“When people come to a pub, they’re seeking community. So we’re here, we sing hymns, we do pray together at the end, and that’s it.”
–Rev. Claire Clyburn, Methodist minister and co-founder of Raleigh Beer and Hymns
by Jessie Ammons
photograph by Travis Long
As hundreds of people take a seat at Tir Na Nog pub in downtown Raleigh on a Sunday evening, some clutch pints of beer and others pints of water. The focus is on community. “There are all types here and everyone is welcome,” Hollie Woodruff says.
Woodruff co-founded the group with fellow ordained minister Claire Clyburn. The two met at a beer-and-hymns event in Hot Springs, N.C, and agreed that Raleigh needed a similar gathering. Two years ago, they created it. Tir Na Nog lent its back room for the first meeting. “It was standing room only,” Woodruff recalls, and it’s only grown: 200 to 300 people have gathered at the downtown Irish pub on the first Sunday evening of the month ever since.
There are regulars and newcomers, groups and singles. Some keep to themselves and others are jolly and conversational. They’re all waiting for 7 p.m., when a live band leads the group in hymn-singing. That the songs are hymns is just about the only religious element of the evening. “There are people who go to church regularly; there are people who maybe don’t fit in a church; and there are people who have had really negative experiences in the church,” Woodruff says. “It’s a different way to live into Christian community,” Clyburn says, “or to experience what it means to be in community, period.”
Recently, the group gathered to celebrate its two-year anniversary with cake, commemorative pint glasses, and, of course, hymns and beer. Just days later, Tir Na Nog announced its closing. “Tir Na Nog was amazing to work with and so hospitable,” Woodruff says, but the Raleigh Beer and Hymns show will go on – a new venue was being sought at press time. “People love it,” Woodruff says. “They’re having a blast. They look forward to it.”