Bottoms Up! This Christian Pastor Uses Whiskey to Strengthen A Community’s Faith
People have different ways of getting closer to God. To a Christian pastor in Hammelburg, Germany, the path to the divine involves a small community gathering — and some whiskey.
54-year-old Catholic priest Thomas Eschenbacher found that the most genuine conversations stem from drinking nights with friends. Thus, he thought of ways this could apply to spreading faith and developing spirituality within the community.
In 2019, he organized his first “whiskey retreat,” held on a quiet January evening at the Hammelburg Parish Center. The retreat offered thirty limited slots for €25 per head, all of which were filled almost immediately.
“A fundamental element of my personal spirituality is the art of discovering God’s traces in everyday life,” Eschenbacher said in a conversation published on the site of the Würzburg Diocese. “In many nice whiskey evenings with friends and acquaintances, I had already seen the beginnings of a culture of conversation, which I expect from [the seminar].”
The effort was certainly an unconventional move — not many people, let alone clergymen, would seek faith-based events in alcoholic consumption — but it is certainly not a “crazy” one. “Bible reading events don’t really work, but with whiskey I can reach the men. It’s a topic that interests them,” he said.
In fact, Eschenbacher believes that encounters with God should be joyful, like the first taste of a good drink.
“Drinking whiskey requires a culture of enjoyment that complements wonderfully with the thought of taking time for one’s faith,” Eschenbacher continued. “The personal encounter with God is a real taste experience.”
Getting Closer to God Through the Whiskey Experience
Eschenbacher isn’t the only whiskey enthusiast in the neighborhood. With how fast the retreat slots were booked out, many certainly shared the Christian pastor’s love for the beverage.
Among these people was Eschenbacher’s close friend Niko Grundhoefer, who also served as a co-organizer for the event. “The Bible says, ‘Speak what your heart is full of,’” he told Ananova News.
The thing “closest to his heart,” he said, was whiskey; the second thing was faith. Eschenbacher’s retreat was the perfect opportunity to meld the two together.
The gathering was limited to men, however, because Eschenbacher himself noticed that men particularly tend to gravitate towards the drink. “It seemed, to me, a good chance to deliberately have it [as a] spiritual offer for men,” he said.
Of course, having open conversations about faith is the retreat’s ultimate goal, but Eschenbacher also wants to make sure that the drinks themselves become a highlight for the attendees. So to make the most out of the gathering, he gave them no less than five kinds of whiskeys to taste. In between, he also handed out homemade snacks, which he prepared himself.
“When I feel that I give people something meaningful to taste, I always come very close to God,” said Eschenbacher. To the Franconian pastor, the alcoholic drink is supposed to be a spiritual experience in itself — and the socialization that arises from it is just as valuable.
“I become satisfied when we combine our personal culture of enjoyment with gratitude,” he said. “God has given us taste and intuition — not only for whiskey but also for the gift of communication.”
He noted that faith is an individual experience, regardless of the communal approach. Eschenbacher even correlates this with the drinking activity, saying: “As different as the types of whiskey are, the participants will also have their own experiences in this form of retreat.”
He also found another fitting, albeit uncanny, analogy: that the science of alcohol aging is similar to the nurturing of personal faith. “Our time today is so crammed. We always want to clear everything up in eight hours,” he said. “A whiskey takes at least ten years to be good — and so my message is not a short-term one either.”
Opening Conversations and Reflections About Life
Criticisms may have abounded for Eschenbacher and his unconventional methods: alcohol, after all, is quite unusual — if not taboo — for many rigid and austere religious communities. It was a concern that bugged his mind even before the retreat took place.
“I also don’t know what the outcome will be and whether the concept really fits. It could be a letdown,” he said. “But people live from risk.”
Eschenbacher, however, was confident that his mission is rooted in good faith — and he had been right. Unsurprisingly, Eschenbacher’s whiskey retreat was such a wild success that he organized another day for it. 17 people were already on the waiting list.
Turns out many Christians, just like Eschenbacher, find spiritual value in these alcohol-filled gatherings. “Drinking whiskey slows everything down. You start talking. If you can enjoy a whiskey in peace, you also make time for faith,” he told Bild.
As with all matters of faith, the spiritual journey is a continuous process — and no single glass of whiskey, no matter how good, could change that. Eschenbacher is not privy to this fact: “It is of course cheese if you think you can convert an atheist with just a small point.”
Either way, the goal remains. “The main thing is that God gets into the conversation,” he said. “I want to reach people for deeper experiences.”