The pastor sits down, cracks a beer, takes out his guitar and sings "Let it Be." Right away, you know this is not a typical church service.
"We were just talking about how has religion changed in the 21st century," said Beth Stelz, one of the founders of Pub Chat, which meets Thursday evenings at The Irish Embassy Pub. "How do you reach out to people? How do we provide a gathering where people can be comfortable and get something out of it?"
Pub Chat, which is about 6 weeks old, is the brainchild of Stelz, Chandler Jackson, Emma Timboe and the Rev. John Knutson from Christ the King Lutheran Church. They will rotate through the leadership role to bring different perspectives to the group.
"We wanted an inviting, nonjudgmental, interactive place," Stelz said of the interfaith group.
Organizers say everyone is welcome, from the devout churchgoer to those who are seeking spiritual connections and healing.
"It's nice to have a bridge to church, get outside those four walls and be downtown," Knutson said. "It's a really laid back kind of structure."
On Sept. 9, about 10 people gathered, ranging in age from early 20s to senior citizens, to sing songs "you'd never hear in church," discuss a scripture lesson and pray. The conversation is far-ranging, from the historical to personal,Biblical toliterary.
"It's the interactive part that's a great experience," participant Jen Adair said. "You go to church, listen and it has meaning, touches you. But it's not a discussion. I never found myself referencing the Gospel before this."
Adair said she has found herself bringing up ideas from the discussion in other places, such as her book group.
Most people who attend once tend to come back, except for the family from Colorado Springs that was visiting Durango.
"The mom was texting her friends how cool it was," Knutson said with a grin, "and the teenage daughter was tweeting that she couldn't believe her parents were dragging her to church in a bar. By the end, she was glad they did."
One of the big challenges was naming the gathering.
"What do we call this thing?" Stelz asked. "Some of us struggle with that when one word can be embracing or turn someone away."
One idea was "PB and J," Jackson said, or Pizza, Beer and Jesus.
Calling it Pub Chat came about because The Irish Embassy gave them the space. But when Stelz asked her cousin Julie Windsor Mitchell, a chaplain at Northwestern University, and Mitchell's husband, Ian, an editor and designer at the Chicago Tribune, for names, he came up with some ideas.
"If I understand it right, you want some short, pithy phrases, like 'God can reach you in the pew or the bar stool,' or 'The church is brewing up something new,' or 'What's on tap for Lutherans?'" Ian Mitchell wrote, with Stelz substituting Christians because the group is not Lutheran. "A pint of piety? Suds 'n' sermons?"
The suggestions made her smile, Stelz said. While the discussions can be personal and powerful at Pub Chats, the lightness also is an important part of the picture.
"Ultimately, the Bible tells us who we are and who God is ...," Knutson points out in a January 2010 article from The Lutheran called "Seriously Funny Bible Study."
"And, just like life, the Bible is filled with it all: beauty, wisdom, sensuality, betrayal, love, violence, broiled fish and humor," he said.
And for those questioning the wisdom of meeting in a pub? Jesus turned water into wine. And Martin Luther, the German priest who initiated the Protestant Reformation, was known to keep a well-watered household, according to a Public Broadcasting Service documentary, "Martin Luther and the Reformation."
Irish Embassy Pub manager Phillip Brennan from Dublin, said having the group meet there is nothing new in the pub business.
"It's a public house," he said. "In Ireland, Irish Catholics gather at pubs, and in England, so do the Anglicans. We've got room for everything from soccer to religion."