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Pastor finds new churchgoers in an unlikely place

Priest Graeme Hutton

BBC Radio 5 Live | Facebook | Fair Use

Cerith Gardiner - published on 09/20/17

A Methodist minister is combining his love of God and his love of a pint to get pub-goers back to church.

At the beginning of September it was reported that the number of unchurched in the UK had reached its highest-ever level, with 53 percent of people describing themselves as having no religion. While this is obviously sad to hear, the good news is that all is not lost. One British vicar, Graeme Dutton, is thinking outside the pulpit: if people won’t come to church, then he’ll take God to them.

Beer Glasses

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The 31-year-old Methodist minister is paying regular visits to pubs in his area to appeal to those who might otherwise feel intimidated walking into a church. In a BBC video that lasts less than two minutes, Dutton explains that as a child he had two “centers to his community,” the church and the pub. What was, and still is, common practice for many English people, is going to the pub after a hard day’s work. In most cases it isn’t a question of getting drunk, more the chance to unwind and catch up with your friends and neighbor. So Dutton is seizing this opportunity to “talk to people about faith in a very real way.”

The minister explains how people are “often a lot more open in a pub environment.” Perhaps there is that need for some to have a little Dutch courage to open up and discuss their hopes and fears with God in mind, and in their hearts. By recognizing how daunting it can be to have faith at a time when people are less believing, Dutton is managing to encourage fellow ale drinkers to return to church.

In the video, one new churchgoer explains what many of us feel: “I’ve just started going back to church and I feel so much better.” Although he feels waking up for the early morning Sunday service is a bit of a struggle, he said he always had in the back of his mind his father saying to him that “faith is the most important thing you’ve got.” His return to the church has allowed him to understand just what his father had to say.

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The vicar’s infectious smile and desire to reach out is having an effect. Last Christmas he organized a “curry and carols” service in a pub — an unlikely combo but if it works, why not? — and is planning to repeat it this year. And when one owner asked Dutton to bless his bar with holy water, he started making return trips to chat to customers about their problems. Although they see him foremost as a regular person, inevitably his white collar allows them to open up a little more.

Dutton explains how he “strongly believes that we as Christian people are called to be people of the world that God has created.” And while he “wishes that more churches would take the risk,” his effort will hopefully have some effect on the pub regulars. And if you remember our story about the seven seminarians who went for a pint and nearly got kicked out of the pub, you’ll remember that the presence of the clergy in pubs and bars offers the perfect occasion for curious members of the public to broach the topic of religion, which might not have been on the top of their agenda when going out for a pint. That can only be a good thing.

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