The Bible looms large on imagery of followers thirsting for God.
At a local bar and restaurant, new monthly gatherings feature believers quenching a spiritual thirst with worship tunes and a physical thirst with sips of craft beer or soft drinks.
Say hello to Hops & Hymns, an informal sing-along with live music on the family side of Columbus Bar. The mix of culture and commitment that began in May so far attracts largely a group of people in their 20s and 30s seeking a sense of Christian community in a comfortable, relaxing and public atmosphere.
Attendees have come mostly from five area churches, but Hops & Hyms is open to everyone, including those of no faith.
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“My real heart is to create a space for people who are uncomfortable walking into a church, or those who feel a little intimidated by that, or those who may not agree 100 percent with a church on some issues,” said guitarist and singer Jacob Kennedy.
The 24-year-old Columbus resident launched the concept, being done at bars and restaurants nationwide, with friend Josh Brown, 28. Before the first get-together May 15, they and others posted social media reminders for attendees to be mindful of ordering food or beverages and showing kindness and generosity to waiters or waitresses.
At the most recent Hops & Hymns, some families ate supper there. Others in attendance ordered a beer or other menu items. In the past, the venue has hosted other faith gatherings, such as St. Bartholomew Catholic Church’s “Theology On Tap” young adults speaker series.
The current Hops & Hymns song list includes musical numbers ranging from standards such as “Amazing Grace” to contemporary classics as Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or even Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken.” Yet, given that nearly one-third of the young couples crowd of about 30 people includes infants and toddlers, perhaps the gatherings’ theme song could be Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby.”
In fact, during at least one early moment of the recent meeting, one mom in her 20s quietly slipped out the nearby door to the Fourth Street sidewalk as her youngster wailed amid the singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Unlike a formal church setting, no one even seemed to notice the development while Kennedy joined fellow guitarists and singers Alfie Wadholm and Scott Hundley leading the hymn (in May, Hundley’s cellist daughter, Gracie Hundley, joined in).
At other points, a youngster or two, including one in a high chair, clapped gleefully to the beat of “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms.” At another juncture, three toddlers got up and performed an impromptu jig on “I’ll Fly Away.”
One humorous reminder of the surroundings popped up twice when a nearby kitchen cook’s exclamation of “Order up!” punctuated the proceedings.
Bar co-owner Jon Myers saw the Hops & Hymns idea that co-organizer Brown presented as terrific — and not just from a business standpoint for slower Monday evenings. As a Christian, he is known for posting plenty of Scripture and faith-oriented material on his Facebook page. He attended the June gathering not as a business boss but a listener and participant.
“I like a lot of the old-time songs,” Myers, 43, said of the hymns such as “I Saw the Light” that were presented. “They remind me a lot of my grandma.”
Others such as first-time attender Wolfgang Huser, 24, who attends The Ridge church, could relate. A church friend invited him.
“I had a great time time,” Huser said, adding that he loves the older hymns from the church of his childhood. “The best part here is the overall environment. Everybody seems so welcoming.”
For example, when a few people walked in 20 minutes into the gathering, many got up from their table seats to offer warm embraces. Brown sees the venue and the purpose as a nice fit.
“Bars commonly used to be places where people got together to sing,” Brown said. “We just like the idea of getting together with friends — and in the process, making new ones.”
Others like the idea of publicly proclaiming faith, but also making room for cultural classics those not attending church can connect to. Consequently, the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” surfaced near the end of the evening. Interestingly, the laid-back, mainstream lyrics constituted some of the loudest overall vocals of the hour-plus songfest.
Still, others appreciate the chance to put a bit of their beliefs to music.
“You’ve got to go tell it,” the 26-year-old Wadholm said of the gospel message. “You’ve got to share the good news.”
Ideally, Kennedy, who openly acknowledged that he has struggled with elements of Christianity and sometimes faces doubts, hopes to expand Hops & Hymns to another local outlet such as Upland Columbus Pump House restaurant. He figures maybe an alternate gathering can unfold at a later hour on the weekend.
“I want people to see that this is an honest expression of our faith,” Kennedy said, “even though we don’t always fully understand it all the time.”
What: Informal, monthly Christian-oriented sing-along gatherings. Open to all, regardless of faith or belief.
When: Each session runs about 6:45 to about 8 p.m. Tentative date for the next gathering is July 17.
Where: The family side of Columbus Bar, 322 Fourth St.
Food/beverages: Full menu of snacks, entrees and drinks available for purchase.
Information: Facebook page for Hops & Hymns.