Jerry Herships is a standup comedian turned United Methodist pastor. Herships' idea to have church in bars around Denver, Colorado is changing the way people think about church.
(Voice of the Rev. Jerry Herships) "You can do church in a Jiffy Lube. You can do church anywhere. I was a bartender for ten years. I feel at home here. Our business cards are beer coasters."
(Herships onstage) "A big round of applause for God." (applause)
The Reverend Jerry Herships spent two decades in entertainment. He was surprised when his pastor, Bill Barnes, suggested he'd make a great United Methodist pastor.
The Rev. Jerry Herships, AfterHours Denver: "I curse like a sailor. I like brown liquor, look at pretty girls. I said, 'I am not the guy to go into ministry at all.' To his credit, he said, 'Maybe you are just the guy who should go into ministry.' Once I was given permission to not be perfect or not be as holy as I thought you had to be, then it became more intriguing."
Herships: "I used to be a comedian, an emcee and a host. That's still what I am. I host these 'happy hours' for God."
(Herships onstage) "God's love, and I've said it before, is like gum on the bottom of your shoe. You cannot get rid of it."
Herships founded Afterhours Denver, a 'faith in action community' that meets on Monday nights in bars around town.
Herships: "A lot of times we don't even use the word church. We'll say, 'Come to our gathering where we're gonna celebrate God in the world.' So there is this understanding that God's doing good stuff. We need to go out and tell people about it. And bars do have a feel of joy in them."
Herships: "I'm here to chat. I'm here to make friends. I just want to be friendly. Hi sir, what's your name?"
Herships: "I had worked in entertainment for probably 25 plus years, and loved every minute of it."
(Herships on tape) "Folks, you've been fantastic. Thank you very much. Have a great night."
Herships: "Got to a place where I just found myself kind of wondering, 'So this is it?'"
Switching careers took a huge leap of faith, but Herships found a good fit at Iliff School of Theology in Colorado.
Herships: "I was 40-years-old going back to school and you know, prior to going to Iliff, I struggled getting through a People magazine, you know. How I'm gonna suddenly get through Barth? I mean, I had no idea how I was gonna do. For me one of the greatest things about going to a United Methodist seminary was they have a strong energy behind social justice and it sort of soaked my theology to recognize that the church isn't just what happens in a certain room on a certain day at a certain hour once a week. The church is bigger than that."
The John Wesley model of taking God to the people became the cornerstone of Herships' ministry. AfterHours members live their faith by feeding the homeless seven days a week.
(People handing out lunches) Homeless man: "God bless you. I'm alright."
And taking church to the streets means offering communion to everyone.
(Herships in park) "Communion for you today brother? You cool?"
Herships: "We have business people on lunch hour break. We have construction workers that'll come down, obviously the homeless community. We had one guy ride up on a bike. And we were just at the end of feeding all the people. And he said, 'Am I too late? Am I too late?' I go, 'No, you're lucky.' I said, 'We've got one sandwich left'. And he goes, 'Oh no, I don't need the sandwich. Are you done with communion?' So he didn't take the lunch. But he took communion and then rode off."
(Herships in park) "A reminder of how much God loves you, man." (Man on bike takes communion) "The flesh."
Herships knows his vision for worship may raise some eyebrows but he says new ideas are the key to reaching new members.
Herships: "Sadly, we've had more church people be more upset that we're in bars and taverns than we've had taverns and bars be upset that we're bringing God into their world. Everybody says you're doing this edgy thing-this thing that we don't see happening every day. And you know what? The reason I'm doing it is because the very structure of the church is changing to allow me to do it. The United Methodist Church is a big ship. It doesn't turn easily. And maybe when they allow things like After Hours to take place, they are creating more nimble environments where we can move and turn and swerve to meet the needs of a local community a lot quicker. Methodism is a faith that's born to be out in the world. We're not about pretension. We're here to help you have an authentic relationship with God. And I've seen that happen in cathedrals and I've seen that happen in country churches. And I've seen it happen in bars."
Jerry Herships is currently the pastor of Aspen Community United Methodist Church in Aspen, Colorado. The faith and action community Herships founded in Denver is still going strong. To learn more about AfterHours Denver, including when the next meet-up will be, visit the website.
This story was first published on February 28, 2013. It was produced by United Methodist Communications.
Media contact is Joe Iovino.