall glass of India Pale Ale. For sure at the Brimstone the spirit is being poured out, but unquestionably it’s not the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless the patrons at these micro breweries seem to be having a great time. Says one review of the Silversmith, “This is a fabulous place for locals and tourists! The atmosphere is awesome as it is an old church turned into a classy brewery.”

Old churches turned into pubs and entertainment centers are by no means unique to the Niagara Peninsula, the same phenomena is occurring in the United States and throughout Great Britain. Like Canada these countries are experiencing a major cultural shift in people’s attitudes towards the historic church. As a result, in many places, congregations are aging, there’s a noticeable absence of young adults, young marrieds and children, and with the stalwarts gradually dying off attendance is dwindling, and the question being thought and spoken by many parishioners is “How long can we keep paying the bills and keep this place open?”

The state of affairs is clearly voiced by John Earl, a construction worker and a regular patron at O’Neill’s Pub in North London, England, as he holds a pint of beer in his hand. O’Neill’s Pub used to be a church. Says John, “If this was a church there would only be two or three people here, but on Fridays and Saturdays it’s packed.” O’Neill’s analysis is troubling, but sadly right on the money.

“Between 1969 and 2011 The Church of England knocked down nearly 500 churches, while more than 1,000 were sold or rented out bringing in a much-needed $47 million.” Indeed across the globe you’ll find abandoned churches lying empty, and others that have been converted into homes, schools, libraries, mosques, flea markets, breweries, and just about anything else you can name, and the question is, and it’s not should I say completely out of the question, “Could the church you attend become the next brewery?”

Imagine you walking past your old church now a brewery pub with your grandchildren some day and you say to them, “Yes, I used to go to Sunday School there when I was a kid your age, long time ago.” “But grandma, that’s not a church,” they respond, “that’s where people go to drink beer!”

Imagine going inside the church you once went to as a child and finding as you would find at The Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh, Pa., a church turned into a brewery. At the altar where you once worshiped and took communion there are now large copper vats that hold beer, the pews where you once sat have been crafted into booths to hold the patrons, and throughout the sanctuary hang flags that ring out the written message and the brewery’s motto, “ON THE EIGHTH DAY MAN CREATED BEER.” You wouldn’t believe it, would you? Well the truth is it’s happening right before our very eyes, and the question is what can be done about it?

Looking back now in retrospect over more than 40 odd years of pastoral ministry without question the most exciting days I ever spent as a pastor were when we had no church building to worship in. As a result we had to be innovative and bold and go out to where the people were. We took it to the streets, to restaurants, to the parks, to the malls, anywhere where we could find an audience we took music, dance and preaching. I’ve often wished I could return to those days when we really were ‘the Church alive’!

I recall when we built our building and moved into it praying, “Oh God, don’t let this new building become a fortress and a safe haven where we can feel secure and hide away from that world out there that is crumbling apart.” Somehow we need to get down on our knees in these days as a church, and ask God to fill us with His Spirit, like the apostles of old.

We need to be emboldened to preach the gospel whatever the cost, and to ask Him, the Lord of the harvest to fill us with a vision for the lost. And finally we need to remember that the most exciting times in the history of the church was when there was no building, that’s right no building! We’ve never yet seen those days repeated. We need to see them repeated! I hope we will. I pray we will! I don’t drink, but I’ll raise my glass of coke to that!

(With quotes from “Holy Spirits” by Dake Kang, Associated Press, Globe and Mail, Oct. 21 and “Churches in England are being converted into bars,” by Beatrice Debut, AFP, March 31, 2014)

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