Church hopes its special ale will get pub regulars into Christmas spirit

THERE used to be a time when churches could rely on being filled on a weekly basis, come rain or shine.

• The Rev Bryan Kerr of Greyfriars Parish Church sings carols with South Lanarkshire Council staff at the Clydesdale Inn in Lanark

But dwindling congregations and ageing members have forced churches to look for ways to innovate and modernise in an attempt to get the Christian message out.

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And so members of Greyfriars Parish Church in Lanark have decided to exchange pews for bar stools in an attempt to spread the festive message with a Christmas Eve carol-singing session at a local pub, the Clydesdale Inn.

Their minister, the Rev Bryan Kerr, said that the church had looked at ways of getting their message out beyond the church.

"Christmas Eve is always a special time in our church, with our popular – and some might say lighthearted – watchnight service, but this adds a whole new dimension.

"The time when a church could open its doors and expect people to come flooding in are long gone, if they ever existed. This is a way of going out into the community and sharing the message, and we think it's important to get out there to people who might not otherwise encounter it."

In addition to the carol service, the pub will be serving Greyfriars Kirk Christmas Ale, a beer brewed specially for the event.

Craig Buchanan, brewer with Strathaven Ales, said: "We were approached by the church earlier this year to create a festive beer. Essentially, we have created an ale which has lots of cinnamon and spices to give it a mulled flavour.

"We were quite surprised by the request, but we do get churches approaching us to do tasting evenings, so it's not as if we don't have any contact with churches."

Mr Kerr acknowledged there might be those who had doubts about the church going into pubs.

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"Many people might be a bit dubious about the church going into a pub and having its own ale brewed," he said.

"However, if Jesus was here in Lanark today, I am certain that we would meet him in the most unlikely of places, possibly even in the pubs around the town, meeting and speaking to those he came across. The church is not saying that people need to drink to have a good time, but we are recognising that, at this time of year, many people enjoy a drink with friends and we want people to hear the Good News of Christmas when they are there."

The Rev Ian Galloway, convenor of the Kirk's influential Church and Society Council, supported the idea: "Ever since Victorian times, carols have been sung out and about, and the point of them is to relate the Christmas story to others, not just to keep it within the walls of the church. It is very much what the Kirk is about."

Clydesdale Inn manageress Pauline Seenan said the carol service was a welcome addition.

"We felt it was a great addition to the evening," she said.

"Obviously, it'll add a nice festive feel to the evening, but hopefully it will also bring more people in on these cold winter evenings."


WHILE taking carol services into pubs may have its roots in Victorian times, the Kirk has been looking for innovative ways to get its message out to the public.

In Bo'ness, the enterprising congregation of St Andrew's Church have rented out the premises of a former Woolworths in the town's high street and turned into a festive outreach centre.

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Passersby can pop in for coffee, join in carol services or watch special media installations about the church's work.

The congregations of Avendale and Drumclog in Strathaven set up a Prayer Point Machine in the local Co-op supermarket. This allowed for the names and problems of people written on cards and dropped anonymously into the "machine". These were collected by the church, who prayed for them at a special evening service.

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