‘Theology on Tap’
Face-to-face faith in a social setting
By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
Editor’s Note: Daniel P. Smith of Catholic News Service contributed to this article.
A priest walks into a bar and asks the bartender, “Do you have Theology on Tap?”
“Yeah, right over there,” the bartender responds, pointing to a large group of young adults, aged 21-39, both married and single.
If you’ve never heard of “Theology on Tap,” a program that puts young adults together in a social environment -- whether a bar, restaurant or parish hall -- for a lesson in theology, that’s probably because the program was only introduced to the Diocese of Dodge City a few years ago.
“I was thinking that it would make a really good fit for our community,” said Jennifer Mai, who introduced the program when hired as stewardship director for St. Dominic Parish in Garden City in 2008. She now serves as adult formation director.
“It seems like the younger generation is looking for a home, a place where they can feel comfortable,” Mai said. “And this provides that for them. And it also serves that group of people who may not feel comfortable coming into a Wednesday night Bible study or a Sunday prayer group. But they would feel comfortable maybe meeting you at a bar to discuss theology.”
And there’s something to be said for walking into a bar and quickly associating it with a lesson in theology.
The program, offered in parishes across the country and overseas, is celebrating its 30th birthday after being created in a parish in Chicago:
At a Champaign pizzeria in the spring of 1981, a youthful Tim Leeming pulled Father Jack Wall into a private conversation and offered an impromptu confession.
“Father, I’m doing well here at school academically and socially, but I don’t know why I’m doing the things I’m doing and it seems to me that my faith should be a resource,” the University of Illinois student told the priest.
That modest, innocent conversation set in motion a whirlwind of events that would spark a young adult ministry revolution -- first in the Chicago area, then the nation and now the world.
When Father Wall and his colleagues returned from their campus visit, the group sat down to establish a forum for the deep-rooted questions young adults such as Leeming had. Father Wall’s team proposed a summer program -- five evenings on five spiritual themes -- hoping the series would help draw young adults closer to God.
Someone casually tossed out the title “Theology on Tap,” a name that survives today as the program enters its 30th year in the Archdiocese of Chicago and introduces itself to the worldwide stage.
At last year’s Stewardship Day in Dodge City, Mai presented a 2009 statistic which stated that “97 percent of former Catholics who are now religiously unaffiliated left the Church before 35. Also, 93 percent of former Catholics who are now Protestant left the Church before age 35.
“So, basically, our fallen away Catholics are doing so some time from when they move out of their parents house to age 35. This figure points to the theory that 20-30 somethings are particularly vulnerable to becoming fallen away Catholics.”
“If we want to reach this demographic, we have to bring theology to them, not ask them to come to us,” she said.
Mai, Father Wesley Schawe and St. Dominic parishioner Mary Gallagher -- who previously lived in Washington, D.C. and attended several TOT gatherings there -- initiated the program in Garden City soon after Mai was hired, and today anywhere from 30 to 60 young adults attend the monthly sessions. A group also meets in Great Bend, and other parishes are considering starting the program.
Gatherings begin at 6:30 p.m. with a meal. At 7 p.m., a guest speaker, such as Father Wesley Schawe, will speak for approximately 30 minutes, after which those gathered will be able to ask questions.
Mai stressed that the program does not promote drinking and is “not for heavy drinkers.”
“You don’t have to drink; you don’t even have to have the meeting in a bar. You could have it in a parish center, or a Knights of Columbus hall.”
For those who are over age 39, you needn’t feel left out: Mai said that in 2009 “a lot of the people who were 40-something or better said they’d like to come to TOT. So we started a program called M&M (Mix and Mingle.) It’s for 40 and better. It’s somewhat similar to TOT; we rotate around to different venues and participate in whatever kind of food and hospitality they have, and they watch an hour-long video and discuss it afterwards.”
Great Bend also offers a group for over-age-39 adults; instead of “Theology on Tap,” their group is called, “Holy Grounds,” and is held in coffee shops.
For more information, contact Mai St. Dominic Parish, Garden City, (620) 276-2024 or, in Great Bend, contact Pam Vainer or Debbie Dowdle, (620) 792-1396.