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Beer & Hymns in Colorado Springs offers church music without church

By: Steve Rabey Religion Correspondent
December 1, 2017 Updated: December 1, 2017 at 10:29 am
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photo - Cathy White and her husband, Jerry White, sing at the Beer and Hymns event in the Wild Goose Meeting House in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017.


(The Gazette, Nadav Soroker)
Cathy White and her husband, Jerry White, sing at the Beer and Hymns event in the Wild Goose Meeting House in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017. (The Gazette, Nadav Soroker) 

More than 100 people are crammed into a downtown restaurant. drinks in hand, waiting for the music to begin.

The host announces the first song, then all join in singing Martin Luther's classic hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," their voices echoing through the city streets.

"We are celebrating Luther tonight," says Candice Datz, a pastor at First Congregational Church. A cheer goes up for the beer-drinking Protestant reformer who broke with the Catholic church 500 years ago.

Next up were boisterous renditions of "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing," "How Great Thou Art," "To God Be the Glory" and more than dozen other hymns and revival songs.

Welcome to Beer & Hymns, the local expression of a global movement that combines singing and suds. Russ Ware says his Wild Goose Meeting House has been hosting the gatherings since the restaurant opened in 2013, borrowing hymnals from local churches for the evening sing-alongs.

"We were interested in creating community events that would be throwbacks to an earlier era," says Ware, who was raised a Southern Baptist in Texas but now belongs to First Congregational.

"Drinking beer and singing hymns fits me well, because my spiritual journey has taken me from a more stringent background. This is a place where I can really enjoy the Christian tradition of hymn singing."

Worshippers gathered to drink beer and sing hymns in the Wild Goose Meeting House in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017. (The Gazette, Nadav Soroker) 

Ware says the events also help his bottom line. "They are good nights for the business," he said.

During a break between songs, people shouted out their church names: First Presbyterian, First Baptist, Broadmoor Community, New Life, Pulpit Rock, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Church for All Nations. There were also a few students from Charis Bible College.

"There's an ecumenical space that is born out of Beer & Hymns," says Candice Datz. "It's a miracle."

The events also draw the unchurched and formerly churched. Kirby Oliver, who plays French horn in the 4th Infantry Division Band at Fort Carson, says she "grew up singing hymns" as a Pentecostal in the Assemblies of God, but turned away from church after coming out as a lesbian.

"These hymns stick with you," she said, "and singing them again is fun."

Mike Lundeen hasn't found a church home since moving to the Springs. "People come to Beer & Hymns who wouldn't come to church," he said. "This opens the door for more people to participate."

For downtown residents Cathy and Jerry White, the group singing lends a warm feeling to the city. "It's a joy to hear all the voices joining together," said Cathy White.

Beer & Hymns was born at England's Greenbelt Festival, an annual Christian gathering, and came across the ocean in 2012. Today, dozens of cities host their own local gatherings.

Ware plans more community sing-alongs and next year might devote an evening to Beatles songs.

Next up at the Wild Goose is Beer & Carols on Dec.10. "That will obviously have a little different vibe," said Ware.

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