Tradition Meets Unconventional: Beer & Hymns Combines Quaffing a Pint with Robust Hymn Singing

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Beer  Hymns logoThere is no church steeple, altar or pulpit. Instead, it's a crowd of people who recently packed into the Last Chance Tavern & Grill in Southeast Grand Rapids to sing some of Christianity's oldest hymns while quaffing a beer or two.

Welcome to Beer & Hymns, a family-friendly gathering of people that's connected to a larger movement that started in 2006 at the Greenbelt Festival in England where people were invited to raise their pints and sing some hymns. Beer & Hymns has since mushroomed worldwide.

It's clear the local Beer & Hymns enjoys a reputation that precedes itself since the first time people started belting out hymns at the Last Chance in December 2015. Back then, around 30 people gathered to sing Christmas hymns, said co-owner Tom Eastman. Today, an average of 80 people of all ages show up.

Eastman doesn't believe it's out of place to hear patrons singing "Great Is Thy Faithfulness and "We Sing The Mighty Power of God" in his bar/restaurant.

"It kept getting bigger and bigger (since 2015), said "Eastman. "It's a great crowd. They're very respectful people. This kind of thing is the best thing."

Participation, not performance

Beer & Hymns has a simple but fierce philosophy.

beer1Carrie Elzinga and son Alexander holds a copy of “The Worshipping Church” hymnal. People eagerly arrive before the 6:30 p.m. start time — some with their children in tow — to order a meal and a drink. They are handed a copy of "The Worshipping Church: A Hymnal" Beer & Hymns organizers provide and soon after, sing sacred songs written centuries ago while unrepentantly sipping from a frothy glass of grog.

Another area Beer & Hymns meets at The Knickerbocker New Holland Pub and Distiller in downtown Grand Rapids and at 57 Brew Pub & Bistro in Greenville. Each group meets on the fourth Tuesday.

There are two sets. The first included singing mainstays such as "Joyful Joyful" and "I Sing The Mighty Power of God." And since this most recent Beer & Hymns occurred in the seventh month of the year, Christmas in July was the second set with Yuletide hymns such as "O Come All Ye Faithful," and "Joy to the World."

Besides singing only hymns, there are a few additional must-haves, said Beer & Hymns Grand Rapids organizer Lynell Miller. The acoustic band is not propped on a stage, but rather in the center of the dining area; no microphones or amplifiers are used; and no modern-day worship songs cross the lips of those present.

"We do not want it to be a performance, we do want it to be participation," said Miller. "The hymns are rich. They're musical. The biggest difference for me is the praise music these days is written for singers and performances and it's not written for the person in the pew. For a performer it's second nature."

And for Miller, holding a hymnal is a tactile experience that's significant to her.

It's personal

beer2(From left): The unplugged band: accordionist Dave Pomper, guitarist Justin Eames, guitarist Matt Churchill, vocalist Dan Elzinga and drummer Andy Miller. "When it's you holding the hymnals and touching it, it's very personal," she said.

Miller knows some Christian circles frown on drinking alcohol, but she disagrees doing so compromises her walk with the Lord.

"We can drink a beer and worship God at the same time. There's nothing sinful about it," she said. "We're not known as 'Drink Lots of Beers and Sing Hymns.' Come enjoy a pint or two and sing.

"I think with our generation, we're not separating this out our life and faith," added Miller, whose 45. "They are not two different categories. If I can reach somebody over a pint of beer and if I can do it outside my church, then definitely."

Even so, acknowledges Miller, Beer & Hymns is not for everyone.

"If you can't navigate life without alcohol, and if a bar is a trigger place for you, then it's not for you."

All ages turn up


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Actually, "participate" is the wrong word. "Worship" is.

"Our group tends to be a little more Reformed but we've had Catholics here and have children and people who are up to 80. It spans the ages," said Miller. "It's really a good cross section of ages. It's not just the older people who miss the older hymns of the church. I'm older and I want my children to learn the hymns. This is their only exposure to the older hymns."

"It struck me how profound it is to sing hymns over pints," added Carrie Elzinga, a core member and organizer of the Grand Rapids Beer & Hymns. "(Protestant reformer) Martin Luther was a brew master and he surely sang hymns over pints. We're in Beer City USA. With so many denominations represented in this city, surely there are people who want to sing hymns."

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Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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