Beer n Hymns: the real story

NPR seems toBeers 'n Hyms Portland Abbey have tuned out when it came to reporting accurately on the evolution of the Beers ‘n’ Hymns phenomenon, which has grown nationwide but began in Portland, Oregon. A quick Google search will show that the actual U.S. origins of this craft-beer-fueled sing-a-long lie with the Rev. Karen Ward, who was not mentioned in the NPR story. Ward was inspired by attending similar services at Greenbelt, a UK-based Christian arts and social justice festival. Ward spent close to a decade in Seattle, putting Benedictine hospitality into practice through her work with The Living:room, a nonprofit tea bar, pub, and performance gallery; and later with The Fremont Abbey Arts Center.

After Ward moved to Portland, she launched the first service she titled “Beer N Hymns” on April 20, 2012. Curated at St. David of Wales Episcopal Church in southeast Portland, the initial endeavor was assisted by Todd and Angie Fadel,  of The Bridge. Ward moved the services around the northeast and southeast neighborhoods of Portland, and called the gatherings ‘Pop Up’ Church. Currently Beer ‘N Hymns is a monthly alternative service held at the Portland Abbey in North Portland.

And while NPR may report that the interjection of suds into a church service is a way to stave off declining attendance in mainstream Protestant denominations by injecting a little of the “hipster Christian” evangelical spirit, Ward has a different take:

“This is a way to  ‘tap into’ the lives of people who may not go to church, but might like singing, and might like beer drinking, to introduce folk to church in a way that is populist/culturally familiar. In our culture, people think of coffeehouses and pubs as those spaces churches used to fill. So what is that saying? Most churches have gotten away from being part of the regular culture. Thus they are missing out on connecting to regular people in regular life, which is what we are supposed to be all about. I think Jesus wouldn’t be hiding behind the walls of a church and expecting people to come in, instead of being out where the people are.”

Then again, NPR focus on covering the latest religious rock star shows their proclivity to focus on the flash instead of exploring faith on the fringes. We expect such surface-level coverage of religion from CNN, given their ongoing Fox-lite coverage of religion a la Wolf Blitzer. But we hope NPR can be a cut above the rest, researching beyond the press releases and product buzz.

Meanwhile, if you want a sip of the real thing, head on down to the Portland Abbey on Sunday, January 26th from 5 to 7pm.


Becky Garrison is a satirist/storyteller whose most recent book is Roger Williams’s Little Book of Virtues (Wipf & Stock, March 2020). Also, she edited Love, Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge and Resilience (Transgress Press, 2015). Her six books include 2006’s Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (PW, starred review).