A few months ago, the New York Times ran an article about the recent comeback of the London beer scene. It made me want to fly to London, enjoy a few pints and watch a little football [Wayne Rooney, not Tom Brady]. Here’s a snippet from the article:
Indeed, London is experiencing a craft beer renaissance so remarkable that keeping up has become a full-time job… Despite its history as the home of many of the world’s best-loved brewing styles — IPA, porter, stout, brown ale and Russian imperial stout are all from here — London’s beer culture suffered through several decades of decline, resulting in just seven working breweries by 2006… But today, the number has at least tripled, with adventurous new ales and lagers appearing from the likes of Camden Town Brewery, which first fired its kettles in 2010, and the East London Brewing Company, which dates from 2011. In addition, a new generation of pubs and bars makes it easy for beer-loving travelers to sample local flavors and rub elbows with the natives.
I knew nothing about the London beer scene until reading this article. But oddly enough, I’m inspired by what’s happening there. Drinking a well crafted microbrew is special because you’re enjoying something unique and finite, limited in its availability, to be appreciated fully because another chance at it is far from guaranteed. A few of my friends have been talking recently about a beer called Pliny the Elder. It’s brewed at the Russian River Brewing Company, about 100 miles north of where we live. I’ve been told that other than driving the two hours to Santa Rosa, the only way to get my hands on one is to luck out and find it at one of the few, sporadic liquor stores they distribute to on occasion. This same brewing company also produces another IPA called Pliny the Younger. Reviews on the user-driven site beeradvocate.com deem it “the best beer in the world.” Russian River Brewing Company only offers Pliny the Younger for two weeks in February because of the extensive time and space required to brew it properly.
And herein lies the beauty of what we’re seeing in both the London beer scene renaissance and local breweries like Russian River. Bigger is not better. More, faster is the working formula for mass producing the same old product over and over again but it doesn’t work when attempting to create something memorable. Profit margins take a backseat when it comes to making great beer. Budweiser profits are in the billions annually while the best beer in the world makes Russian River Brewing Company a minimal profit during its two week run every February. Crafting a truly memorable beer like Pliny the Younger requires patience over time with meticulous attention paid to the details and an emphasis on developing unique flavors that tell a story and leave an indelible mark. The really great stuff takes a while.
I am challenged by these characteristics of brewing great beer because they seem to share so much in common with the process of learning to live with and for others as followers of Jesus. There are all sorts of models used by churches to try and create authentic, genuine community. Each has its pros and cons. At some point we simply choose and do our best. My church community uses the House Church model. In addition to our Sunday worship services, we gather in communities of 20-40 in various homes throughout our city in the middle of the week to try and create exactly what these brewers are trying to craft in their beers. Something great, something memorable, something worth enjoying fully. Something that tells a story worth telling. And while it might be easier to mass produce House Churches, following a static, fixed formula, I am finding that doing the difficult work of paying attention to the meticulous details of each and every unique community is the only way for us to create the sorts of communities that truly mean something, both to themselves and to the world. Christian communities, whatever the context and method might be, universally require extensive time and space. We must live into them patiently. They need the space to grow and develop their own unique flavors. None of this is easy but nothing great ever is. The writer of Hebrews implores us to not give up meeting together and encouraging each other [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Paul instructs us to bear with each other and to forgive each other [Colossians 3:13]. He takes it even further by calling us to carry each other’s burdens [Galatians 6:2].
Keep meeting together… encourage… bear with one another… forgive… carry each other’s burdens…
This is all so difficult. It will cost us time and space. It will cost us comfort and convenience. But it will be worth it. Because together, in our giving up of self for the good of the other, we will begin crafting our own unique communities that will shape us into the people God intends. We will begin crafting communities that tell the world a better story of God’s love than the mass produced versions they’ve been told before.
One of the brewing companies leading the charge in the London beer renaissance says this in their mission statement: We are passionate brewers of cask ale, committed to crafting beers with character and integrity. Located in north London, this brewery is called Redemption Brewing Company. I hope and pray that we would all together passionately engage in the difficult and glorious work of crafting communities of character and integrity and that as we do, we might see and experience the redemption of God in ourselves, our communities and our world in ways that leave us all changed forever.
*If you live in or near the San Jose area and are interested in journeying with us in one of our House Church communities, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for info or sign up online.