Fla. Methodist Church Holds Worship Service in Bar

A Methodist church in Florida holds worship services at an unlikely location: a bar on the Florida-Alabama border known for bikini contests, fish-throwing events, and the occasional fight.

Perdido Bay United Methodist Church has an outreach service that takes place weekly at the Flora-Bama Lounge, Package and Oyster Bar, which prides itself on being "America's last roadhouse."

Titled "Worship at the Water," it was launched in July 2011 and observed its first Easter earlier this year, with over a thousand people attending the service.

In an interview with local media, founding pastor Jack de Jarnette explained that this was a way to reach out to secular society.

"When you cannot get people to come to church, the alternative is to bring the church to them," said Jarnette to Florida Today.

Jarnette also told FT that if on earth today Jesus would have been there, adding that "It's the sort of place he often went and hung out with people."

Dr. Jeremy K. Pridgeon, Pensacola District Superintendent of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the UMC, the Conference Perdido Bay belongs to, told The Christian Post that it was not the only church having an outreach ministry of this kind.

"Within our own Pensacola District, Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church in Gulf Breeze, Fla., has been holding a 'Worship at the Water' experience for years at Flounders Restaurant," said Pridgeon.

"Other congregations, such as Destin United Methodist Church in Destin, Fla., and Navarre United Methodist Church in Navarre, Fla., hold similar services at times during the year. The Perdido Bay United Methodist Church followed the model used at Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church in implementing their service at the Flora-Bama and it has been met with tremendous enthusiasm by both those who live in and visit the Perdido Key area."

Pridgeon also told CP that the effort to reach out to those outside of the church walls was consistent with the history of Methodism and the views of John Wesley, its founder.

"For John Wesley, he believed all could be saved. Wesley had to be converted to 'field preaching' but came to understand its importance in sharing the Gospel," said Pridgeon.

"He preached under trees, in the mines, the prisons, and elsewhere. He was of the belief he could proclaim the message of Christ to more in these venues than he could in existing churches. I see this as an extension of that heritage."

The services for Worship at the Water are contemporary, with worshippers meeting under a large tent mostly wearing beach clothing and with a band performing various songs. Baptisms are held in the Gulf of Mexico and offerings are placed in neon tackle boxes located throughout the bar.

Worship at the Water has received its share of media attention for holding worship services at a place not known for sacred behavior. Fox News' program "The Five" had a segment last Friday on the question of whether or not one can "mix Bibles and beer."

"I think you can. I think it's been done. I think these people are the Thomas Edison of worshipping," said Brian Kilmeade. "I believe they should be saluted because realizing attendance is down and worshipping is down, what you do is you go to the place where the people are."

"Most people go to church because they want to stay out of Hell. Most people in those bars have already been there," said Bob Beckel.

"I think it's a good idea. If they drink and they hear the Word I think it's helpful. One or two may catch onto it."

Perdido Bay United Methodist Church did not return comment by press time.

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