About 200 students packed Lulu’s Club Mardi Gras Tuesday night, sharply dressed with drinks in hand. What distinguished the scene from a typical Thursday night? The topic of conversation was God.
The bar played host to the Newman Center’s Father Rob Panke for “Theology on Tap,” a free event for young adults to discuss religion. Sponsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, Tuesday was the first of a “Six Pack” of Theology on Tap events.
Conversation centered on the topic “Is God only for good people?”
Panke discussed famous Biblical figures who were not “good” but were still accepted by God, including Moses and David.
He drew laughter from the crowd with his informal manner, especially while telling a Bible story in which Moses killed a man who hit a Jew.
“He slew an Egyptian then hid him in the sand,” Panke said. “That sounds like a Mafia hit.”
Susan Gibbs, director of communications for the Archdiocese, said the event is held in a bar as a way to “create a casual atmosphere where people can have fun.”
The Theology on Tap program began with a Roman Catholic priest in Chicago in 1981 and came to D.C. in January 2001. It was originally held at Irish Times on Capitol Hill, then at Mackey’s downtown but moved to Lulu’s because turnout at previous events was larger than the bars could handle.
Gibbs said similar events are held around the area, including another Theology on Tap at Whitlow’s on Wilson in Arlington, Va., and a Roman Catholic coffeehouse in Maryland.
People were encouraged to stay and mingle after Panke’s talk. Gibbs said some people in attendance went to confession with a priest at the club’s DJ booth.
She said the non-traditional venue helps draw more people.
“You can have the exact same talk in a parish and half or a quarter of the people would come,” she said. “Why not bring religion to where they are?”
Events such as this can also raise people’s awareness of religious groups.
“(The event) can surprise people. They don’t realize the church goes beyond the church wall,” Gibbs said. She said many young people in D.C. are from other areas and might not know about churches or interact much with young Catholics in the area.
Jewish students are also hosting a party at Tequila Grill Saturday as a fundraiser for Hillel.
Senior Danny Varon, organizer of the event, said he chose Tequila Grill because students know where it is and it will give Hillel a higher profile around campus. There will not be religious speakers or discussions at the event.
Gibbs said she does not see any conflict hosting a religion talk at a bar. She mentioned the first miracle Jesus is said to have is turning water into wine.
“We encourage people to be responsible,” she said. “This is the kind of event where people nurse their drinks.”
Panke said he makes sure to note people can have beers or sodas in e-mails he sends out about the event.
Students in attendance said they did not come to drink and saw no problem with the location.
“There’s nothing wrong with drinking, as long as it’s not in excess,” junior Luis Burgos said.
“It’s not like we come to get wasted,” sophomore Melanie Guest said.
Students in attendance said they liked the idea of the event and Panke’s discussion.
“It brings a lot of people, Catholic and non-Catholic, who don’t usually listen to preachers, who instead go to bars, and puts them together,” Burgos said. “It’s a great idea.”
“It’s good meeting place,” Guest said. “We all know where it is.”
Other campus religious organizations have aimed events at young adults.
Laureen Smith, GW Protestant campus minister and associate pastor of Western Presbyterian Church on 24th Street, said her organization reaches out to students with a student choir, a number of small student discussion groups and an alternative Spring Break where students learn about culture and perform service.
The Newman Center will also host Cardinal Theodore McCarrick at a student mass Sunday at 5 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Church, located at the corner of 25th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Newman Center assistant director and junior Shannon Tobin said getting such a prominent speaker at a student mass is “almost unheard of at GW.”