cheers for church


    This has been one of those weeks where Ginger’s schedule and mine leave us feeling as though we live in different time zones, so I rode with her to her meeting on the other side of Boston just so we could have time in the car together both going and coming back. While she went to work, I spent a couple of hours in the Cherry Tree Pub in West Newton, Mass. – and it was time well spent.

    The room was lit mostly by the two giant flat screen HD TVs that have probably never been on any other channels than ESPN or a Sox game. The left half of the shotgun room was taken up by a long wooden bar and the kitchen (in the back half of the room); the right side had a few booths. One woman, whose name was Pam I quickly learned since I was the only one who entered the bar without calling her name, was the server for the front of the house and there was one cook in the kitchen. They had almost as many different kinds of draft beers as they had customers at the bar. Pam knew what everyone was drinking the minute the walked in.

    What mattered most to me was they had Guinness. I spent my evening with a big black beer and a cherry tree (with apologies to KT Tunstall). Sitting in a neighborhood bar in Boston, I couldn’t help but think of the theme song from Cheers all those years ago:

    making your way in the world today
    takes everything you’ve got

    taking a break from all your worries

    sure would help a lot

    wouldn’t you like to get away

    sometimes you want to go
    where everybody knows your name

    and they’re always glad you came.
    you wanna be where you can see

    our troubles are all the same

    you wanna be where everybody
    knows your name

    you wanna go where people know
    people are all the same

    you wanna go where
    everybody knows your name

    From the time I first heard that song, I’ve thought (like many others) the sentiment expressed what church should be: a place where you belong and everyone knows your name. Don’t we all wish we could walk into the church building and be greeted like Norm when he walked into the bar every afternoon? Which reminds me of my favorite exchanges on the show.

    Sam: “Hey, what’s happening Norm?”
    Norm: “Well, it’s a dog eat dog world Sammy, and I’m wearing Milk Bone underwear.”

    Last night I spent about an hour longer at a church planning meeting than I spent in the pub tonight. Everyone in the room was in a place where everybody knew their name. We had come together to talk about our plans for the near future and to dream about what we hope might (or might not) happen in the days farther out than we can see from here. We are a congregation that has worked hard to learn how to communicate openly and forthrightly with one another. We’ve done a pretty good job of diffusing any pew side bombs that may have been lying around. We like each other. We love our church. We want the best for our congregation in the days to come and we want to reflect Christ’s love in what we do and say. Even so, coming to consensus is often about as easy as herding cats.

    To find togetherness in a Boston bar, all you have to do is love beer and the Red Sox. This review of the Cherry Tree makes my point:

    Went here on Friday night. I can’t say the bartender was friendly, but it was a decent pub. It’s a long story about how the night ended, but the bar was ok. EDIT- I am moving this up to 4 stars cause me and the bartender are cool now…actually both bartenders. Typical Boston, ya know? Everyone is all cold at first, then they get to know you, and you’re in like Flint. What does that mean, anyway? (holly m.)

    Well, Holly, according to World Wide Words, the phrase is “in like Flynn” and “It’s suggested by some writers that the phrase really originated with another Flynn, Edward J Flynn — “Boss” Flynn — a campaign manager for the Democratic party during FDR’s presidency. Flynn’s machine in the South Bronx in New York was so successful at winning elections that his candidates seemed to get into office automatically.”

    As I’ve mentioned before, we, like many UCC churches, begin our services with someone saying, “Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” I love those words and, tonight, I’m struck that the reason church can’t be just like Cheers is because we have more at stake when we gather. If it were just beer and baseball, or if it were just being welcomed, we’d all be in like Flynn, but what we were saying last night was even more profound, I think: “Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you belong here – or at least that’s what we’re shooting for.”

    That’s hard work.

    As the meeting wore on last night, I could see the issues on which belonging hinged for different people; they weren’t the same for everyone. What made one passionate left another passive. What seemed urgent from one point of view was almost unnecessary from another. Long range church planning is a paradox on the cusp of a conundrum: it’s crucial work that can’t really be done with any specificity short of saying, “What we want to do for the next fifty years is follow Jesus.”

    When we brush up against the mysterious ambiguity to which we are called, the institutional spontaneity, the faithful irreverence, the communal disquietude, then we are truly a place where our names are known, where we belong, and where we can most certainly find someone willing to go out for a beer when it’s all over.



    1. Milton, I have known at least one pastor who felt he was wearing MilkBone underwear.

      He’s not a pastor any more.

      This is a wonderful post, and is at the heart of what I think I try to say in interviews… worship is the heart of what we do together, but relationships are foremost– they are the content of what we bring when we worship, the fullness of who we are.

      Cheers, C.

    2. Hi Milton,

      “In Like Flint” is the title of a 1967 film starring James Coburn – the sequel to “Our Man Flint” 1966.

    3. Anonymous:

      The Coburn movie intended the title as a play on words; over the years, people have begun to think “Flint” is the real word.


      Thanks for the kind word; you are now part of the blog roll.


    4. Wow…great post and you have touched on something that we have been trying to communicate in our congregation. By South Carolina standards, we are a large Lutheran church, about 1200 members. In a church of this size we often find it challenging to provide that “place where everyone knows your name.”

      Thanks for this post and thanks for the great blog. I am enjoying it very much. drop by my place if you get the chance.

      As the lady said earlier….Cheers!

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