Niagara Gazette


May 22, 2014

Youngstown: Theology on Tap is religion without the rigor

Niagara Gazette — Some seeking God spend time in reflection, sitting on a hard wooden bench or genuflecting on uncomfortable kneelers. 

Others may find him just as accessible in a local tavern, while they are hoisting a beer or sipping a chardonnay — and maybe having a laugh or two.

That’s the theory behind “Theology on Tap,” a new religious study group that meets every Wednesday in a comfortable back room at the Ontario House Tavern in Youngstown.

The Rev. Rex Stewart, the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Youngstown, started the group for Lent and has found it so successful that he plans to continue as long as people attend.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” Stewart said after the sixth session. “You get to talk to people on a deeper level. People share stories about their lives and how it relates to the scriptures we’re discussing.”

Each session has a basic direction, but the conversations are free-flowing, the reverend explained.

“We have a very informal kind of church anyway,” noted Stewart of his 450-member parish. “We encourage a questioning faith.”

The gatherings, which are open to anyone who cares to join in, began just prior to Easter, and initially revolved around discussing the Lord’s Prayer, a Christian prayer most faithful are taught as children.

The prayer, which references God’s “Kingdom,” would have been “pretty radical,” in the time of Jesus, but in contemporary times the idea of a kingdom in Heaven is still pretty radical, Stewart said as he began the discussion one recent evening.

That night there were about eight people in the group, each sipping a beverage and enjoying the camaraderie. All had high praise for the gatherings.

“It’s fabulous,” said Isabel Beehler, who was sipping a glass of red wine at a table with her husband, Donald. “We’ve been to every single one so far.”

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