Meet the Philly man who’s hosting a craft beer church service

"Conviviality, Equality and Beer," will be held June 30 at the First Unitarian Church. Credit: Rikard Larma/Metro
“Conviviality, Equality and Beer,” will be held June 30 at the First Unitarian Church. Credit: Rikard Larma/Metro

With the proliferation of local craft brewers producing quality small batch beverages, there are plenty of Philadelphians who would admit to worshiping at the altar of beer.

But local man Dane Wells is taking the metaphor to a new level.

The avid ale aficionado and active worshiper will on June 30 hold a service at Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church dedicated to the sudsy stuff – literally.

Wells said he understands some people may have reservations about the unconventional pairing.

“As a matter of fact, the first portion of the sermon is what I jokingly refer to as the ‘Surgeon General’s warning,’ saying, ‘Yeah, you’ve got to be careful with this stuff,’” he said.

“However, what I’m discussing is what I would call beer as a social relaxant – and there is a social connotation of beer. If somebody comes up to you and says, ‘Let’s discuss this over a beer,’ the picture that comes to mind is of a very convivial meeting with everybody on equal footing.”

The ethos of equality is especially embodied by the craft beer revolution that began sweeping the country in the mid-80s, according to Wells.

“It’s an amazing movement and this social connotation has rubbed off on the way that small brewers do business,” he said.

“I think there are lessons to learn in how we operate in society from these brewers. They’re being very successful doing small, quality products. They’re not gunning for market shares, they’re gunning for something they feel is good beer.”

Though he’s a lay member, Wells periodically leads services and gives sermons at the First Unitarian Church, which espouses no official creed but encourages parishioners to explore topics of interest guided by a set of shared principles.

Wells approached congregation officials after learning that the American Homebrewers Association, in which he previously served as a certified beer judge, will this summer hold its annual national conference in Philadelphia.

“I think there are things you have to examine, when you look around you and they inspire you to do things a certain way,” he said.

“Frankly, the craft beer movement has tremendous inspirational points to it. Why not discuss them? First Unitarians are a very liberal denomination and they are more open to discussing lots of things you don’t normally hear in church.”

Though no beer will actually be served at the service, Wells hopes patrons will leave with some valuable pearls of wisdom.

“I think the social connotation of beer that I indicated earlier has come together with this new commercial development,” he said, contrasting “Wall Street-driven” industrial breweries with local producers like Dock Street and Yards brewing companies.

“They’re all quality product-driven,” he said of the latter.

“They’re not trying to conquer the world or the market – they’re trying to produce a good product. It’s a much more interesting approach to business and not just business, but a way of running your life.

“I think if we picked up some of these lessons of conviviality and equality and moved them out of the world of beer and into other realms, the world would be a happier, better place to live. My solution to the United Nations is to set up a beer tent – everything would go a lot easier.”

The service, “Conviviality, Equality and Beer,” will be held Sunday, June 30 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the First Unitarian Church located at 2125 Chestnut St.


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