To many, theology and a corner tavern may seem to be strange bedfellows. But, to members of the Diocese of Saint Augustine Youth & Young Adult Ministries the Mudville Grille is a perfect place to conduct their Theology on Tap series of lectures. The talks feature local theological speakers that are noted for their knowledge, passion, and spirituality. It just so happens that they will be speaking from a pulpit that is slightly unorthodox, but none-the-less effective.
The program got its beginnings back in 1981 when Father John Cusick, resident of Old St. Patrick’s Parish and director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Young Adult Ministry along with Father Jack Wall decided to do something to try to reach more young adults. The priests wanted to act on comments that they had received from a college graduate who was “was concerned about his personal identity and finding the meaning of life.”
An article on the Catholic website AmericanCatholic.org in the St. Anthony’s Messenger section describes Father Cusick as, “quick-witted, very funny but deadly serious—particularly when it comes to young-adult ministry.
“My fear is that contemporary Catholicism is one built on function without form. The function is getting the job done, getting the children educated, getting the sacraments ministered, making sure there are enough ministers on Sunday and weekend Masses and all that, but the form is missing,” Father John said in the article.
His concern was that young adults were becoming disenfranchised from the church. Bringing ministry to the places where young adults hang out shows those lost parishioners that the church does care about them and is willing to come to them, on their turf.
Topics of discussion in the series have run the gamut from the sacraments to religious fundamentalism to stem-cell research. In Jacksonville this year the topics have been on the documents of the Vatican II. On February 5 a discussion of “Dei Verbum” commonly known as the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation was held. Then, on February 12, Bishop Felipe J. Estévez presented a lecture on “Gaudium et spes,” known as the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. And yet to come is a presentation on “Ad gentes divinitus,” the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity.
All of the topics are presented as attendees enjoy casually sip cold brews and munch wings, burgers, and salads. But, lest you think that the talks are done without the blessing of the church’s higher ups, consider that in October of 2006 Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington responded to applause at a Theology on Tap gathering by saying, “That’s the warmest welcome I’ve ever received in a pub … That’s the first welcome I’ve ever received in a pub.”
Sure, there are detractors. There are those who think that the Catholic Church has no business allowing priests, bishops, and even archbishops to speak in bars, taverns, and restaurants on such weighty subjects as salvation and the church’s position on the right to life. But, Father Cusick would disagree and he has the statistics to back it up; at the first session of his brain child, nearly 250 young adults showed up. That is an impressive number that seems to show young adults are more than willing to listen and interact if it is on their turf.
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