As hip-hop music plays softly in the background, A.J. Viola whips out his smartphone in the crowded sports bar and reads aloud a Bible passage from John 5.
Viola, a pastor who sports a slight mohawk and a cross around his neck, offers no commentary on the Scripture. Go, he tells the dozen or so people sitting around him. Each table immediately starts a discussion, referencing the Good News on their phones as they sip craft brews.
Welcome to Bible study, downtown Raleigh style.
While it might seem unconventional, Viola says his Beer and a Bible gatherings at Tir Na Nog Irish Pub make perfect sense.
Almost all the conversations we were having about God happened at a restaurant, he said. Why not create a venue where people can continue that?
The event isnt affiliated with Violas church, and the only online listings are through Meetup.com, a website that allows users to create public gatherings based on a shared interest.
Not everyone who attends belongs to a church. Some dont even consider themselves Christians. But everyone, Viola says, generally agree that Jesus was a cool guy.
Chad Miller attends Vintage21 Church on Sundays, but he said hes just as happy to discuss Christ on a barstool.
Sometimes I get more out of this than any Sunday morning experience, Miller said. So many times its hard for people to know about the faith without going to a church setting. It helps to branch out of that and talk about real life.
And while the discussion always starts with the weeks Bible reading, it often ventures away from the topic as participants draw parallels to their own lives.
You never really know where the conversation is going to go, said Heidi Fox, who recently moved to Raleigh and found the group on Meetup.com.
Some Christians, of course, oppose the pairing of religion and alcohol. Viola knows this well, having grown up in a dry town in the North Carolina mountains. But he says he has yet to encounter anyone offended by the idea of talking about Jesus in a bar.
Bars and coffee shops are the modern day watering wells like you see in the Bible, Viola said. The line between sacred and nonsacred is not so black and white. We should be able to encounter Christ wherever we are.