CALIFORNIA: 'Sacred Cocktails' offers a way into church via popular nightspot

July 20, 2010

For the past year, bartenders and bishops, the committed and the curious alike have sampled "Sacred Cocktails," a ministry started by the Rev. Tommy Dillon, rector of St. Aidan's Church in San Francisco in the Episcopal Diocese of California.

Dillon said he partnered with the popular Lookout Bar in San Francisco's Castro District a year ago to provide a way into church for those outside it who might be interested "by gathering once a week for sacred discussions … in a location that people might feel comfortable coming to."

Sacred Cocktails, which celebrated its first anniversary in June and recently received a $1,000 grant from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific Celtic Cross Society, is the first Episcopal presence in the Castro District in decades, Dillon said July 20 in a telephone interview from his office.

"There's been no intentional Episcopal community there since the 1980s," and since it's just down the hill from St. Aidan's, seemed a great opportunity for evangelism. The Castro District is considered the birthplace of the San Francisco gay rights movement, he added.

"We've had a really good response," Dillon said. "When the bartenders take a break, they come in and listen to speakers and people in the bar come in and listen, too."

Speakers have included: Archbishop Martin Barahona, Primate of the Anglican Church of Central America (Iglesia Anglicana de Region Central de America), and Bishop Marc Andrus and retired Assisting Bishop Steven Charleston of the Diocese of California, as well as Lutheran pastors, Buddhists and others.

Speakers address the gathering every other week; participants discuss the address the following week, after about an hour of fellowship.

"We've had as few as five and as many as 40; we average between 15 and 20 on a Monday night and we still do it during the holidays," Dillon said.

The CDSP grant will be used to advertise the ministry within the local community, he said. "We're still working on how to get the message out to people outside the church. A lot of times, people come because they know the speaker, or they hear about it by word or on Facebook," he said.

He hopes to expand the ministry. "We're going to continue as-is, having speakers every other week," he said.

It's been a safe place to talk about concerns and to share personal stories, he added. "One of the things we don't talk a lot about in the church is the connection between spirituality and sexuality. Some people feel Sacred Cocktails gives them a safe place to talk about subjects that are considered taboo in the church."