Wine is a gift from God. During the long Irish lockdown, wine has been part of the glue that has held my suburban Dublin parish together. I don’t mean that we all became ‘fond of a drink’—the favourite local euphemism for crippling alcoholism. Rather, thanks to the willingness of two self-confessed Wine Bores in the parish we have held a monthly wine tasting on Zoom. It has been a hit in a way I had not dared hope.
The premise is simple. Each month we choose a local wine shop, see what interesting bottles they have from a particular region, and choose two for tasting. The parish wine tasting WhatsApp group is informed of the choices and a Zoom link is issued. People can buy one bottle or both. They can open them on the evening or drink them in advance and take a note of their impressions. On the Zoom call itself the Wine Bores (a term of endearment) give a quick talk on the region, the terroir, climate, grape varieties, other local wineries, and on the bottles in question. We taste and an open discussion follows in a safe space free from judgement or pressure to find the right words. That said, after a few months I realise I have a fondness for the word ‘unctuous’.
At the start of each tasting comes our effort to root what we are doing in the season and in the Church year. When on a glorious summer’s day we considered a greater and a lesser rosé, we also talked about the wedding at Cana and our Lord’s first miracle. Thinking of just how many gallons of wine he would have made, we pondered wine as an image of the abundance and lavishness of God’s love. At harvest two earthy Italians made us think of creation and our connection with the soil—never more than a generation or two away with most Irish families. One hundred and sixty of us shared a harvest meal cooked by a local restaurant and enjoyed at home. We shared the same wines. This breaking of bread and sharing the cup was as close as the law allowed us to get to a Eucharistic act. This month we will look at wines to adorn the Christmas table and we are pushing up the budget from an average of €10 per bottle to €20 per bottle, a timely reminder of the importance of celebrating the Feast and an antidote to the puritanical narrative of the age that the externals of Christmas are mere trifles.
In the Church we have much to learn from wine and wine culture. Most of it we used to know. Wine marks our year and our life events. We celebrate births and marriages with champagne, and even an Irish wake is never a dry affair. Christmas and birthdays see special bottles brought out and shared. We need to recover a vision of the Church that enriches and celebrates community and the markers of our year, a Church that rejoices when people rejoice and weeps when they weep, and a church that is the natural place for society to seek to make sense of these highs and lows in life. The Church has long turned up its nose at many community expressions of faith, moving too often to a slightly Americanised individualisation of religion that seeks to separate those within from those without. We need to re-learn how to be present in the lives of our communities in the same way as the local pub. We need to rediscover the glories of the parish. This sort of thing might be sneered at as being mere cultural Christianity, but cultural Christianity is the place where the faith is passed through the generations. It is where the Church finds points of connection and where faith can gently shape lives and communities.
For this small parish wine has afforded a God-given opportunity to connect with parishioners who would not sign up to a Bible study and who may not watch online worship. It has given a monthly point of connection for some religious input and a great deal of fellowship. Increasingly, participants are inviting in friends from outside the parish. Wine is missional.
Now, that must entitle me to some funding . . .