The View from Raleigh

by Claire Clyburn, Raleigh Beer & Hymns

We started Raleigh Beer & Hymns (RBH) in November 2013. Hollie, my co-founder, and I had met at the Beer & Hymns at Wild Goose Festival that year; we are both pastors in Raleigh, and just dreamed that we could bring this here to Raleigh. 4 years later and we’re still going strong!

We meet about once a month in a local pub. Our original pub (Tír na nÓg) closed suddenly when the owner decided to sell. So we have been in a few other homes, mostly pubs or breweries.

I like to say RBH is a moveable feast! We sing for about an hour, have a “house band” but welcome others to play with us, and we have a standard opening and closing song each month: we open with “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and close with “Wagon Wheel”.

We do pray each month together, but no sermons *Any reason why?* We find our own funding, so we’ve created RBH pint glasses, t-shirts, etc. – we’ve even printed our own hymnal, which is now on its 3rd edition! – and we use Facebook and our website for promotion.

“We have lots of people tell us we are their faith community.”

One thing that has become part of who we are is that about once a year we identify a mission or local need to support. For example, one of our band members was needing a bone marrow match, so we held a bone marrow drive called “be the match” and raised over $1,000, as well as recruiting over 100 new potential bone marrow donors.

We are very ecumenical, and though I’m a pastor I work hard at not imagining RBH as a recruiting tool for my congregation. We have lots of people tell us we are their faith community, and really it’s become a community more than an event.

Our motto is from Martin Luther:

“It’s better to think of church in the alehouse than to think of the alehouse in church.”

If I were to add to your 5 suggestions I would say:

1. Allow the community to lend a hand in whatever way they are talented.

There is so much behind the scenes that needs to happen! Welcoming, handing out hymnbooks, connecting people who might arrive alone, sound equipment, maintaining social media, creating set lists and recruiting for the band – people will be glad to help make this a success. No lone rangers.

2. Be honest about fundraising

If you do fundraising (website, hymnals, buying a round for the band, site rental if needed, etc), be transparent with the community about how the funds will be used.

3. Keep it simple

No bait and switch. It’s Beer. And Hymns. We pray with and for each other each time we gather, but we do not do any proselytizing. It’s just beer and hymns.

4. Get creative!

Merchandise helps promote your community! We have pint glasses, t-shirts, and decals with our RBH logo.

5. It’s about participation, not perfection.

An improvisational spirit helps – sometimes the set list you have in mind is just not going to happen. Request nights are fun, too.

Final thought

For me, Beer and Hymns is about reclaiming the hymn tradition for the church as a congregational activity, rather than a performance by a worship band or choir.

It’s about singing our faith, not just how we feel about our faith. It’s about entering the public square with radical welcome, good news, and good times. And it’s about the intersection of those things, and what happens when you bring two very traditional but often separate things together.

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