How to Bar Chaplain

This post serves as a condensed version of my Wild Goose Festival presentation. I’ve written before on the history of the Old Fashioned and distillation in general, so I’ll focus here on the spiritual side of things.

If you frequent this blog often, you’ve probably heard some version of my story. While I grew up in church, the Christianity I practiced was more about argument than love, so by the time I got to college, church wasn’t even on my radar anymore. Then I had a profound spiritual experience in a bar, and before I knew it, I was training to be a pastor. Unfortunately, as I worked in larger and larger churches, I found myself getting less and less time with people. My days were consumed with administrative tasks, and I wasn’t getting to nurture what originally drew me into the ministry: a passion for people. During this frustrating time of my life, I regularly hung out in bars with friends, and invariably I’d wind up talking to random patrons. God came up so frequently in these conversations that I started to joke, “You know, if I were really serious about ministry, I’d quit my job and just hang out in bars!” After a while, it stopped being a joke, so I really did it; I quit my job and sought training in chaplaincy. I find that chaplaincy skills (active listening, comfort with silence, ministry of presence, etc.) apply to any environment; bars just happen to be my setting of choice.

Over the past year, I’ve used three different approaches to offer spiritual support to bar patrons:
(1) Being present and letting conversation happen naturally.
(2) Befriending bartenders and letting them refer me to people.
(3) Working with local ministers and laypeople on events in bars (Beer & Hymns being a prime example).

While that last one is probably the most noticeable, my favorite approach is just befriending bartenders and helping out where I can. Bartending is a hospitality industry, so good bartenders model patience and compassion toward customers, often listening to customers’ problems when the pace of the bar allows. Bartenders typically have full workloads though, so having someone available as a listening ear to patrons can be a big help. Good bartenders are always aware of people around them who might need someone to talk to, so a partnership between bartenders and freelance bar chaplains is only natural.

Ultimately, my goal is to provide a listening ear and a reassuring presence to the people I encounter, and that’s not something that’s unique to bars or unique to chaplaincy. My hope is to contribute to a culture where people just naturally do this for one another. Life is hard, but the Spirit of God is moving around us at all times. The more we can train ourselves to be encouragers in all settings, the better the world gets for everyone.

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