Very few things take church planter Charles Hill by surprise.
But when a group that agreed to support his new ministry work in the middle of a predominantly Mormon community suddenly pulled its financial backing and gave him the boot, he was totally caught off guard.
Hill had just begun to host Bible studies and reach out to the unchurched and those who were seeking something outside of the dominant religious preference in Utah – where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is headquartered – when he got fired.
He was allegedly let go because he drank half a beer in public during the new "Beer and Bible" meeting he started last month.
While he was told that was the main issue, he doesn't have all the details because he didn't receive a phone call or e-mail from the decision makers, he said. His boss, whom he respects and who had given him permission to conduct "Beer and Bible," broke the news to him a couple of weeks ago.
He now has less than 60 days before he and his family – wife and three kids – are cut off from all funding and left "abandoned," as he put it.
"It's troubling," Hill told The Christian Post. "We're out here trying to reach people as Jesus would.
"It's still baffling to me that when your boss has given you permission that you can still get terminated for something such as that."
Hill moved out to South Jordan, Utah, last year, leaving a growing church he founded in Ohio to answer God's calling in what he says is the most unchurched state in the country. He gained financial support from a denomination – which he declined to name in order to keep things as respectful as he can – after being drawn to and recruited by a dynamic church planter (his boss) in the church body.
In a city where around seven or eight out of 10 people are Mormon, Hill said he prayed a lot and battled with how he was going to reach people.
He determined that bars and coffee shops were the few places that he would be able to meet with unchurched and non-LDS folks. He knew that starting a Bible study in a bar could potentially be an issue with the denomination, so he asked for permission from his boss.
He was given the green light.
But once word about the "Beer and Bible" meeting spread and reached the upper leadership at the denomination, the 36-year-old church planter was cut from the $280,000 support he was being given for his outreach and ministry efforts. He was only five months away from a church launch in a region where not one non-LDS church exists in 25 cities.
One of the leaders, who wished to remain anonymous, in the denomination released a brief statement to The Christian Post on Monday, saying: "It's not an issue of immorality or improper biblical behavior. We simply discovered there were instances in which we were not able to reconcile our differences as it concerns general Baptist principles."
Hill, whose father was an alcoholic, said he doesn't even like drinking and isn't much of a drinker at all. Though he doesn't believe it's a sin, one of the biggest reasons he hasn't drank alcohol is because as a senior pastor, he didn't want younger believers to stumble and drink too much.
"In Ohio, we had alcohol problems in our community so I didn't take that posture there," he explained. "But out here, there doesn't seem to be an alcohol issue because seven or eight out of 10 don't drink at all.
"It's a very different culture here than it is in my Midwest Bible roots community."
From the moment he moved out to Utah, people would ask him about his stance on alcohol and he would express that he believes Jesus did not forbid it. That would in turn start up a conversation.
"It was odd that for people who drank alcohol out here that was their defining factor that 'I'm not part of the LDS church,'" he said.
"If I have to go out and have a beer to have a conversation about the Lord to keep somebody out of hell, I'll do it."
After receiving the shocking news that he was being terminated, Hill sent a formal letter of apology to the president of the denomination, stating that he did not know this would be such an issue and asking for forgiveness. He vowed that he would not engage in public drinking again if that would satisfy their standards.
"We'll still do Beer and Bible, but I'll drink water or coke," he said.
He did not receive a reply.
He was, however, contacted by several pastors within the denomination who informed him that they drink alcohol.
"At the end, it was that I drank it publicly," Hill speculated. "What I believe I was hearing back was 'if you had a drink in your house that's okay.'"
"I'm not bitter or mad," he made clear. "We're disappointed, obviously, when you lose that kind of funding and your family is out here and you're five months away from launch and you're not sure in six weeks where you're going to live or how you're going to make it."
"What troubles me is not being given forgiveness," he added. "Where's the Christian love? I think ...we need to read our Bible once in a while, get back to that heart."
Hill is currently searching for other groups and individuals that could support his mission in Utah. Though unsure of the future, the church planter has no intention of abandoning God's calling.
"If we had to pitch a tent and live out of a tent, off of food handouts in six weeks, then that's what we're going to do," he said. "We have a heart for this community. We believe God has called us here and that God's going to raise up an army of supporters to make this happen.
"The biggest thing now is, is there anybody out there that cares about 25 cities without one church that might want to show the love of Jesus and help support us in this work? Not 'Beer and Bible' ... but to keep people out of hell and to help plant the church."
Notably, Hill doesn't want to be known as the "Beer and Bible" guy, as some refer to him despite the brief stint. Hill was also running a separate Alpha meeting, sans alcohol, for those who were curious about the Bible.
On the Web: http://www.missionwest.tv/