A funny thing happened during church one night: We were invited to participate in karaoke, with the promise that everyone who sings gets a free shot of whatever liquor they want.
Actually it was quite exciting; usually everything at church goes according to plan, and everybody knows how to behave, act, and talk (or not to talk). Let”s face it, “going to church” has become routine, common, and . . . dare I say it (dare! DARE!) . . . safe.
But that night 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, or an offering, or even a sermon. And finally, the majority of people present had no clue “church” was even happening.
That night, “church” happened at Dave”s Dark Horse Tavern in Starkville. Three men sat at a corner booth in a dimly lit pub; we were serenaded by “classic” rock playing through the sound system; and we observed Holy Communion with Chicago-style deep (and I mean DEEP) dish pepperoni pizza and drinks.
Blasphemy? Maybe, but since Jesus was accused of blasphemy, then I”m OK with that.
For four months now a few friends and I have been gathering one night a month at the Tavern for discussions deeper than the deep dish pizza; and last night 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 brothers-in-faith came together that night to share a meal, and our time together was filled with sharing personal stories, and our time together was filled with giving thanks to God for “family” like this where we find God”s strength, comfort, healing, and community, and our time together was filled with laughter, reverence, celebration and yes, prayer, then …
And there was something both humble and holy about being not in a specially-designed place where everybody knows what”s going on, but in a regular old bar, filled with all sorts of folks laughing, crying, playing pool, and consuming all sorts of stuff; I mean there was something that liberated us from playing the roles of “Christian” so that we can be real people expressing our hurts, doubts, hopes and dreams. We were just guys, enjoying the food and conversation.
And yet … there in the corner booth, a different kind of worship occurred – 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 … WAYYYYYY more than that.
And 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 on that night, and as I look back over our other gatherings, the Body of Christ was becoming One.
So the next time you go somewhere out to eat with good friends, whether it”s fast-food, a decent restaurant, or even a tavern, maybe you”ll have “church,” too. And may God bless you for it (just be sure to leave a big tip)!
Bert Montgomery is an author, MSU religion/sociology instructor, and pastor and lives in Starkville. His e-mail address is email@example.com.