An Episcopalian, a Presbyterian and an Agnostic go into a pub….is not the beginning of a joke, at least not in Portsmouth, Ohio. It’s what happens on any given Monday evening at Port City Café and Pub at Theology on Tap.
Launched about three years ago by the Rev. Steve Cuff, Rector of All Saints, Portsmouth, Theology on Tap has become a place to discuss the issues surrounding humanity (not politics) and their place in the universe. It is a diverse group of various faith traditions and in some cases where people have given up on the traditional faith-based community but still willing to engage in conversation.
And it is the conversation that typically brings people back to this group after at least one or two visits. “In a society where the ability to have civil public discourse about important matters seems greatly diminished, this wide circle of neighbors continues to be committed to mutual respect,” says Cuff. “We listen and learn from one another, and have grown to accommodate both affirmation and challenge. Indeed, for people of faith – a willingness to have our beliefs challenged, and an ability to articulate why any of us believes what we believe – is critical to both faith development as well as our ministries as evangelists and ambassadors for Christ.”
On a typical Monday evening, there is anywhere from ten to twenty-five people gathering to discuss, eat and share their thoughts in the company of their peers. Tom Yeager has been with the group since it first started and drives in from his job in Chillicothe, some 50-miles away. Coming to Theology on Tap is purposeful on his and his wife’s Rhonda’s part most times. He has often offered, “It makes Mondays worth surviving.”
Luanne Wiget lives just down the block from Port City in a retirement apartment building. She comes from a Methodist background but finds herself drawn to thinking of what is being called the Progressive Protestant movement. The diversity of the gathering group is wide and all encompassing. From deacons, to ministers in other denominations, to people who would never set foot in an organized church, Theology on Tap offers all a non-threatening environment in which to offer opinions on philosophy, life as we live it and yes, at times, even spiritual and biblical teachings. Credit Cuff with providing that all-inclusive atmosphere.
“I credit my predecessor at All Saints – the Rev. Jeff Queen – for initiating this venture into ministry with neighbors in the community. Almost a decade ago, Jeff led a gathering called “Beer & Bible” – also enjoying the hospitality of Port City Pub – that focused on dialogue with scripture,” explains Cuff. “My hope was to push the boundaries even further to engage a wider circle of neighbors of varying faith traditions, or perhaps no faith tradition. And the breadth of response continues to be exhilarating!”
As a testament to Cuff’s ability to push those boundaries but also to create community within, the group is a close-knit collection of diverse personalities and beliefs that celebrates birthdays, anniversaries and even the birth of babies to the staff of Port City with a genuine camaraderie.
In all it has been an interesting time for the people involved in the group. For most it is a vital part of their week, and only deepens their core beliefs. It allows for reflection within a safe group environment while still being able to raise an opinion and bend an elbow in a companionable but meaningful manner.
The group is an open and inclusive place for visitors to come, sit and talk of concerns and wishes. If you find your way along the river and have the time to visit Portsmouth, there is a special place for you to experience and share.
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John Leasure is a columnist with the Scioto Voice and a vestry member at All Saints, Portsmouth. Theology on Tap is held most Monday nights at 6 p.m. at Port City Café and Pub, 424 Chillicothe St. in downtown Portsmouth. Learn more at facebook.com/theologyontapportsmouth