Last Saturday (30th June 2018), in the scorching sun, and donned in my cassock, surplice and stole, I blessed the beer, the public house and the villagers of Michaelston-y-Fedw in what has become a revived tradition which dates back to Medieval times. Many moons ago, Monks, after brewing their ale, would cart it off to the taverns and once it had arrived, they would bless it before the masses came to consume it. As time went on, this tradition died out but last year I discovered why we need to bring it back.
Firstly, beer. It occurred to me that, in a rural community, or indeed any community in the 21st century, people gather around alcohol. There’s nothing new under the sun because back in Jesus’ day, people did exactly the same. OK – it was watered down wine. But if you wanted to throw a party and you wanted people to enjoy themselves, you’d provide alcohol. Jesus was found amongst alcohol. He wasn’t getting drunk off of it, but he was enjoying it, and showing other people how to enjoy the precious life God the Father had given them. There is a simple lesson for Christians to learn here, and it is that we must model being those who enjoy life. We must be party throwers. God is interested in people’s enjoyment. Yes, he wants us to enjoy life in the right way, but in that right way is so much fun.
Secondly, blessing. When I initially told some colleagues and other Christians about the fact that I had started the Blessing of the Beer festival in Michaelston, people looked at me funnily. Some thought I was bordering on heresy. But let me explain… as far as I understand it, asking God to bless someone/something is about thanking God for that thing/person and praying that the thing/person being blessed would be used to bring God’s vision of what this earth should be into sharper focus. We want God’s will to be done and for his kingdom to come through the things/people we bless. Blessing is an acknowledgment of God’s goodness and his provision as well as a plea that our relationship with those things/people which are blessed will be in keeping with God’s will. Therefore, I don’t see any reason why beer cannot be blessed.
Thirdly, belief. It’s so important to me that I take the opportunities I’m given as a minister to share my faith. Not because I’m a vicar, but because I’m a Christian, a follower of Jesus. In an age in which society is a slave to pluralism and relativism, it’s important that those with conviction stand up and defend those convictions. I passionately believe that there is a right way, and a wrong way; a right religion and a wrong one. I believe with all my heart in Jesus as the Son of God who came to redeem us on the cross and physically rose from the dead to prove that new, everlasting life is possible for those who trust and believe. But I want to be someone who is known to be unashamed of that, and to give people the opportunity to share faith. The blessing of the beer festival has provided that space in a non-threatening way.
Finally, being. Being has become so important at the Blessing of the Beer festival. The blessing of the beer is about being together as a village community, and me being present to my parishioners. It is so important that the Church is visible! I pray that the days of isolation and holy-huddling are over. God’s Kingdom is one that comes right into people’s midst. We want to show people God’s glory. We want life transformation. And we can only get there if we foster relationship. We are, as Christians, tasked with setting up divine appointments where people can meet Jesus, even at a bar whilst they wait for a blessed pint. It has happened. It is happening now. If you’re a Christian reading this now, please can I encourage you to make yourself present. You are Jesus’ hands and feet wherever you are. You’re not perfect like him, your task is great and people will watch and judge. But be the best ambassador for him. Show your community that Jesus wants so much better for this broken world.
And so, to finish, a press release from the Church in Wales:
A vicar has teamed up with his local pub to revive the medieval tradition of blessing beer!!
The village of Michaelston-y-Fedw all came together to celebrate the Blessing of the Beer Festival which was held at the Cefn Mably Arms pub at the end of June.
Reverend Dean Roberts, who organised the event, said: “The Blessing of the Beer Festival is something which provides yet another opportunity for the Church to engage with the community in a fun, yet meaningful way.
“Part of my role as a vicar is to share in the cure of souls in the parish which means being present to all parishioners regardless of faith, whilst at the same time boldly proclaiming the gift of eternal life available to all who put their trust in Jesus. I have found time and time again that people value explicitness and they want to know what being a Christian is all about, even if they are self-professed atheists.
“My message this year was about how God has made us for relationship; he’s made us for relationship with him, and he’s made us for relationship with each other. I felt this was especially important to highlight as the village has recently come together to install its own fibre optic broadband which has made international news headlines. It’s been brilliant to see the village come together to make it happen.
“The Beer Blessing this year was another opportunity to nurture community and celebrate all that’s happened, whilst offering another invitation on Jesus’ behalf for people to come to know him.
“Whilst the beer is blessed by myself (in that I thank God for the fact we have it to enjoy and ask him that we may use the good things he’s given us for his glory) the most important part of the service for me is the opportunity to share the Gospel and to pray God’s blessing on the people. People are open to asking the big questions of life, and they did during the festival, but there needs to be relationship there to enable that openness. As a vicar, I want to be someone who has strong convictions and a very public faith whilst being someone who is approachable. The Blessing of the Beer fosters that.”
In times gone by, Monks used to bless the ale they had brewed before it went to local taverns to be consumed. Reverend Dean revived this tradition in 2017 by asking landlords of the Cefn Mably Arms, Ben Longman and Caroline Hill, if he could hold a Blessing of the Beer Festival every year which would bring the village together, which would be a fun day out of the house, and which would allow the Church to be present and available to the community.
Caroline and Ben said: “The blessing of the beer was an amazing event for the pub. The whole community turned out and many brought friends from further afield. Dean had everyone joining in with hymns and prayers.
Many non-church goers said they loved the event and thought Dean brought new meanings for religion for them. We were all delighted to raise funds for the church and do it in a social and religious way. The local businesses as well as the pub generously donated many raffle prizes to raise money for the church and the band played only for food and beer. It brought all kinds of people together in one place for what is now an annual celebration.”
The Festival starts with a blessing service. Reverend Dean gives a little “message” for all those who are there, and then blesses the beer, the public house itself, the staff of the pub, and of course all those who are there for festival. The service finishes with a hymn – this year it was Amazing Grace.
The pub remains open after the service, with a barbecue, live entertainment and local bands.
Reverend Dean, added: “The atmosphere was fantastic and it’s a great way of making friends and getting to know people. I was there for nearly 10 hours!
“The other amazing thing to come out of it which was an unintended consequence of the event is that the Pub donates the proceeds to the Church in Michaelston. Currently, God is challenging the PCC at Michaelston to engage more with the village and so the proceeds we get from the Blessing of the Beer will go back into the community for the purposes of mission and evangelism.”