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April 11, 2013

Dialogue brewing at theology meetings

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — Craft beer isn’t the only thing on tap the second Friday of each month at Council Rock Brewery, a pub-restaurant off state Route 28 near the Cooperstown Dreams Park.

Thanks to the Rev. Mark Michael, pastor of Christ Episcopal Church in Cooperstown, and his wife, the Rev. Allison Michael of Zion St. John’s Lutheran Church in Seward, Council Rock patrons can participate in “Theology on Tap” meetings at which matters of faith can be discussed over mugs of beer and pub grub.

For the Michaels, it’s a way to connect with people in a relaxed and informal setting, and spark conversations that can be as deep or light as the participants want to make them.

The sessions even drew Bishop Willliam H. Love, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, to Council Rock for a Friday night “Theology on Tap” two months ago.

“I find that people who don’t go to church often can have really profound experiences with God and don’t know what to do with them or have trouble interpreting them,” said Mark Michael, who moved to the Cooperstown parish a little more than three years ago from Maryland.

To ignite conversations, Mark Michael will come armed to the meetings with information gleaned from stories that have dominated the news cycle, such as the massacre of school children and teachers in Connecticut last December..

“We tried to look at what the violence says about the kind of society we are, and how the Christian vision of peace and unity provides an alternative model for human relationships,” the priest said.

In February, he recalled, the question du jour was: “Are we working ourselves to death?” That dialogue, he said, examined the genesis and importance of having time for rest — a sabbath — and how spending too much time working saps life of its inherent joy and vitality.

Patrons of Council Rock are not required to participate in the sessions, which have attracted more than a dozen people on some occasions, Mark Michael said.

Mark Michael noted he and his wife didn’t invent the idea for Theology on Tap, noting similar programs are held across the country by some Roman Catholic priests.

“Cooperstown is a town where everyone has an opinion, and we don’t always do a good job about being polite,” he said. “We envision this as a way to talk about things that are important and sometimes controversial, but in a gracious and respectful way.”

Roger Davidson, the brewmaster and proprietor of Council Rock, said he’s happy to have Theology on Tap as part of the regular calendar of events at the establishment. The micro brewery, which will mark its one-year anniversary in business next month, is part of the Cooperstown Beverage Trail.

“We have a family-friendly social place, and it seems to fit well with Theology on Tap,” Davidson said.

The restaurant will be expanding with the addition of a new dining room next month, Davidson said, and Theology on Tap events will continue.

The next session of Theology on Tap will begin at 8 p.m. Friday. Mark Michael said the discussions generally run for about two hours.

“The art of conversation is an important part of life, and we thought that as a church we could sort of model some of that and help the community,” the pastor said.