Come to Church: There’s Beer! And Ice-skating! British Congregations Try Non-traditional Methods to Get People Into the House of God

The Rev. Stuart Cradduck hosted a ‘Land of Hops and Glory’ beer festival at St. Wulfram’s Church this month. (Photo: Zoe Dannenmueller)
The Rev. Stuart Cradduck hosted a ‘Land of Hops and Glory’ beer festival at St. Wulfram’s Church this month. (Photo: Zoe Dannenmueller)

“A half a Revelation, please.” The Rev. Stuart Cradduck allowed the theological implications of the request to hang in the air for a moment.

“Why settle for half when you could have a full revelation?” Mr. Cradduck answered.

Then he turned to the bank of wooden kegs under the stained-glass windows to fill the beer-lover’s order.

It was the last Saturday in November and Mr. Cradduck, the rector of St. Wulfram’s Church in this Midlands town, was serving behind an improvised bar in the church, dressed in a black cassock and clerical collar. With events like the “Land of Hops and Glory” beer festival, Mr. Cradduck and other Anglican modernizers are trying to make their churches hubs of increasingly secular communities.

For a Christmas-tree festival last year, Mr. Cradduck had an ice-skating rink installed inside St. Wulfram’s and, next year, he will put in a ski slope for toboggan runs in the 15,000-square-foot space. While many congregants love the new spirit of fun, some traditionalists question what they see as the incursion of the profane upon the sacred.

“I believe the church is about—and Christianity is about—inclusivity and welcoming people,” Mr. Cradduck said. “This building is over 1,000 years old. The bricks are soaked in prayer but actually, they’re also soaked in people’s joy and sadness and in the community. This was always a place that was the center of the community.”

During the three-day beer festival an estimated 2,000 people soaked the bricks with beer fumes. The bustle and mirth of the bar area could have been mistaken for that of a tavern, were it not for the grandeur of the stone Gothic arches, blue-painted sanctuary ceiling and intricately carved wood on all sides.

Some people stood with their heads lowered solemnly in pamphlets, like the devout at Sunday service. Rather than hymn sheets, however, they were poring over the 50-plus beverages on the craft beer list.

Dark ales included Black Mass (alcohol content: 6.66%; Mr. Cradduck’s take: “Sorry, I don’t do those”) and Black Jesus. Sinners could ask for Absolution (“mid-straw coloured beer with aromas of tropical fruit and mangoes,” according to the list), or even Salvation (which came with promise of an eternal “crisp clean bitterness on the finish”).

Many of the beers were existing products from craft breweries around England sourced by enthusiasts from the Campaign for Real Ale, who helped put on the festival. A couple were made to order, including Father Stuart ale, named for the rector.

Mr. Cradduck, 42 years old, wasn’t in it for the beer. Not a beer drinker, he limited himself to one of the ciders on offer.

Nor was the festival designed “to get extra bums on seats,” said Mr. Cradduck.

First and foremost he aimed to change the perception of St. Wulfram’s as an “austere, frightening building.”

The Church of England has dealt with dwindling attendance for decades. In the 10 years up to last year, attendance has fallen by 10% to 15%, according to an October 2016 estimate from the denomination. About 960,000, or less than 2% of the roughly 55 million people living in England, attended weekly services in the nation’s established church in 2015, according to the survey.

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