Shall We Gather at the Tavern?

Shall We Gather at the Tavern?

A funny thing happened during church recently: we were invited to participate in karaoke, with the promise that everyone who sings gets a free shot of liquor. No kidding.
Church + karaoke = a free shot of booze.

Actually it was quite exciting; usually everything at church goes according to plan, and everybody knows how to behave, act, and talk. Let’s face it, “going to church” has become routine, common, and … dare I say it (dare! DARE!) … safe.

But this time was different. First of all, it was on a Tuesday evening, not a Sunday morning or even Wednesday night. Second, there was no planned music, no offering, not even a sermon. And finally, the majority of people present had no clue “church” was even happening.

This time “church” happened at Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern (Starkville, MS). We congregated in a corner booth; we were serenaded by classic rock; and we observed Holy Communion with Chicago-style deep (and I mean deep) dish pepperoni pizza and drinks.

Blasphemy? Maybe, but since Jesus was an accused blasphemer, I’m OK with that. Some friends and I have been gathering one night a month at the Tavern for discussions deeper than the deep dish pizza; and then came the epiphany – we’re having church. If church is the Body of Christ; I mean if we believe Jesus that “wherever two or more are gathered in my name,” then …

When we come together, and our time together is filled with sharing personal stories, and our time together is filled with giving thanks to God for “family” like this where we find God’s strength, comfort, healing, and community, and our time together is filled with laughter, reverence, irreverence, celebration and yes, prayer, then …

There is something both humble and holy about being not in a specially-designed place where everybody knows what’s going on, but in a tavern, filled with all sorts of folks laughing, crying, playing pool, and consuming a variety of beverages; well, there is something that liberates us from playing the roles of “Christian” so that we can be real people expressing our hurts, doubts, hopes and dreams. We are just plain folks enjoying the food and conversation.

And yet … we discover a genuine depth of holy fellowship in the presence of our Lord that I think is often absent in our planned-out, predictable and set-apart services.

Don’t get me wrong; there are many times I need to “attend church” in the formal sense; there are many times I need something reliable, comforting, and familiar because the world around me seems so strange and frightening. I’m not knocking that. I’m just saying that “church” is more than that. It’s WAYYYYYY more than that.

Sometimes “church” even happens in places where we’d never imagine – like among cursing, billiards, beer and whiskey. And sometimes, even for Baptists like me, the Lord’s Supper is not some prepackaged thin little cracker and a shot of grape juice, but deep dish pizza and refreshing beverages. Because when we meet at Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern, the Body of Christ is becoming One.

So, the next time you go somewhere out to eat with good friends, whether it’s a restaurant or even a tavern, maybe you’ll have “church,” too . . . and may God bless you for it (just remember: Jesus would tip 20%!).

Photo Credit

This is an excerpt from Bert’s new book Psychic Pancakes & Communion Pizza (coming out in may from Smyth & Helwys Publishing).

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