Finding Jesus at the tavern

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By Sarah Adams
Gray Spaces Graces Column

I’ve been bartending for almost a year now. I’ve learned much about myself, others and, maybe surprisingly, Jesus during my time doing so. I’ve met so many people and heard so many stories

Adams

behind the bar. As a bartender, you can be the first to know about people’s pregnancies when they need a nonalcoholic cocktail because they’re with friends or family they haven’t told yet. You’re there when people are celebrating a promotion and when their parent just went into hospice, when their kids have been acting out and when they are reuniting with an old friend.

What I love about bartending is the humanness of it. You get people on their best days and their worst. People come to the bar to both celebrate and commiserate. When you’re behind the bar, you have to simply be with them however they come in that day. People from all walks of life share in our space and form a sense of togetherness. There’s a great deal of bonding that happens at our tavern and I’ve seen the proof of that over the last year. Our owners and managers create an environment where everyone (over 21 that is) is welcome — where they can find a piece of comfort, celebration, friendship, rest or belonging for an hour or two. A bar may not be the first place you imagine when you think of encountering Jesus, but I’m learning to see Jesus in everyone who walks through our doors.

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Jesus is in the army vet and Jesus is in the woman across from him going through a divorce. Jesus is in the group of friends reuniting for the first time in years and Jesus is in the couple at the table next to them in the midst of another exhausting argument. Jesus is in the person who just got a raise and Jesus is in the person at another table struggling to find a new job.

I’ve also learned much about listening to people with opposing opinions or perspectives in my time bartending. At first, I would do it because well, that is what I was paid to do. Yet I am learning that the more I listen, the better I can accept and love people. Even if after hearing someone’s perspective I still do not agree with the person, I can most times at least understand how they came to think the way they do. A lot of what we do to create a positive experience for people at our bar is what we, in the Diocese of Davenport, are trying to do in the next year of focusing on welcoming and belonging.

We welcome people by shaking hands and learning the names of our customers. We remember things about them beyond their drink order — their kids’ names, their job, their favorite music artist, their passions and hobbies. We foster belonging by making sure our space is one where all can feel at home. We listen to people’s stories and tell ours. We laugh with our guests and sometimes stay to spend time with them after our shifts end. We accompany people by being a place they come to whether they’re having a great day or a terrible day. We invite people to come to our bar through social media, but also personal invitation. If we are hosting an event that we know one of our regular’s would love, we reach out to them personally to tell them we’d love to see them there.

Creating the culture and environment of hospitality and welcome at our bar is not something that one or even a few people do alone, it is a team effort. It takes everyone — from the owners to the managers to the employees to our regulars. And, those of us behind the bar have to extend the same hospitality and care to each other as we do to a new guest walking in. As we in the diocese embark on this journey of welcoming and belonging, we should remember that no individual or committee can do this alone. We need each of us to employ our loving and hospitable spirits in our unique and valuable ways.

Jesus didn’t spend all of his time in the synagogue. He was out in the world. He was on the shoreline, the hillside, the city, the desert. He was with those who wouldn’t normally be in the temple. He spent his time with tax collectors and Samaritans and fishermen and women and children. If Jesus were still walking around on earth now, I wouldn’t be surprised to find him in a tavern, drink in hand, laughing with, listening to and forming relationships with those there. I think we can all be Jesus to and see Jesus in those we meet in the various places we find ourselves in life. Where is the place that you would be surprised to find Jesus? How can you find Jesus in that place?

(Sarah Adams is the Social Media coordinator for the Diocese of Davenport and bartends at a tavern in Bettendorf.)


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