Laugh at the darkness

By Casey Weatherford

Special Contributor

The brewery taproom is crowded tonight. Stools line long community tables. Seats and pint glasses are full. Their contents are as varied as the crowd: pale ale, porter, or Belgian wheat; root beer, Cabernet, or Diet Coke. The place is humming with conversation.

Casey Weatherford

At one end of the room, an older couple laughs with church friends. At the other, a bearded man watches football on the big screen. Young parents entertain a baby with brewery coasters. Bartenders chat with regulars. In the corner, there is a woman who almost didn’t come, until she felt a nudge from God in the grocery store parking lot. 

Suddenly, the strum of a guitar draws all attention to the front of the taproom, and we sing: 

All creatures of our God and King

Lift up your voice and with us sing,

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou burning sun with golden beam,

Thou silver moon with softer gleam!

O praise Him! O praise Him!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

We finish the last rousing refrain and go right into “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing,” then “Be Thou My Vision.” Then it’s on to the barnstompers: a medley of “I’ll Fly Away,” “I Saw the Light,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The set list is also dotted with cover songs following a monthly theme: Love Songs (February), Flower Power (May) or Back to School (August).

This is Beer and Hymns. This motley mix of locals gathers on a weekend evening once a month, shaking hands and passing song sheets. Some know these hymns by heart; others have never sung them before. Some are regular churchgoers; others have sworn off organized religion. But in this place, something special happens. As voices and glasses are raised, divisions dissolve and hearts are softened. Hands reach across tables, and powerful connections are made. This is a truly communal experience, bringing people together and reminding us that we’re not that different after all. 

My husband, Ken, and I are the leaders of Bentonville Beer and Hymns, and each time I stand on the tiny stage and gaze out over my microphone, I am astounded and moved by this phenomenon. 

Each time, I hear echoes:

Echoes of the camaraderie at Cana.

Echoes of the 12 friends around the table with their teacher. 

Echoes of the Wesley brothers singing and laughing with parishioners.

Echoes of all the times in our travels that we have gathered around tables and shook a hand, shared a story, and toasted to life.  

We end every Beer and Hymns gathering with the same song, called “All of the Hard Days are Gone.” People throw arms around shoulders, sway, and sing with gusto: 

We’ll laugh at the darkness and dance until dawn

All of the hard days are gone.

It is here that we laugh at the darkness: the darkness that claims our differences are too great; the darkness that keeps us sheltered and comfortable; the darkness that denies a brewery can be holy ground.

Pull up a stool. Let’s laugh at the darkness together.

Weatherford, a graphic designer, lives in Bentonville, where she is an active member of First UMC.