“Two priests walk into a bar…”
It may sound more like the start of a joke than a ministry, but if on a Tuesday evening you found yourself on a certain block of Market Street in Charleston, chances are this is exactly what you would see.
Visitors to the area are a bit off guard at the sight, but the regulars at Henry’s are not.
In the spring of 2021 Justin Hare and Brian McGreevy, both priests at St. Philip’s, along with three young adults from the church, met to brainstorm a new ministry which would focus on reaching young professionals.
“We started with the strong conviction that everyone has deep longings for God, for real conversation about things that matter, and for a life well-lived,” says Justin. “We also noticed that there were fewer and fewer places where people could gather organically and have good conversation. So, for us it was less about trying to find the next best program or silver bullet to reach young people and more about creating a relaxed environment where young adults – whether they go to church or not – would feel welcomed and able to ask good questions without fear of embarrassment. We wanted to create a space where we could model what a good conversation about meaningful things looks like.”
A typical Theology on Tap night starts at 7 p.m. in one of the private rooms upstairs at Henry’s on the Market. A crowd of folks in their 20s and 30s gathers gradually, with people socializing and enjoying some pizza that the church provides from the pizzeria next door. A curated playlist of music that relates to the evening’s theme is playing in the background. At 7:30, Justin and Brian grab a seat at a table in the corner and have a spirited conversation about the evening’s topic, which they’ve been reading on and thinking about in advance.
“We aim to discuss topics that resonate with the lived experience of young adults today. Our goal is to be relatable, practical, and also thought provoking. Whatever the topic, we seek to open up the Word of God and shed light on what God has to say about it. We’ve discussed a wide variety of things from friendship and loneliness, to anxiety, money, and technology. It is all about presenting God’s Word and His will and showing how it offers a more excellent and beautiful story than the one we are naturally presented with in the world today,” Justin added.
After Justin and Brian finish their dialog, members from the crowd pose questions they have been texting in via a QR code that allows the questioner to remain anonymous. The questions don’t have to pertain to the topic at all, and often they don’t, but many of the questions are deep and extremely thought-provoking, or sometimes coming from a place of brokenness or fear.
Folks who are there can up-vote the questions they think are most interesting, and a moderator starts with the one with the most “likes” for Justin and Brian to address. “That’s what I like most about what we do,” says Justin. “Whether you like the topic of the evening or not, you can still pose any question or idea you have and it can get really interesting from there.”
The close relationship that Justin and Brian have has to be one of the factors that makes Theology on Tap work. “Brian was one of the chaplains at Porter Gaud when I was finishing high school there,” Justin says. “When I became the youth minister at St. Michael’s in 2010, we worked closely together and our friendship has continued to grow over the years since then.”
Brian notes, “Much of what we discuss at Theology on Tap is the importance of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Part of the good and beautiful way God has made the world is that we were made for relationship. One of the many things Justin and I share is a love of C.S. Lewis, who said that the best friendships are not simply about liking the other person, but about the friendship being oriented around a greater goal and purpose, seeing the same Truth. One of the things that makes Theology on Tap successful is not only that we talk about the important dynamics of true friendship, but also that we are naturally modeling what a deep conversation that flows out of that kind of friendship looks like.”
Each session’s opening dialog and Q&A time is recorded and then uploaded on a variety of podcast platforms, and the podcast has attracted a following from around the country. Brian recalls the couple from New York City who were visiting Charleston and had listened to the podcast and wanted to come in person, as well as the bar patron in his 20s who thought Brian and Justin were a comedy act but got hooked while listening and stayed for the whole evening.
One regular attendee, Caroline Falcone, had this to say about the experience: “Since I’ve moved to Charleston, Tuesday is my very favorite day of the week. I get to go to Henry’s with all my best friends, eat pizza, and listen to two of the most wise, devoted, and knowledgeable men I know talk to each other. Theology on Tap is the best young adult ministry I’ve ever been a part of. It is a time free of judgment and pressure and gives me an anonymous outlet to ask questions that are relevant to my current stage of life. I make a point to always bring someone new each time, with the draw being that you can make a million new friends, or you don’t have to talk to anyone – and that’s the best part. Come as you are – Anglican, Christian, or unsure – and you will be surprised at what you hear. All you have to do is listen to two good friends talk about life and it is SO MUCH FUN. Every week I pray that the Lord will move Theology on Tap to every Tuesday, not just bimonthly. :)”