HEAVENLY SPIRITS

Published on: June 21, 2004

"In heaven there is no beer, that's why we drink it here."

That used to be merely the lyrics of a song, but now it's more like a religious mantra for a new church where worshipers can be filled with the holy spirits and get served salvation . . . by the glass.

GOD HAS A BUZZ

The Church at the Bar welcomes the faithful every other Tuesday to a nightclub near Denver. The flock is greeted at the door by Matt Honeycutt, a church founder who holds a pint of beer in his left hand as he welcomes the crowd with his right.

"We wanted a place where people would feel more comfortable," he says, explaining the group's rather unique house of worship.

To Mike Shepherd, the church's leader, finding God in a bar makes total sense.

WHAT ALES YOU

"That's where believers are more likely to go if they're disconnected from God and the traditional church, but still have a tugging in their heart for something more."

The ale altar attracts a crowd mostly in their 20s and 30s, who like the church's philosophy of embracing the teachings of Jesus while maintaining a wholesome environment that doesn't tolerate rowdiness or excessive boozing.

"We're not about having some drunkfest," says Shepherd, who grew up as a Southern Baptist and was ordained as a minister 17 years ago. "People say to us, 'You've got some drunks in there, some DUIs.' Well, sure, that's where I want them. Because I believe God can penetrate their hearts and reach them.

"In a lot of churches, you make mistakes and you're done. No one's 'done' at our church."

We'll drink to that!