‘Faith on tap’: Episcopal bishop hits the pubs to chat up young adults

By Rebecca Rosen Lum
Contra Costa Times

WALNUT CREEK — Episcopal clerics, including the bishop, hit a downtown pub to talk faith with 20- and 30-somethings.

Churchgoers on a mission to sober up sinners?

Not at all. “Faith on Tap” is about bringing together young adults hungry for community, rousing discussion and a meaningful life. It’s spreading across the country faster than a moonshine delivery.

In the Pyramid Brewery’s Diablo Room on Tuesday, Bishop Marc Andrus, the Rev. Phil Brochard, and parishioners from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walnut Creek, and more than 20 others gathered around tables laden with glasses and pitchers.

The topic amid the cacophony spilling in from the adjacent main room: “Is there a God pill?” was the second installment in a three-part series called “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll.”

The group included an architect, a nurse, an engineer; managers of a print shop and a restaurant. Some had not attended a church in years, if ever.

Many who took part in an Oct. 8 discussion on sex brought others this night, pushing tables together to accommodate growing circles of friends.

Andrus, visiting from the seat of the Northern California Diocese in San Francisco, launched the discussion by asking why Christianity should be legal (it wasn’t always), and why psychotropic drugs such as mescaline, which can induce “religious experience,” should not be legal.

A slim man wearing wire-rimmed glasses, khakis, and a textured blue shirt, the bishop sipped from a grainy beer a shade darker than his leather shoes. He had scrawled “Marc Andrus” on his name tag, forgoing his title.

“Religion has become part of the mainstream,” said Suzie Swift, turning to face her table mates. “Drugs haven’t.”

“Religion doesn’t require an altered state of mind,” responded Jack Boyd.

Swift, a serious yoga practitioner, said yoga masters can achieve a higher consciousness through their discipline.

And drugs, including cocaine, can damage the body, said Pam Schwartz.

“You can do a lot of Jesus, it isn’t going to burn a hole in you,” she said

Religion can be dangerous in other ways, the group agreed.

“It can be a tool against bad leadership,” Boyd said.

Brochard said the program’s crafters borrowed from the 20-year-old “Theology on Tap” begun in Chicago to draw lapsed Catholics back to the church. An earlier attempt to create a Bay Area-wide “Faith on Tap” proved too geographically sweeping to create a sense of community.

Most faiths are resigned to losing adherents after their high school years, Brochard said.

“It’s, ‘They’ll come back when they have children,'” he said. “We think it’s our job to reach out to them now.”

“Faith on Tap” sessions are taking place in Philadelphia (“Spiritual Discussions without the Religious Hangover”) and Wantagh, N.Y. (“Man, Woman, What’s the Difference?”).

At Tuesday’s talkfest, Andrus compared the religious experience to the religious life.

Many people who have lived a profoundly religious life have never had a religious experience, including Mother Theresa, who endured “50 years of spiritual dryness,” he said.

On the other hand, “If the church has no way for you to make meaning out of a mystical experience, it goes away.”

The academies of science, distracted by competitiveness and dissection, have stifled a sense of wonder, he said.

“There’s nowhere in our society that provides a context for those experiences,” he said. The upshot: “One of the biggest deficits in the world is imagination. Why don’t we have the kind of rich imaginative lives our English teachers wanted us to have?”

“TV,” one woman called out.

That resonated with many.

A lively imagination requires nurturing — something a demanding career does not always make time for, Boyd said.

“You need to reflect,” he said. “It doesn’t happen unless you work at it. Otherwise, you go to work, you go to the gym, you watch TV, you go to sleep.”

“Martin Luther King imagined a world that didn’t exist,” Swift said. “Imagination can be dangerous.”

Andrus praised the group’s “beautiful vitality” in the face of a society intent on “defanging young adult imagination,” or harnessing it for commercial purposes.

An hour after the evening’s scheduled 8:30 p.m. wrap-up, most stayed on as the discussion ranged through empathy and imagination, Aldous Huxley and Rene Descartes.

“When they’re all talking with their hands,” Brochard noted, “you’ve got to say they’re pretty engaged.”

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