It is an unlikely venue for a hymn sing, but every month about 100 people gather at the Last Chance Tavern in Grand Rapids, Mich., to drink beer (or water or lemonade) and sing hymns together.
Last Chance is a little bar that has been a fixture in the Alger Heights neighborhood near Calvin College for decades. And that’s where Carrie Elzinga and her husband and a few of their friends have been hosting the hymn sing on the fourth Tuesday of every month for a couple of years now. Elzinga and another organizer, Andy DeBoer, both work for World Renew, the Christian Reformed Church’s relief and development agency.
“We’ve had up to 130 people crammed into this little bar,” Elzinga said of the family-oriented event. She said the singing is intentionally low-tech, usually accompanied by a guitar or two, a box drum, and sometimes an accordion. “We don’t use microphones, we have a chalkboard in the corner with the song list, and we sometimes take requests from the crowd,” she said. Song leaders are seated among the patrons, not up on the stage. The set list is also posted on the group’s Facebook page.
Other patrons of the bar have been known to scoff as the hymnals are handed out, but Elzinga said there is always someone who approaches them afterward to thank them, “people who were at the bar for a drink or meeting friends, some of them unchurched but perhaps with vague memories of old hymns,” she said.
The owner of the bar has started letting the group write the date of the next event right next to “Trivia Night” and “Happy Hour” on the bar’s event chalkboard. The group grew to its current size from about 30 after garnering attention in the local press. A second monthly event is starting in October at a bar on Grand Rapids’ west side, led by a different group of singers.
“It’s not an outreach for any specific church,” Elzinga said. “We’re just a group of friends who approached the bar owner about singing hymns in his bar. He said yes, and has been blessed by it—his words—ever since. He appreciates us, and not just for the extra business we bring in once a month!”