A modern brick edifice, Pat Troy's Ireland's Own Restaurant and Pub is a long-time fixture of Old Town Alexandria. The dining area spans almost the entire pub, although the bar itself is tiny. There is a stage, with tables on the raised level next to it. Paintings of small-town Irish life hang on the wall, along with family crests and other memorabilia. A special table commemorates the day in 1988 when President Ronald Reagan walked in unexpectedly, sat down, and ordered a plate of corned beef and cabbage washed down with Harp beer. There is a courtyard where the local pipe band practices during the summertime.
Theology on Tap got its start in a suburb of Chicago in 1981 and has since become an international phenomenon. Basically, the program is a series of lectures geared toward young adults who want to explore the role of faith in their daily lives. The lectures, generally held in restaurants, bars and other non-traditional venues, are given by spiritual leaders and religious academics and address current (and sometimes controversial) topics in religion and theology.
Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC, is an upscale city largely populated by professionals working in the federal civil service, the U.S. military, or for one of the many private companies that provide services to the federal government. Old Town is the historic core of Alexandria and is noted for its boutiques, restaurants, antique shops and theaters. As such, it is a major draw for tourists.
The Revd R. Scott Hurd, a priest in the Archdiocese of Washington and Vicar General of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, was the lecturer. The events of the evening were overseen by Pat Troy, proprietor of the pub.
What was the name of the service?Theology on Tap.
How full was the building?
The main bar area was packed; I gave up after counting 100. Pat Troy later stated that 150 people had attended. The audience was almost all twenty-somethings, equally split between male and female. Four elderly women sat far away by the back door, and left as soon as they could.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The hostess welcomed me and conducted me to a table with a view.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard pub table and chair; more than adequate.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I got there precisely at 8.00 and the lecture had just started. Almost everybody already had food and adult beverages. I ordered the shepherd's pie and a pint of Smithwicke's.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Sorry, I missed the start.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None, but the lecture came from Father Hurd's newly published Forgiveness A Catholic Approach.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The shepherd's pie was excellent, as usual. I won't distract from the report by describing it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Serious theological discussion, with some sufficiently distracted from their food to take notes. I fitted right in.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes lecture, 15 minutes questions and answers.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Father Hurd has a dynamic presentation style, personable and informal. He kept the vocabulary non-technical, avoided complexity, and selected thoroughly accessible concepts. In short, a simple talk for people who had probably never thought much about theology.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Forgiveness, taken from the first four chapters of his book. He presented forgiveness as a decision, a process, and a gift. He provided reasons for forgiveness: for self, for others, and for God. He spoke of the "New Evangelism" living out the Christian ethic as the Body of Christ doing the deeds of Christ in the world we live in. When he was done, he announced: "If we are going to start the questions and answers, then I'll need another Guinness."
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Well, there was the Smithwicke's but actually the thought-provoking argument was the most memorable part of the experience.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
And then Pat Troy got up. He (1) introduced the sisters from the local Christian bookstore, who had copies of the book to sell; (2) announced that the Ancient Order of Hibernians had declared the pub to be the food collection center for the local homeless, and that starting next week people should bring non-perishable food contributions to Theology on Tap; (3) led the audience in reciting three Hail Marys for the Blessed Mother's support of those in service to the nation.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone left and I went over to the sisters and purchased a copy of the book.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I was too full to consider the dessert menu.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – It was a bit more Catholic than my Baptist background is comfortable with. But my local Baptist church back home believes that our culture should see genuine Christianity in us, and witness a truly Christian response to the moral issues and public discourse of the day. Theology on Tap seems a laudable attempt at reaching out to people who might not think about these things.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Perhaps this is the future of Christian outreach.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
"If we are going to start the questions and answers, then I'll need another Guinness."