Why aren't churches more like bars?

David Vann was 13 when his father shot himself.

The Wall Street Journal recently chose Vann’s Legend of a Suicide as one of its Five Best books about the death of a father. 

Mr. Vann writes, “[H]e had a terrific pain in his head that painkillers couldn’t reach, an airiness in his voice that was only becoming more hollow, and other mysteries of despair I didn’t want to see or hear.” 

Those haunting words “a terrific pain in his head that painkillers couldn’t reach” were immediately followed by this thought in my head: “because in man there is a soul-sickness that will forever lie beyond the reach of manmade palliatives.”    

Sometime later, singer/songwriter Jim White’s “Jim 3:16 played on my car radio.  The lyrics “Half my life I lived in fear I’d burn in hell, but now it’s clear, that a bar is just a church that serves beer” caught my attention. 

A closer YouTube listen unveiled a bluegrass-tinged ditty whose wry, simple lyrics portray a bar as the source of the honest human solace, communion, and connection that all men seek.  

While googling Mr. White’s oeuvre, I happened upon “Tuesdays With Morris,” “a random collection of thoughts from Jason B. Morris.”  Jason B. Morris is pastor at Centreville United Methodist Church of Centreville, IN. 

In a February post, Morris expounded on Mr. White’s contention that “a bar is just a church that serves beer.”

Morris wishes more churches were like bars.  “Let’s be honest,” he writes: “some bars tend to be a little bit more fun, welcoming, hospitable, friendly, and full of life than some churches.”

When Morris visits his favorite watering hole, the Heorot Pub and Draught House in Muncie, IN, on a Wednesday afternoon, the bartender instantly acknowledged and welcomed him. 

Who, he muses, are the bartenders at church?  “Who are the people who are friendly, knowledgeable, and making sure guests have a pleasant experience?” 

Following a conversation with a fellow patron now on the straight and narrow after multiple stints in prison and mental hospitals, he asked himself if the church is creating safe places where people can be open, honest, and vunerable.  Is there a place in church where its okay not to be okay? he asks rhetorically. 

Good question.  There are those who feel that churches are more focused on keeping up appearances than being real, more focused on social justice and politics than consoling the inconsolable. 

Rev. Morris writes that every time he visits the Heorot, his “soul feels at ease as soon as I walk through the doors.” 

The cure for the terrible soul-sickness that today afflicts so many is hiding in plain sight: honest human solace, communion, and connection.  The pain is so great that if a sufferer cannot find relief in one place, he will not (cannot) stop until he finds it somewhere.  If not church, then alcohol and/or pills.   

That evening, Morris found himself wondering what the church can learn from a bar.

My response: much. 

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