Cap's Corner: Pastor Cap suggests "Beer and the Bible" study at Blackwell VFW

by Cap McIlnay

As I walked in, I could not help but notice how the odor of cigarettes assaulted my sense of smell. Not just those cigarettes that are smoking now, but the echoes of cigarettes smoked years ago. The lights are dim, and just a few men are sitting at the bar. There is some noise coming from the pool-room, letting me know that there is a decent crowd of people enjoying themselves while playing pool.

Yep, this is the Veterans of Foreign Wars building – my VFW. There are sections of the place that have had carpet on the wall since the Johnson administration. It has issues with leaks in the roof. The ceiling tiles – all of them – need to be replaced, not to mention the carpet. There are places where there is more duct tape than carpet. Yep, my VFW.

I joined the VFW a little over a year ago, and in that time, there have been some improvements. But not many, not yet.

One of the rules at the VFW is this: There is to be a member there almost all the time the bar is open. Most of the time, this is not an issue. But every once in a while, I might need to step in for a couple of hours.

So, here I am, a Methodist pastor walking into a bar. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but there is no joke. I always feel … should I say, uncomfortable? Hypocritical?

I am not sure. Maybe it is fear that I feel: Fear that a member of one of my churches will call me on the carpet for this. I can understand – fully understand – why a church member might feel uncomfortable with his pastor walking into a bar.

Don’t get me wrong. In the Methodist denomination, we do not consider having a drink or two a sin. Getting drunk would be a sin, but drinking responsibly is not. I mean, I like having a really cold beer when I eat Mexican food, and there are times I will have a beer, or a glass of wine, or even a glass of Crown and Coke at home.

So, why do I feel the way that I do, when I do the same at the VFW, my VFW? I mean, I have earned the right to be a member in good standing at the VFW. I have served my country during Operation Desert Storm.

Many of you have heard my story about going to Sud-Suckers. I go maybe three or four times a year, and I am always welcomed there. I have a beer or two with the fellows, and because I am willing to walk into a bar and share a drink with some of the fellows, some of those fellows have a stronger walk with Jesus. And this was because I went once a quarter.

That first night that I went to the VFW to be the member representative, I did not walk up to the bar except to order a beer. Then I walked into the main room that is hardly ever used, where the lights are rarely turned on. I turned on all of the lights (I don’t like dark rooms), and I sat at the big white folding table and sipped on my beer.

I spent the time looking at my phone until one young lady came to speak to me. She knew who I was, and she sat down across from me and started with some small talk. I waited as she talked about this or that because I knew she did not come to talk to me for the heck of it. Soon enough, she came to the point. She came to talk to me because I was a pastor, and she so desperately needed to talk to a pastor.

Right there, in the VFW – my VFW – I was doing what pastors do: I was counseling to a child of God. And she needed to hear and feel God that night. We laughed, we shared tears, and we prayed. We did all of that in the VFW, and you know what that is called? It’s called church.

Soon, she bounced up, lighter than she was when she had sat down, and went back to her friends in the pool room smiling and laughing. Soon after, another lady, closer to my age, walked in. She got herself a beer, said “Hi” to me because she knew me, and walked into the pool room. Soon enough, she was sitting across the table from me. You know what happened. It is what always happens when you bring Jesus into the world of pain, into the world of the broken, into our world … even in the VFW.

I had seen this play out at Sud-Suckers, but I didn’t act on it. All of the dots where there, but I was blind. It took my experience at the VFW to show me what God had been trying to show me. I have found a real love of God, a real thirst for the Word of God, but also a real fear of church. This fear is both external and internal. The men and women I am speaking of either feel that they would automatically be judged if they walked into a church, or they feel they are not good enough themselves.

I could go on and talk about how much truth there is in both situations, at least in their eyes, but that is not the primary concern.

My primary concern is that these people, all people, can come to Christ and discover that they are indeed good enough, and that they might not need church for their salvation. But I know that I know that the church needs them for its salvation.

Next week, I am going to officially ask the VFW if we can use the Bingo Hall, so that people under 21 can also participate. We will have coffee, water, sodas, beers, and other drinks. That is not the point, and do not make that the point. The point – the only point worthy of talking about – is that we will be there, in the name of Jesus, in fellowship, and studying His Word. We can call it “Beer and the Bible,” but the truth is that it is worshipping God. Amen!