It might not be as popular as St. Francis or St. Patrick, but growing numbers of beer-loving believers in Colorado Springs and around the country are raising their glasses to St. Arnold, the patron saint of hop-pickers and brewers.
"From man's sweat and God's love, beer came into the world," said Arnold, a seventh-century abbot of one of France's many beer-brewing monasteries.
Chapel of Our Saviour Episcopal Church will host its second annual Feast of St. Arnold on Saturday. Event organizer Brian Bennett says the goal is to celebrate some of Colorado's better beers, wines and spirits while also promoting faith, family, healthy living and charity.
The event - which features tastings, food vendors, a children's area and a Volksmarch (a popular European form of walking exercise) - is a fundraiser for Westside CARES, which serves the city's needy.
The event also includes tours of a beautiful but rarely seen century-old church property that's snugly tucked away behind brick walls and iron gates.
"We're looking for ways to attract new people to our church, which is hidden away so well in the Broadmoor neighborhood that people who drive by don't even know what it is," said Bennett, a financial adviser who dresses as St. Arnold for the event.
"Last year we had to cut locks off the gates so we could welcome our guests in. That's symbolic of what we are trying to do."
Some 500 people attended last year's feast, which took place while the Black Forest fire burned. Bennett says he's prepared 1,500 wristbands for this year's event.
'I was struck to the heart'
A wine connoisseur for decades, Bennett was won over to beer by the work of quality-conscious craft brewers such as fellow Chapel of Our Saviour members Mike and Amanda Bristol of Bristol Brewing Co.
"Craft beers are piquing people's interest in beverages that have some of the complexities and flavors that have heretofore been ascribed to fine wines," said Bennett, who with his wife, Becky, has published two "BrewDogs of Colorado" books about the state's beer makers' canine companions.
Bennett was raised in the Evangelical United Brethren denomination but drifted away from church during college. He's been a regular at Chapel of Our Saviour since experiencing a spiritual reawakening there in 1978.
"My friends and I were playing bridge late one Saturday night when they said they needed to go home and get an hour's sleep before going to church in the morning," he said.
"They picked me up for the 11 o'clock service. I was not used to the liturgical church, but I was struck to the heart."
Consume but be not consumed
Psalm 104 praises God for many of his gifts, including "wine that gladdens human hearts," but other Bible passages condemn drunkenness.
The first miracle Jesus performed was to transform water into wine at a wedding feast. But Jesus probably would have turned water into beer if he had been incarnated in Texas, says author, bar owner and Episcopal priest William Miller in his lighthearted book, "The Beer Drinker's Guide to God."
Catholics and Episcopalians still use real wine for their sacrament of the Eucharist, but Protestant churches vary widely in their views on alcohol. Luther and Calvin were beer drinkers, and Pilgrims and Puritans brought beer with them from Europe to the New World. But today, some of their descendants forbid alcohol consumption and use grape juice during communion services.
Nearly a century after America's brief experiment with Prohibition, some evangelical institutions such as California's Biola University and Chicago's Moody Bible Institute have loosened their rules on alcohol. And churches around the country are hosting alcohol-related events. Catholics nationwide host "Theology on Tap" gatherings at bars. Locally, members of Saint Peter Catholic Church in Monument organize Theology on Tap events at Pikes Peak Brewing Co.
Protestants have events such as "Beer, Bible and Brotherhood" and "What Would Jesus Brew?" according to a story on CNN's Belief blog.
Bennett helped start a home brew fellowship group at Chapel of Our Saviour.
"Half a dozen guys spend an afternoon together brewing," he said, "and it's during the down times together that the Jesus conversations break out."
Two simple beliefs unite today's faith-based beer fellowships. First, that God cares not only for people's holiness but also their happiness. Second, that beer - if handled responsibly - can indeed gladden the human heart.
"It's a balance," said Bennett, who acknowledges the dangers of abuse and alcoholism. "Scripture tells us to celebrate God's gifts, and beer is a blessing if it is used in the right way. But too much of anything can bring you down.
"We're family people. We're responsible about how we deal with alcohol. And our security guys at the Feast won't tolerate bad behavior."
For Bennett, the chance to honor St. Arnold is part of what is best about being an Episcopalian.
"One of the things I appreciate about the Episcopal Church is that you don't have to check your brain at the door," he said. "You're actually encouraged to think your way through your own theology and work out your own way of living your Christian life."
The Feast of St. Arnold
Noon-4:30 p.m. June 14, Chapel of Our Saviour, 8 Fourth St. Tickets are $25 to $55. For details and schedule of events, visit feastofsaintarnold.com.