If not for the ketchup bottles and dirty silverware, the small globes of light adorning each table would give the room in Boone Tavern a celestial feel. The crowd quietly chatters until John Frymire, an assistant professor of history at MU, stands and brings the group to order.
Frymire moved to Columbia with his wife and children in 2001 and joined Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Columbia. Frymire had studied for eight years in Germany at the University of Tubingen and had worked at the Vatican in Rome. During that time, he was inspired by roundtable-like discussions in which historians, theologians and priests met in informal settings to discuss topics that weren’t part of the church’s usual dialogue.
“Catholics, if they are lucky enough, get through a Catholic school or at least Sunday school, and you learn all these things,” he says. “But when you are 18 or 22, you are cut off from that and you basically only go to church through your adulthood.”
When Sister Pat Hall asked Frymire to join Sacred Heart’s Adult Faith Formation program, he proposed inviting church members and others to gather regularly to discuss current events, church teachings and the history of Catholicism. Church Issues on Tap is held at Boone Tavern on the first Monday of each month, except during the summer and on holidays. The program is modeled on Theology on Tap, which originated 20 years ago in Chicago and has spread throughout Catholic communities in the United States.
The 25 to 30 people who usually show up, eat, sip wine and discuss the readings and information that Frymire posts on Sacred Heart’s Web site. Frymire said he thinks it is important for the participants to understand some of the history and issues before they come to the meeting so that it leads to intelligent, spirited discussions.
While some of the topics are more issue oriented, like October’s session on stem cells, other topics focus on the Catholic Church’s history. In March 2006, the group learned about the structure of the Vatican offices. Another session described women’s role in the history of the church and how their role has changed through the years.
“People who call themselves Catholic need to realize what that entails,” Frymire says. “It helps to know the history of the church, the differences from other churches, how it is similar, what its teachings are and what the dissent is from members in the church.”
Frymire said he would like to encourage members from Columbia’s Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, the St. Thomas More Newman Center, and even non-Catholics to join the discussion.
The next meeting on Monday will focus on Catholic theology and public policy. In anticipation of the upcoming election, the discussion will include topics such as immigration, bioethics, abortion and income inequality.
Hall said Church Issues on Tap is an important opportunity for Catholics to express their opinions.
“This is a growth pattern that is significant for adults,” Hall said. “When people have to defend and articulate their faith, they clarify what they believe and they learn from other people’s experiences and ideas.”