'Pastor's Pilsner': Minister pitches microbrewery as social lubricant to connect with Calgarians

The Hillhurst United Church has been trying to decide for years what to do with its underused gym, built in 1955. Rev. John Pentland thinks it could make a great microbrewery that could help them reach more Calgarians.

People are starved for conversation and purpose, says Rev. John Pentland

A minister says opening a microbrewery in his Calgary church's underused gym would help people have good conversations and make connections. (CBC)

Rev. John Pentland hopes to one day sip a "Pastor's Pilsner" at his church.

Hillhurst United Church in Calgary's Kensington district has been trying to decide for years what to do with its underused gym, built in 1955.

Other ideas, like affordable housing and office space, didn't pan out, but Pentland told his congregation on Sunday he thought a microbrewery might work.

"One of the things that people are starved for right now is purpose," the minister told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

"A sense of spiritual connections and a place to have a good conversation about how we reshape the world, and those two go together."

Rev. John Pentland of Hillhurst United Church said he'd like to start a microbrewery to spark conversations between neighbours in his area. (Paul Karchut/CBC)

The goal would be to engage people in the neighbourhood, whether they're practising Christians or not.

Pentland presented the idea to his congregation in his Easter Sunday sermon — which fell on April Fool's Day — as a playful joke.

He joked the idea came to him in a vision he had after being knocked unconscious in a bike crash.

His vision showed the church gym decorated with leftover yard sale items and taps flowing with offerings titled Holy Water, Pastor's Pilsner and Bethlehem's Best. They could call the microbrewery "Revelations" or "Reformation."

Children, people of all ages, abstainers and non-drinkers — and dogs — would spend time together, chatting.

"You got to remember, Jesus didn't hang out in a temple and say come out and listen to my great sermon," he said.

"He hung out in the pubs, the microbreweries, the coffee shops, the streets.... He was on the road, entering into good conversations."

Hillhurst United Church, at 1227 Kensington Close N.W., has stood for more than 100 years. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Despite the lightheartedness of his story, he is serious about opening a microbrewery. Congregants have already approached him offering to help.

"It's not a done deal. It's a conversation, it's a playful conversation about what's possible in our space," he said. "I'm playfully serious."

The idea of running a microbrewery in a church is an old one. Monastic breweries across Germany date back more than 1,000 years.

Modern day churches in Europe and the United States also have opened breweries as a way to encourage people to spend time together.

In Calgary, Knox United Church is building a cafe offering free Wi-Fi in hopes of serving a similar purpose.

If the microbrewery happens, Pentland said they'd be aiming for a 2019 opening.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.