FLORENCE — St. Ann Church has a fun, new way to teach Catholics the basics about their faith.
Since June, the parish has been hosting “Theology on Tap” events on the first Wednesday of each month. Adults gather in private homes or at the church fellowship hall for informal catechesis.
The Theology on Tap program first surfaced in Arlington Heights, Ill., in 1981, and was founded by Fathers John Cusick and Jack Wall. The two priests came up with the idea after hearing a recent college graduate say he wanted to learn more about the meaning of life and his Catholic identity.
Theology on Tap sessions frequently take place in bars and restaurants, and were originally designed for young adults who might not respond to discussions of faith topics in a more formal atmosphere. Over the past 27 years, the program has spread to dioceses around the world. In South Carolina, events have been held in Charleston, Columbia and the Upstate.
Father John Zimmerman, administrator at St. Ann, said he attended a few Theology on Tap events in the Chicago area prior to entering seminary. He also helped organize sessions when he worked at Blessed Sacrament Church in Charleston shortly after he was ordained.
“It’s generated a lot of excitement here,” he said. “People have enjoyed it because it’s answered some important questions they had.”
Each session in Florence has a different theme, some of which are suggested by participants. Father Zimmerman has also asked parishioners to help lead sessions.
The theme on Nov. 5 was the role of Mary and the saints. Father Zimmerman said many of the faithful do not understand the real reasons that both are so crucial to the faith.
“It’s an important thing to know, especially in this predominantly Protestant area where we have people who have an issue with it and ask why we ‘worship’ Mary and the saints,” he said. “Through this, we were trying to help the participants understand why are these people important, why are they so special, and what purpose do they really serve in the Catholic faith.”
Each Theology on Tap has a slightly different format. The November event was set up similar to the popular game show “Jeopardy,” with people receiving an answer first and then providing the corresponding question.
Father Zimmerman said St. Ann member Tina Kubilius thought of the game show after she used it with students at St. Anthony School in Florence. Kubilius has been one of the main organizers for Theology on Tap since it started.
For the game, they used a Power Point program with a Jeopardy format, and projected the questions and answers on a screen.
“It got a great reception,” Father Zimmerman said, “we’ll probably use that format again down the road.”
The December event will probably be similar to bingo and the theme will be aspects of sin and the sacrament of reconciliation.
“We’ll talk about the components of sin and what makes a valid confession, and why the priest is important as opposed to just confessing our sins to another person,” he said.
Attendance has ranged from 20 people at the first session to more than 50 in recent months. While most participants are from St. Ann, some are visitors from other parishes.
Father Zimmerman, Kubilius and other organizers have planned topics for the next several months.
“I told them we weren’t going to do this piecemeal,” he said. “If people sense that it’s not just thrown together and there’s a commitment on behalf of the parish to do this well, they will invest their two hours a month to come.”
Kubilius had never attended a Theology on Tap event before June, but decided to become involved after she researched its history. She has helped organize most of the programs, and said variety helps with the goal of education and evangelization.
“We try to shake it up a little bit every time, it’s not just somebody standing and lecturing,” she said. “There’s a lot of group involvement, and one program included a lot of music.”
She said regular attendees include everyone from college students to grandparents. One family has three generations attending.
“Adults that maybe aren’t interested in the seriousness of a Bible study come out and learn more about their faith in a relaxed setting,” Kubilius said. “I think they’re enjoying the fact that there’s no pressure, that they can have fun while they’re learning.”
The next Theology on Tap will take place from 7-9 p.m. Dec. 3 at St. Ann Church hall, located at 113 South Kemp St. in Florence.