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The Chant at this Sacred Ritual is Cheers

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It was a Saturday evening, and attending would mean spending two days in a row in church. Nevertheless, many of the congregation gathered in fellowship for a sacred ritual — the annual beer contest.

Jesus had wine. We have beer... well, except for one couple who brought wine made from grapes on their own farm. That’s what its like to be a Unitarian Universalist. Organize a beer contest, advertise it for weeks, clearly explain the rules... and there surely will be a group that brings wine.

This behavior actually fits two of the seven principles that guide our congregation’s time together: the interdependent web of all existence, and a fair and responsible search for meaning. We accept that hops and grapes inhabit the earth together, and we can acknowledge that as long as the wine growers really questioned and really clearly understood their commitment to the grape instead of the hop, they can be with us. The magic of it, where the leap of faith comes in, is that the oenophiles knew it would be okay to show up. You don’t get that in every church.

We’ve been holding this beer thing for four years. I’ve always been part of the Lingering Goddess Brewing Team, and this year I’m Queen Goddess. This power position means I’m in charge of scheduling the meetings and... well, really, that’s all. As per contest rules, we invite at least one non-church member to join us each brewing season. Thus, we keep the energy flowing, share our faith with others, and get to try new appetizers. It’s important not to become too insular.

So we join together in fellowship, technically attempting a fund-raiser, although, unfortunately, not much of one. Most of the people attending are on a brewing team. The guests may choose to give a $20 donation, but since the guests are usually spouses of the team members, they mostly just sneak in. Then there is the $5 contribution for guessing the “imposter” beer — a keg of store-bought.

Besides the beer competition, there are prizes for best snack and best skit. You might say we like to create an all-around marketing platform.

This year the Lingering Goddesses featured Persuasion beer, an Imperial Russian stout, with bold, dark coloring and a richly satisfying head. We based our marketing theme on the slogan “Persuasion beer makes everything seem like a good idea.” Our runner-up title choice was Conversion beer. While bottling one evening, we thought of great ideas that involved converting the Lutherans from down the block. The skit possibilities accompanying the slogan “Baptized in a Barrel” had us pretty stoked, but in the end, logistics involving barrel size, clothing options, and their minister kept cropping up.

Following the skits, the tastings, and back-door politicking, the Lingering Goddesses take home, as usual, most of the prizes. The wine-makers get our admiration and our heartfelt wishes that they come again next year. Their presence among us affirms our position of tolerance towards all.

The next day, we sleepy beer-makers mostly all show up for the Sunday service. I look across the pews at my fellow goddesses and am proud of the journey we’ve made, from our first bottle-washing to the awarding of all the medals I proudly wear. We’ve traveled a great distance together. And we will rise from the suds again next year — ribbing each other for past blunders, creatively rearranging our memories of past glory, and planning our marketing campaigns. I may want to revisit Conversion beer. Maybe work something out with the Congregationalists across town. We might need to add a little more prayer to the hops before we take on the Lutherans.


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