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Michigan brewery takes ownership of historic church amid steady membership decline

Grace Episcopal Church
Grace Episcopal Church of Ishpeming, Michigan. |

A congregation in Michigan has reached an agreement with a local brewery to use its church building for events in return for the pub paying for various maintenance expenses.

Grace Episcopal Church of Ishpeming and a local establishment known as Kognisjon Bryggeri, also known as Cognition Brewing Company, announced the deal earlier this month.

As part of the agreement, ownership of the property was transferred to the pub, which will oversee repairs and allow the congregation to continue meeting there on Sunday mornings.

Grace Episcopal, founded in 1902, belongs to the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan, a small regional body of The Episcopal Church based in the northern peninsula of the Great Lakes area state.

A representative of the Northern Michigan Diocese emailed The Christian Post a statement Friday explaining that Grace Episcopal has experienced a steady decline in members in recent years. That has put a burden on their ability to do repairs and tend to various building maintenance issues.

“In the alley behind Grace Episcopal Church was Cognition Brewing Company, a popular gathering space for locals and biking enthusiasts, owned by local electrician and 3rd generation Ishpeming resident, Jay Clancey,” explained the diocese.

“Clancey’s longtime dream for his brewery was that it would revitalize historic downtown Ishpeming. The mission of the church is to care for and nourish people in the community, thus creating a perfect partnership.”

Local organizations interested in hosting events at the church building include Bearded Lady Creations, the Lake Superior Theatre, Partridge Creek Farms and Peace Pies.

Grace Episcopal Church priest Ginny Graybill said in a statement that although “Jay owns the building,” there shall “be no immediate change in our worship.”

“Church is community,” stated Graybill. “We are looking forward to working together to make this building a community hub.”

In recent years, some congregations have found themselves striking agreements with bars, even holding worship at breweries to reach out to the general population. 

The congregation of Greater Purpose Community Church in Santa Cruz, California, sold its church building a few years ago and began holding services at a local drinking establishment. 

“We decided to sell the building because for us a church is a community and a movement,” the church’s pastor Chris VanHall said in an interview with NBC in 2018. “It’s not brick and mortar.”

“There’s nothing in the Bible that says you can’t drink alcohol in a responsible manner,” he added. 

As The Christian Post has reported, recent years have seen more people engaged in more unconventional ways of worship as more churches are forced to close. Even in a Bible Belt state like South Carolina, there have been churches planted in bars, movie theatres and homes. 

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