Once a month, craft beer enthusiasts from a Mahtomedi church get together in a unique ministry that combines brewing with Bible study.
They call themselves the WWJB Club, which stands for What Would Jesus Brew. It's a variation of a Christian phrase commonly used on wristbands: WWJD or What Would Jesus Do.
Started by St. Andrew's Lutheran pastor Brian Norsman, the mostly male group shares two things outside the church: the art of home brewing beer and a devotion to Jesus Christ. The two easily complement each other, he said, in the atmosphere of fellowship.
"Jesus met people where they were at in their lives. As a church, we have to think about meeting people where they're at — whether in their hobbies or whatever it might be. Craft brewing has really taken off the last couple of years. We're tapping into people's passions about brewing and combining it with God's word. It's one more way to bring a sense of community and faith together."
Norsman has been home brewing in his basement on and off for 15 years. To hone his hobby and quench his spiritual soul, the youth and family ministry pastor went on sabbatical to Belgium and Germany last year, visiting monasteries and observing centuries-old brewing traditions.
"Throughout the ages, water was unsanitary so people brewed beer. The Benedictine monks have a long history of brewing the Trappist brand. They make the best beer in the world," according to Norsman.
The pastor visited about seven monasteries in the western European countries. "There was a spiritual piece first in my visits," he said. "The by-product was their gift of hospitality, but in moderation. They provide pilgrims one beer at lunch and one beer at dinner. They had wonderful pairings of beer and food."
Both Norsman and a fellow WWJB club member, Dave Kroschel, extolled the virtues of home brew.
"There is a creative process, a magical process, about making beer from water, yeast and grain," they said. "God has given us this creativity and we are tapping it. When you make beer, anything happens.
"We thought, let's create a small group out of this and combine this creative process of brewing with spirituality," Norsman said.
Kroschel, who is a United Hospital physician and an experienced home brewer, said fellowship is a good word for what they do. "Not only do we brew and bottle beer every month, we also spend time in prayer and devotion," he said. "There is a spiritual piece. We are getting church out of the church."
As someone who makes beer from scratch, called all-grain brewing, Kroschel is more of a purist when it comes to home brew.
"We all aspire to be all-grain brewers like Dave," Norsman said. "Of course, some of the really good beers that win contests have come from kits."
"That's heresy," Kroschel countered, to which Norsman quipped, "that's a good church word. You have to quote that one."
The once-a-month brewing get-togethers are a way to evangelize, to get the word out to people who don't care for the other social activities a church may offer, added Kroschel. Men especially.
"There are a lot of church guys who don't fit into men's breakfasts or traditional Bible study, but do fit into something like this," he said, "and there can be a Wild game on TV in the background."
Norsman agreed. "It may sound like a man cave mentality, but women have attended. We try not to be exclusive," he said. "I've also heard of churches having brewoffs. Wouldn't it be cool to brew against the Catholics for charity? We could have an ecumenical brew off."
The pastor admitted he felt a "tiny bit of angst" about putting a story about the club in the paper. "We always worry about the church and alcohol connection. But this is about moderation and fellowship. That's what I noticed with the monks. It's really a special thing to watch beer happen."
A worship-type service called Beer and Hymns was also offered last winter at The Dugout in Mahtomedi. The first time about 100 people attended and the second month, 200 showed up. "It's different. People who have never darkened the doors of a church have shown up at this place," the pastor noted. "Basically we eat and have fellowship. There's a live band and we sing hymns. And there is beer."
Does Norsman think Jesus drank beer? "Well, he definitely drank wine. In the Bible, I don't know if there is a specific reference to beer, but there is a lot about wine. It's the same fermentation process. It's very possible Jesus drank beer. He hung out with people who were considered outcasts. He was criticized for eating with sinners and drunkards. My guess, he probably did."