Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Theology on Tap Brews Community of Faith for Young Adults

Your local bar and grill may seem like the last place for young Catholic adults to grow together in the faith, but that’s exactly where Theology on Tap has been brewing in the Diocese of Harrisburg for nearly 15 years.

The program invites young adults in their 20s and 30s for an informal gathering – usually once a month – with food, spirits, a presentation on a topic relevant to the faith, a Q&A with the presenter and time for socialization.

The purpose is for young adults – single or married, Catholic or non-Catholic – to enjoy good food and drinks while learning more about the Catholic faith and engaging in open discussion within a supportive community.

Theology on Tap originated in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1981 under the leadership of Father John Cusick, who saw a need for a ministry to sustain young people in the faith after their graduation from college.

“Young adults – it’s the largest segment of the Church that is missing. Theology on Tap is a program for that part of the Catholic population,” he told The Witness in a 2018 interview.

“A handful of people were about to graduate and were telling me, what is important in life? Beyond a job, what do we hang onto? How do we interpret things going on in life?” he said.

Theology on Tap has since spread throughout the country, and took root in the Diocese of Harrisburg in 2009. There are currently three Theology on Tap groups here – in Harrisburg, Lancaster and York.

During the most recent gathering of the program in Harrisburg, December 21 at Ever Grain Brewing in Camp Hill, Zack Haney, Director of the Diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, shared his thoughts on the program’s success.

“The leadership at each of them is passionate about the young adult community. They have a variety of speakers on a variety of topics: panel discussions with priests and religious Sisters, local organizations battling human trafficking, mental health topics, Church teaching. I really think it’s taken off so much because young adults are hungry for community and hungry to learn about the faith. They come and bond over a meal and listen to a presentation about our faith in action,” he told The Witness.

He said the program works so well because it targets young adults who are just getting started in life and finding ways to balance their faith, careers and social lives.

“We are one Church, but within that family we have smaller groups of people with similar life experiences. Theology on Tap makes it easier for young adults to relate to one another on their journey. It helps develop a sense of community, of support for one another,” he said.

“Food is something we can all bond over, and provides a point of connection for those who are deep into the faith, as well as for those just beginning to dip their toes into it,” Haney added.

Brian Varmecky, a leader with Theology on Tap Harrisburg, said the nature of the program offers “a time to just hang out without any strings attached.”

“The goal of Theology on Tap is to bring people together for a fun night of fellowship in a relaxed atmosphere. We have a very vibrant community that is always eager to welcome new friends, whether they’re here just for one night or if they return every month,” he said. “There are so few places and opportunities these days to just hang out in person, and I’ve found that everyone who comes to Theology on Tap is longing to both share and receive love from one another and to build up our local community. We strive to make everyone feel welcome just like we were when we first came.”

“Many folks come to listen to a particular speaker or topics, but many also come just for the chance to see old friends and meet new people in a relaxed and unstructured environment. And since we only meet once per month and only for a few hours, you don’t have to commit much time, which is important for busy young adults, especially those fresh out of school who are still adjusting to the hectic business world,” he said.

During the December 21 gathering, well over 50 young adults filled the social room at Ever Grain to hear guest speaker Bishop Timothy Senior, who shared his vocation story before taking questions from attendees.

Telling the crowd about the various surprises that came his way throughout his priesthood – including his appointment as Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia in 2009 and his appointment as Bishop of Harrisburg in April of this year – Bishop Senior encouraged the young adults to keep trusting in God.

“Trust in God, even when it’s surprising,” he said. “When the Holy Spirit is speaking to you, there is a gentleness that comes with it. It may be unsettling or surprising, but there is a certain peace to it.”

He also spoke about his priority as a bishop to evangelize.

“When people see the Christian faith well-lived, they are drawn to it,” he said. “We should always be looking outward to engage the culture, even when we are rejected or when people don’t understand us.”

“We have to get involved in the lives of people, especially the poor and people who are hurting,” Bishop Senior said. “We can’t be passive when we have the answer about the Truth, goodness and beauty that the heart longs for.”

Varmecky, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg, said Theology on Tap is a perfect vehicle for evangelization.

“It’s a great event for everyone, not just practicing Catholics,” he said. “We try to pick topics that are related to the faith but still relevant and accessible to everyone so that it’s easy to invite friends along who might otherwise be hesitant to engage with religion. You’re more likely to convince a non-Catholic friend to join you for drinks and dinner than to join you for Adoration or Mass, so having a gentle entry into the faith community like Theology on Tap makes it easier to soften hearts by bringing the Church to the people.”

Varmecky said his only regret about Theology on Tap is that he didn’t join sooner, feeling too critical and fearful to get involved early on.

“This community has been a great source of growth, comfort and love, which has also let me develop new skills and traits that have benefitted both my personal and spiritual life,” he said.

“One thing I have really loved and appreciated about our Catholic young adult community is the piety, humility, love and devotion that I witness in my peers. My faith has been deepened and strengthened not only by the speakers and discussions, but also by experiencing the faith being lived by others my age and witnessing both their struggles and triumphs,” he remarked. “It provides not only a reality-check on my own shortcomings and failings, but also shows me how to grow from them, what resources are available and effective, and what kind of impact a devotion to Christ and His Church can have on my life, because I am surrounded by so many loving people who are walking that same path.”

Theology on Tap events take place in Harrisburg on the third Thursday of each month; in Lancaster on the second Thursday of each month; and in York on the fourth Thursday of each month.

Learn more about Theology on Tap, its upcoming events and how to connect with each group via e-mail or social media by visiting the program’s page on the Diocesan website: www.hbgdiocese.org/youth-and-young-adults/theology-on-tap/.

(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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