Come for the ale, stay for the Alleluia: Why these church leaders are singing in a pub

If you like Music and Friends, you'll love Beer and Hymns.

So goes the thinking behind a gathering hosted by church leaders in St. John's on Easter Monday.

Reverend Miriam Bowlby of Cochrane Street United was inspired by a similar get-together she happened upon at the aptly named Jesus Arms Pub, at the Greenbelt Festival in England.

"They had beer and hymns there and I thought, 'This is so much fun," Bowlby said.

Kenny Sharpe/CBC

So the reverend, who's more of a wine drinker herself, decided to import the idea to Newfoundland.

Downtown St. John's pub the Celtic Hearth supplies the beer while Ashley Ruby, the organist and choir director at St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, leads the hymns.

She said Easter Monday is a good day for singing, because the hymns are more upbeat than those typically sung before Easter.

"During Lent we don't get to sing a lot of the hand-clappers. It's a much more solemn time," she explained.

"So we'll be singing things like Jesus Christ is Risen Today and Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven, and all the good oldies."

No hidden message

With church populations aging, taking the music out of God's house and into the pub is a way to share it with younger people who don't regularly attended services.

"It helps spread the word that church can be fun," Bowlby said, but she and other organizers don't intend to evangelize or expect attendees to start coming to church. She stressed that all are welcome.

We try to follow the teachings of Jesus and what he did. And he was amazing at getting people together. - Reverend Rob Cooke

Reverend Rob Cooke of St Mark's Anglican said the point is simply to bring people together.

"I don't think there's any hidden message," he said.

"As Christians, we try to follow the teachings of Jesus and what he did. And he was amazing at getting people together, around the table, having parties, hanging out. And that's really what we're trying to do."

Ruby, who's been playing church organ since she was 14, said she wants to spread an appreciation for the music.

"There's a real value to this as a way to just highlight hymns as an art form and the fact that you can appreciate a hymn outside of church as a piece of music."

The trio have organized other Beer and Hymns events in the past, most recently at Christmas. That was a real hit, Cooke said, because other people who happened to be in the pub started singing along to songs they knew as Christmas carols.

Beer and Hymns takes place at 7 p.m. on Easter Monday.

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