Being a bartender made me a better Christian
The first time I encountered alcohol in my life was in third grade.
My friend invited me over to her house to play after school one day, and when I walked in, I saw her dad in a recliner holding a bottle of beer and watching tv. I froze and felt a rising inward panic.
Why, you may ask?
Because as a kid, I understood alcohol as a bad thing. And in my kid logic, that meant bad people drank alcohol and alcohol made people do bad things.
All I remember from that day was watching her dad from the kitchen, trying to understand how a daddy could do such a ‘bad thing’. I don’t remember playing toys with her or how long I stayed or what happened next. That feeling of panic is all I can recall.
The next time I was exposed to alcohol was during high school when I would drink at parties (sorry, Mom and Dad;). But even then I knew it was bad because a. I was underage and b. I had been taught the risks that can come with drinking alcohol.
Later, both my Christian university and first full-time career didn’t allow students/employees to drink alcohol.
So because of this limited exposure to alcohol and all the risks (and horror stories) that came with the topic of alcohol, I was always too scared to walk into a bar. Surely those places were filled with all kinds of debauchery that were inappropriate and possibly dangerous.
But a couple years ago, when our family found ourselves in a really precarious financial situation, I knew I had to go back to work. But I also needed the most lucrative job possible that required the least amount of training ahead of time, which, when it came down to it, meant either being a stripper or bartender. I went with the latter. 😉
I knew it would be impossible, however, for me to land a job without bartending experience. So I went to bartending school, graduated within a couple weeks, and landed a job within a week or two.
And you guys. Being a bartender (at this particular bar) has been one of my all time favorite jobs.
I loved it.
I lucked out and found this amazing bar owned by a sweet couple. They were generous to give this newbie a shot at being a bartender, and I truly am forever grateful to them – it was because of this job that I was able to help keep our family afloat during our financial crisis at that time. So thank you, Autumn and Derrick, for giving me a shot when our family needed it most.
When you’re a bartender, I learned you’re also part-pastor, part-therapist, part-friend. People open up to you in ways they never would if they had just randomly bumped into you on the street. And being there three nights a week allowed us to form a relationship where we learned parts of each other’s stories, asked about each other’s kids, and helped me master their favorite drink(s).
It was an amazing community.
People threw bridal showers there, fundraisers for families in crisis, and birthday parties for kids and friends. And this bar would be packed for such events. People would show up for one another, no matter time of day or night. It wasn’t a place full of debauchery after all (speaking of this bar specifically; can’t speak for all bars). It instead felt a lot like church. Except in some ways it was better.
Because people didn’t feel the need to put on a facade. To act like everything was going great in their life. And they weren’t there to fix each other. They knew what it meant to offer solidarity with one another and to process life’s events together. I was honored to be a small part of their conversations and relationships.
When I became their bartender, I was given the opportunity to step into a world full of community, camaraderie, and candid conversations. Things I looked forward to at every shift.
Sure, the people aren’t perfect. And sure, sometimes alcohol would get some people to be a little too friendly or a little too mean. But that’s also true in the sober world.
But here’s what working at that bar taught me:
- How to be a better listener
- How to not judge anyone (anyone) by appearance and/or where they spend their free time
- How to be crazy generous (future post on this one)
- And how everyone has so much to offer us – if we just make ourselves available and go to places (or people) we’ve been told to stay away from.
It stopped that childish way in me of ‘othering’ those who spend their evenings in bars, and it made me aware that community can happen anywhere: across a kitchen table, in the pews of a church, or in bar stools.
And when I left that job, I was sad. Sad because a. the money was great (not gonna lie) and b. the community was even greater.
So my challenge would be, if there is somewhere or someone or a group of people you’ve learned to fear, I encourage you to consider reaching out. I’m not talking about life-threatening situations or returning to abusers.
But that new family that moved in down the street from you that have a different skin color or speak a different language? How about bringing them baked goods or inviting them over for a meal?
Or that student in your class who is new to the state (or country) that no one really talks to? How about sitting by him/her and inviting them to coffee?
Or that new small business that opened up in your area? How about dropping in sometime to meet the owner(s) and learn the story behind their business?
There are all kinds of ways to step out of our comfort zone and choose to engage with those we otherwise would never meet. And sometimes, I think that’s just exactly what this world needs: a little less fear of one another and a little more love for one another.
So while the title says being a bartender made me a better Christian, I think it’s more accurate to say it made me a better human. And sometimes I think that’s exactly what Christians need – to learn to be a better and kinder and more loving person.
(Want to visit my old bar? It’s called Opinion Brewing Company in Newport. Highly recommend it:).