There is a Balm in Gilead

January 15, 2021

By: Rev. Meg Gaston

Rev. Amy Vaughan, pastor of Marvin UMC, took having Bible study in a bar to the next level when she decided to team up with Rev. Mike Collins, pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, and brought Hops and Hymns to downtown Lincolnton. Rev. Amy had been attending Wild Goose Festival for years and was first introduced to the concept of hops and hymns there. She remembers looking around at the festival and seeing everyone singing along, even those who had grown up in the church but left because they felt excluded and unwelcome. At Wild Goose, she saw that they hadn’t had a chance to sing these songs in years yet were filled with joy and happiness to have the chance to do it again in such a safe and welcoming space. She had been to Hops and Hymns events in Gastonia and had assisted a congregation doing it in Davidson, so decided to give it a try in Lincolnton. When Untapped Territory opened in Lincolnton, she thought the landscape and atmosphere of downtown Lincolnton was changing and could be open to an event like this. After a year or two of talking about doing this with Rev. Mike, they met at Untapped Territory to meet with the business owners, still new to the community, and got the ball rolling. They contacted musicians they knew who would be willing to come out and play for free. They rehearsed for about an hour before it started, but Rev. Amy said that step might not be necessary for some events, depending on the number or type of musicians. There were Methodists, Lutherans, and participants from neither of the churches who happened to be at Untapped that night. They ended up having Hops and Hymns twice, once in the spring and once in the winter - both times outside. They were planning to move indoors once Untapped opened up more space, but with COVID, plans have changed, and everything is on hold. 

Rev. Amy contacted friends who had done this in the mountains and at the beach to get song books and then adapted and modified what they had with Rev. Mike. At the first event there were 70 people in attendance and 50 at the second one, though it was much hotter out on the evening of the second one. Rev. Amy is hoping that once they are able to start doing this on a more regular basis, they will build up a group of regular folks. Because so many people were in attendance it resulted in good business for the taproom, good business for Good Wood pizza (the to-go pizza place that delivers to the taproom), and great for the community. Everyone who was part of this event volunteered their time, so if you have a connection with a local bar or brewery, some friends who are musically inclined, and someone who can print the song books, this would be a great event to host in your own community. An event like this helps show those in the community that Christians can have fun and not be judgmental about drinking beer and wine. It may not lead to more attendance at your church, but it might change the minds of those in your community about organized religion. And, as churchgoers may know, those hymns tell the story of God’s love that sinks in deeply, whether you realize it or not. Rev. Amy recommended partnering with other churches in your area to put an event like this on, especially if you can reach across denominational lines, as that helps to build community and strengthen your town.

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