2016-02-12 / Front Page

Young truth seekers find ‘Theology on Tap’

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Some of about 30 participants in a Theology on Tap event, held Feb. 9 at Easy Day in South Portland, include event organizer Josh Houde, holding daughter Isabelle, his wife Pamela, left, co-organizer Joy Segovia, and guest speaker Bishop Robert P. Deeley. (Duke Harrington photo) Some of about 30 participants in a Theology on Tap event, held Feb. 9 at Easy Day in South Portland, include event organizer Josh Houde, holding daughter Isabelle, his wife Pamela, left, co-organizer Joy Segovia, and guest speaker Bishop Robert P. Deeley. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — Young people come to their religion in many ways, and in varied places. So, it may come as no surprise that some are discovering their faith in southern Maine over a glass of beer.

For about a year now, truth-seekers from 18 to 29 have been meeting monthly throughout the area for “Theology on Tap.” The program is actually more than 30 years old.

Founded in June 1981 in Arlington Heights, Illinois, Theology on Tap was founded by a pair of local pastors because of comments overheard from a recent college graduate, concerned about his personal identity and finding meaning in life. Realizing that many young people may have the same concerns, but may think of church as an institution too stodgy and off-putting to find answers, they decided to take the mountain to Mohammad, as it were.

Since then, Theology on Tap, in which young people meet for informal discussions over drinks at a local restaurant or pub, has spread from the Archdiocese of Chicago to more than more than 180 parishes and dioceses nationwide, as well as in at least six other countries.

“The relaxed setting helps to elicit good conversation and is welcoming for non-Catholics or non-churchgoers who are interested in coming and exploring Christ, the church and faith,” said Josh Houde, youth minister at Good Shepherd Parish in Saco, who co-organizes the southern Maine series.

Held once a month at a southern Maine restaurant or bar, the series met most recently at the Easy Day bowling center on Broadway in South Portland, on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

Bishop Robert P. Deeley, who was the featured speaker for that event, said traditionalists should not be overly concerned with the setting.

“After all, in John’s gospel, what was the first miracle that Jesus did – turning water into wine,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t see any conflict. Alcohol can be abused, but it’s not inheritably bad in and of itself. It’s the atmosphere that’s important.”

“Really, my purpose is to listen to these young people where they gather, what they’re doing and what they’re interested in,” Deeley said. “We have to use all different kinds of means to be present for young people, and to help them understand that they are part of something, part of a wider community, whether it takes place in church, or someplace like this. Community strengthens people.

“It does go a bit against the grain to be a young per- son today who professes a faith and wants to live their religion. It’s not easy. But Pope Francis tells us to go out and be where people are, so I think things like this are very important,” he said.

Previous venues have included The Kerrymen Pub in Saco, The Great Lost Bear in Portland and El Rodeo in South Portland, and Houde said the group is hopeful of centering on a permanent location.

Houde’s co-organizer, Joy Segovia of Southern Maine College Campus Ministry, said participants in Theology on Tap are from across southern Maine, some commuting up to an hour for the meetings.

She agrees with Deeley that the events are more about creating a sense of community than proselytizing to the faith. For students just leaving the comparatively structured life of college, it’s important to connect with young adults with similar interests and concerns about the world, and their place in it, she said.

“For someone who is interested, but not sure if they want to dive into a life of faith, it’s a good, non-intimidating atmosphere to just try and get to know people, to learn and discuss relevant topics with people your own age,” she said. “It’s all about building relationships with people, and we’re hopeful that can help spark spiritual growth.

“I think one really cool thing this shows is that you can be religious and still go out and have some fun – that you can go out and have a few drinks without getting out of control,” Segovia said. “And I think it’s especially cool with something like this, when the bishop comes, or a priest is speaking, for people to just come and get to know them on a personal level, and see that they’re regular people, too. It’s a really near opportunity to engage on topics like this in a casual atmosphere.”

Although run by Catholic groups, Theology on Tap is open to all faiths, Houde said.

“Our hope is that participants will leave nourished in body by the great food and drink, in mind and spirit by the engaging presentations, and in their friendships through the fellowship and conversations that Theology on Tap provides,” Houde said. “The ultimate goal, of course, is for participants to strengthen their relationship with Christ and the church.”

For more information about “Theology on Tap” and its upcoming schedule of events, contact Houde at joshua. houde@portlanddiocese.org or Segovia atjoy.segovia@portlanddiocese.org.

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