Sunday, May 2, 2004

Young Catholics served by series at local tavern

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Father Michael Sparough tells stories about his trip to Nepal and his faith during the Theology on Tap gathering.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/JEFF SWINGER
MONTGOMERY - The rain slid over the windows on a recent Thursday at the Village Tavern. As dusk turned to dark, a man inside told a story. Listening intently, a pack of young adults tossed back pints of beer.

Then their questions started.

"When you hit difficult times, how do you keep your faith?"

"Is it possible to be humble without being humbled?"

"How do you pray?"

The speaker was Father Michael Sparough of Charis Ministries in Chicago, which provides spiritual growth opportunities for Catholics ages 20-40.

The gathering was Theology on Tap, a lecture series for young Catholics, now in its sixth year in Cincinnati. It was started in this area by Catholics David Brecount and wife Margaret of Mount Adams. Margaret was the catalyst after she attended a theology lecture in Atlanta.

What: Theology on TapWhen: 7 p.m. Thursdays through June 10.
Where: Village Tavern (second floor), 9390 Montgomery Road, Montgomery.
Information: Web site.
You won't be kicked out if you don't like the pope but the crowd is "unapologetically Catholic," as Brecount puts it. Each lecture in the eight-week series draws 75 to 200 people, a number that is consistently growing.

Theology on Tap is just one of many initiatives to keep young people in the church.

According to a March Gallup poll, 48 percent of America's 18- to 29-year-olds and 59 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds say religion is important in their lives. But a much smaller number attends services. Only 30 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds and 40 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds say they have attended services in the past week.

The theology experience is billed as helping "those who thirst for more." Speakers in this series include local theologian Tim Cronin (May 27), who will present "The Book of Revelation for Dummies," and former prisoner of war, Guy Gruters (June 10), who will discuss how God made Himself known in a communist prison camp.

Nationally, there are other Theology on Tap lecture series, though with different speakers.

It's a simple way to get young Catholics talking, Brecount said.

"It's a lot easier to get them out to a pub than to a church meeting hall on a Sunday morning," he said. "We're going where the people are and bringing them great content."

Like Sparough, who discussed his trek in Nepal in a humorous way that kept the crowd spellbound.

"Theology on Tap is an outreach to say there's a deep spiritual hunger, but we don't necessarily want all the religious trappings of a traditional service," Sparough said.

The Jesuit priest said that such alternatives to church are a necessary way to reach a new generation.

"Right now there's a hemorrhage in churches and synagogues around the world. Young adults are searching spiritually, but they're not connecting and they're not adopting the faith in which they were raised," he said. Brecount also runs a group called Generation Christ, a year-round group for people in their 20s and 30s, which meets 7-9 p.m. Sundays at the Archbishop Liebold Home in Clifton.

"We're just trying to go out and meet people where they're at with a message that's eternal," he said. "The Gospel has the same power today that it always has."


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