by Revd Graeme Dutton
We’d be rammed into the narrow, brightly decorated space of The Peacock Bar on North parade in Bradford. It was always standing room only for any late comers to our regular events. One of the beautiful things about holding a worship event in an Indian themed bar on a street busy with nightlife is the look on people faces when they encounter the unexpected. There have even been several occasions when people have made it all the way to the bar, through the masses of pressed bodies belting out ‘Thine be the Glory’ and up to the beer pumps with a grinning, be-collared minister stood behind them, before the penny drops that something ‘different’ is happening.
This is Saint Arnold’s Beer and Hymns run by me, Revd Graeme, and a dedicated team of volunteers, or at least it was.
Some Background to the idea
There’s nothing particularly new about Beer and Hymns as an event. Many of you reading this blog may well have experienced something similar in various places around the country, including The Jesus Arms at Greenbelt. This project is a little different though, it didn’t start with an event but with relationships.
When I was a teenager, I always had two communities that I felt very comfortable in. One of those communities was the Church, the other was the pub. Both played an important role in forming me. They were both places where I knew I could be myself and always find someone I could talk to. They were places of learning and caring, of socialising and relationships. There was nothing unusual about that. In many villages, towns and cities around the country, churches and pubs have always served as community centres or rather ‘centres of the community’.
The Saint Arnold’s project (named after the patron saint of brewers, St Arnold of Soissons) became a way to bring those places and people together in a new way. Before holding our first Beer and Hymns event at (the now sadly closed) Bradford Brewery. I regularly spent time at the bar getting to know staff and customers and, with the blessing of the manager, offering a weekly chaplaincy session known as ‘The Vicar’s Inn’.
We launched the Beer and Hymn events on Easter Day 2015 (Guardian Article here https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/uk-news/the-northerner/2015/apr/04/more-beer-vicar-bradford-rev-moves-mission-to-the-pub)
And it remains the only worship event I have lead or attended where a bouncer had to hold people at the door due to the venue being over capacity!
As the project has progressed and the nightlife scene in Bradford had changed, so has Saint Arnold’s home. The Peacock Bars in Bradford and in Bingley now host all of our major events including Beer and Hymns, Film and Faith discussions, art and photography exhibitions and One@11, our Saint Arnold’s Sunday morning services.
At least, they will do when they’re allowed to re-open and we can gather together again.
COVID and St Arnold's
For now, we’ve had to meet online for our events including our annual Easter Beer and Hymns hymn service.
We’ve been meeting at 7:30pm on the last Sunday of Each month (unless there’s a major Christian festival) through a live feed on the Saint Arnold’s facebook page to sing hymns together and share in prayer and fellowship. Some of our musicians, Richard Walsh (organist) and Revs Mark and Becki Stennett (guitar, bass and vocals) lead us in a variety of hymns from vintage anthems to new choruses and ‘kids’ worship songs.
We’ve had themes ranging from a beach party and Star Wars to more serious things like remembrance and mourning.
During our lockdown exile, the venue and media may have changed but the message remains the same...
God loves us all, whoever we are. Let’s celebrate by drinking a beer (other drinks are available) and singing out our songs of praise.
Rev Graeme Dutton is a Methodist Presbyter based in the Bradford South Circuit. His current appointment means he spends half his time working with traditional circuit structures and churches and the other half engaged in @starnolds - a pioneer ministry project amongst bars, cafes and restaurants in Bradford city centre.