This week we asked our bloggers to consider their experience of alcohol and church. Here are their reflections.
Boxed wine gets a bad rap.
Perhaps you see those rectangular packages lined up on the shelves of your grocery store and envision young adults drinking too much. Or you may wonder why on earth someone would rather drink their wine out of a bag (which, as it turns out, holds the wine inside the box) instead of a bottle.
I too used to not get the point of wine in a box. I live in Virginia, home to hundreds of wineries that together sell more than half a million cases of wine each year. Supporting local grape growers and winemakers seems like the right thing to do.
But then I met my neighbors. And now, when I look at boxed wine, I see church.
When I moved to Richmond, Virginia, more than three years ago to begin seminary, I was placed in an off-campus apartment complex with some other number of seminarians. An on-campus housing shortage sent us out into what some of our classmates called the diaspora. We just called it home.
We began with tentative neighborhood meals as we tried to get to know one another, but those quickly turned into regular carpooling, Beatles Rock Band concerts, picnics, walks in the park and board game nights. At some point, someone suggested we gather one Sunday night to share wine. (This idea may or may not have coincided with a freak storm that buried Richmond under 18 inches of snow my first year of seminary, leaving us all a bit homebound for several days.) One Sunday became two Sundays, and next thing we knew, we had a routine.
“Wine night,” as we called it, quickly stuck. We’d gather at someone’s apartment, alternating hosts every week, to share wine on Sunday evening. It was the host’s job to provide the (nearly always red) wine for the about a dozen of us who gathered; boxed wine was therefore the economical way to go.
As time went on, wine night became about more than the wine. It was about the 90 minutes we spent nearly every week talking about school, the ordination process, life beyond the classroom and what God’s call might look like after seminary. It was time to put down the books and laptops, instead picking up a glass and the conversation (usually right where it left off the previous Sunday night).
A couple of times, new boyfriends were invited to wine night to get the approval of this seminary family. Sometimes, all we could talk about was an upcoming test or paper, and the spouses in the group would remind us there were other things in life, too. Once, one of the neighbors turned down her glass of wine, which wasn’t entirely unusual — and then announced we’d all be aunties and uncles to a baby girl come summer. Needless to say, that night and some others, wine night involved tears. We all celebrated when someone became certified and ready to receive a call, or when a lost cat was found. We all hurt when an ordination exam wasn’t passed, or when a family member back home fell ill.
Wine night wasn’t perfect — some weeks, we just couldn’t make space for it. Sometimes, cleaning up my apartment to host felt more like a chore than grateful preparation. And sometimes, the box of wine was, well… just bad. But it was our ritual nonetheless.
Now, I’m the only one living in this apartment complex. One neighbor moved on campus; the rest graduated. Our community now spans four states and two countries (someone’s off for a year in Switzerland). We now share group Facebook messages instead of wine boxes. I often regale them with stories of what they’re missing at seminary. They share pictures of that beautiful baby girl, “I can’t believe that just happened” stories of ministry and memories. So many memories.
While boxed wine is still the most economical choice for this seminarian, I’ve only bought one box since my community moved away. It’s just not the same without them. Because over the course of three years, those boxes of wine transcended their cardboard and plastic. They pulled us together in a weekly rhythm, causing us to take pause and remember what matters. They reminded us that we are not made to do this life alone. And they sent us out in the warm glow of knowing we were loved and appreciated. They became holy.
In this new, post-boxed wine phase of life, one of my biggest joys is seeing my former classmates live into their call as pastors, educators and disciples. We still commiserate about the call process and celebrate accomplishments big and small. I’m crossing my fingers they’ll wait to start a pastor group until I can join in. And every time I see a box of wine, I think of them, my community. I think of church.
LINDA KURTZ is the communications specialist for NEXT Church and a recent graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary. Now that she’s finished seminary, Linda enjoys being outside and taking photos of anything but people.