TORRINGTON – Sit back, order drinks and dinner, chat with young friends your age and enjoy some good entertainment. Oh, and there is at least one Catholic priest present, so it’s all good.
This is not your father’s religious education class – it’s yours, if you’re in your 20s or 30s. It’s RENEW Theology on Tap, and it’s now in Torrington.
Theology on Tap had its origins at St. James Parish in Arlington Heights, Ill., in 1981, when then college student Tim Leeming and Father Jack Wall came up with the casual format of reaching out to young people where they hang out – often at bars and restaurants. It soon spread throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago. In 2003, RENEW International, a Catholic organization that fosters spiritual renewal, launched an effort to bring Theology on Tap nationwide. It came to Torrington in mid-2014.
A core group of young adults meets every first Thursday at Backstage Café on Main Street, formerly the popular Mertz Department Store. Pre-dinner chatter is lively and informal, as black-clad waitresses serve appetizers. Wine glasses clink.
“I’ve been coming here for about a year,” said Dominique Beecher, a parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, part of the Torrington Cluster of Roman Catholic Parishes that also includes St. Peter, Sacred Heart and St. Mary parishes.
A religious education teacher at St. Peter/St. Francis School, she said she heard about Theology on Tap through Father John Granato, pastor of the cluster, and Marlene Carrier, coordinator of the cluster’s youth and young adult ministry.
“We meet friends here and talk about God, and we’re all on the same page. It’s just nice to bond with everyone. Spiritually, I just feed on everyone else’s ideas, what the speakers talk about, and share what our faith is all about. It’s just inspiring,” Ms. Beecher said.
The speaker on Sept. 3 was Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC). He joked that he’s spoken to other Theology on Tap groups, one in Hartford about seven or eight years ago and another in New Haven last year, and both have since been discontinued. “Hopefully, I will not have the same effect here in Torrington,” he said, and the group chuckled.
Mr. Wolfgang said that FIC leads the fight for family and pro-life issues in Connecticut and successfully stopped the General Assembly from passing a same-sex marriage bill every time it came up, only to see the state’s Supreme Court mandate it by “judicial fiat” in a 4-3 vote in 2008, the swing vote coming, he said, from a justice who stepped in after a “mysterious recusal” by one of the other justices.
FIC and the Catholic Church oppose same-sex marriage, he told the group, not because they dislike gay people but because traditional heterosexual marriage benefits society by providing a loving environment for the children of the union, while same-sex marriage results in “motherlessness and fatherlessness.”
Mr. Wolfgang said he used to be a liberal but always was pro-life, and he still wonders how his liberal, socially conscious friends could condone, even promote, the killing of the most vulnerable among us through abortion. This ideological paradox prompted him to read John Henry Newman, Flannery O’Connor, Walter Percy, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis and other Catholic or Catholic-leaning thinkers. He converted from a “Christmas-and-Easter Catholic” to a fully engaged practicing Catholic within a six-month period in the mid-1990s.
The young diners were sipping the last drops of wine and beer when Mr. Wolfgang opened a question-and-answer session. One questioner asked if physician-assisted suicide would come before the General Assembly for a fourth year in a row in 2016; Mr. Wolfgang said he is ready to fight it again if it does. Another person asked if Kim Davis, the Carter, Ky., county clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses because of her religious beliefs, should lose her job; Mr. Wolfgang said the county clerk and other officials might have handled things better.
Father Michael Ruminski, a parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish-Poquonock and St. Gabriel Parish-Windsor, sits in at the meetings because he is in the same age group as the other attendees – between 20 and 39, as required by Theology on Tap’s license. He told the Transcript, “I think it’s important for the young people to have an opportunity to openly discuss and speak about our faith on a social level. It helps bring us community and it brings us closer to Christ, especially when you share a meal together and share a beer together. It opens up a path to get to know each other. It’s all about forming a better community around Christ and the church.”
Doug and Jen Owens, a young married couple with three children, are parishioners at St. Peter’s in Torrington. “We’ve been coming on and off since it started,” Mr. Owens said. “It gets us thinking about a lot of different things.”
Susan Hardy, a St. Francis parishioner, said, “I think it’s nice to come and see other Catholic youth around our age, and the speakers are always really great. It’s nice to hang out with people our own age and who share the same values.”
Ms. Carrier, coordinator of the group, said, “It’s glaringly obvious that the 20- to 30-year-olds are not flooding the churches. They are bombarded with secular world views constantly through social media. I believe that if they are made aware of what the Catholic Church teaches on many of the hot-button topics, and the beauty in the truth of it, it would empower them to stand up for what is right in a world that needs them so much.”
RENEW Theology on Tap-Torrington is open to Catholics and non-Catholics ages 20-39. You don’t have to live in Torrington, and you don’t have to drink alcohol – theology will still be on tap.
For more information, call Marlene Carrier at 860-309-7855 or email TheologyTapTorrington@gmail.com.