When guitarist Tom Hanlon, of the Paul Grimshaw Band (shameless plug) first told me that his pastor, Jason Lee of the St. Phillip Lutheran Church, was organizing Beer & Hymns, a sing-a-long of hymns and carols, accompanied by beer, to be held at Liberty Brewery & Grill, I was intrigued. Though unable to personally attend the inaugural Beer & Hymns event, reports were that the occasion was an unmitigated success – some 80 in attendance. Beer & Hymns? Really? Really.
“For generations the church has been saying, ‘Here we are, come to us,’” said Pastor Lee, 34. “Now we’re going out into the public every few weeks and inviting everybody, all ages and creeds to join us for beer & hymns. No agenda, no preaching, we take up an offering to tip the musicians, but there’s no bait & switch, the only agenda is beer and hymns.” Lee is a native South Carolinian, and has been pastoring St. Phillip in Myrtle Beach for about two years.
The plan is to hold the event the second Sunday of each month at the Broadway at the Beach Liberty Brewery starting at 7 p.m. Guests pay their own way for beer and food, the hymns are free.
“Other communities have been doing this for while,” said Lee. “There are several in the Columbia area – so that’s where I got the idea and first heard about it. It’s exactly what it sounds like. You go to a place, have some drinks, food and conversation, and you sing hymns, songs most people know, and you enjoy life.”
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“We have so much musical talent here in Myrtle Beach, and you need someone capable of playing these songs, so the first person I thought of was Tom Hanlon, and he recruited some others. We had a good first showing and had a lot of fun. We promoted it on Facebook. It’s kind of a joint endeavor between St. Phillip and the Episcopal Church of the Messiah.”
Hanlon enlisted Justin Rambo (guitar), Jay Hood (guitar), and Charles Evans (piano). The four men lead the group in traditional Christmas carols.
“The thing with Lutheranism is we encompass a wide swath of views. There are definitely some very conservative Lutherans, politically and otherwise, and some who are much more progressive and liberal, theologically and politically. So it’s a diverse group. If you follow the history, Lutherans are German, and Germans are beer-drinking people, even Martin Luther [the founder of Protestantism and the Lutheran church] has quotes about beer.”
“We had a lot of people from our church, all ages, young adults, elderly, newly retired, and they were all there for the same thing; to enjoy each other’s company and sing songs. We’ll send out an email to those who attended the first one, thank them for coming, and ask if they have song requests for the next one.”
I asked Lee about any blowback or criticism about the church so closely aligning with the consumption of alcohol. He assures that moderation is encouraged and practiced, and that he personally “models responsibility,” and that many do not consume alcohol at all. So far, he says he’s not heard of any objections to the events.
Can you worship God, and imbibe simultaneously? “That goes to an individual’s piety,” says Lee. “There are churches that say ‘alcoholic consumption is a sin.’ Our church does not. We recognize that this event is not for everybody, but it’s something we’re offering, and if you think it’s for you, you’re invited and we welcome you.”
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