Many of you have heard the story of how we started home brewing, but maybe I’ll be able to draw together circumstance and consequence here to give you insight into my process and paradigm for this new ministry. It’s not so much what I think that’s new and innovative as how I’ve come to think it, and we all know novelty and innovation can be dangerous. Maybe this is an invitation to challenge my theory.
The story goes like this. Two summers ago, we were camping up on the Bruce, and being fans of craft beer, stopped in at the huge LCBO in Owen Sound to stock up for the trip. Finding so much we’d never had before, I was startled by the bill. I drank my fancy beer, and I enjoyed my fancy beer, but I also complained about the cost of my fancy beer. My brother said, “So make your own.” I replied, “You can do that?” To which he went to the basement, grabbed an unlabeled flip-top bottle, handed it to me and said, “Try this.”
I’ll admit the barley brine in that brown bottle was not the best beer I’d ever had, but the taste improved drastically when he said it cost less than a dollar a bottle. Now my brother’s a smart guy, but I couldn’t imagine what sorcery he’d been practicing in order to conjure this up. So he took me to his local home brew supply shop, and I bought my very first home beer kit. It was sketchy as it sounded, honestly, but when I tasted the finished product, I was hooked. Not only did I know I could do this, I now knew I could do it better.
The timing of our foray into home brewing couldn’t have been better. Christina was just starting chemotherapy, which meant that we spent a whole lot more time at home than we were used to. I spent hours applying my research skills to the mad science of fermentation while we binge watched Inspector Gadget, and still more hours in stovetop experimentation as we chronicled the multifaceted missions of James Bond. Come the tulips, I was ready to spring for a big 3V setup, but it was costly. Not wanting to be wasteful, I settled for a brew-in-a-bag system that could be upgraded later as my knowledge and skill expanded.
The funny thing was, the more I researched, the more I realized that home brewers were stuck in traditions that no longer applied. I discovered that my one-vessel system worked so well that I couldn’t justify the upgrade. I found the Brulosopher, a man after my own heart, who challenged age-old brewing assumptions with blind taste tests to prove which factors are critical to great tasting beer and which were once helpful but are now irrelevant. With his help, I’ve been making great craft beer on my deck in a way that’s simple, sensible, and satisfying.
I imagine you can see the connection. As all of this was going down, it happens that we had come into the 500th anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation, which I had determined to honor in the church by preaching through the Heidelberg Catechism from week to week. In so doing, we began to see stuck traditions in the church, age-old assumptions that weren’t being challenged, and factors in our ministry that seemed entirely irrelevant. Searching the Scriptures and doing some blind taste testing of our own, we discovered that what we thought about church wasn’t so much the problem as how we thought about it.
Our ordinary experiment is really an experiment in ordinariness. It’s an attempt to answer the question, which are the factors that make true church, and which ones were once helpful but are now irrelevant? Is it possible to “brew our own,” not in terms of changing the product but rather the method. After 15 years of off-the-shelf ministry, I’m ready to try something different. With confidence in the Spirit’s leading, I hope to be experiencing craft church in my kitchen in a way that’s simple, sensible, and satisfying too. Cheers!