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Cover Story - Posted October 23, 2015 10:08 a.m.
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Photos by Shannon Richardson

Drinks and Devotion

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The joke goes like this: What’s the difference between a Baptist and an Episcopalian? The Episcopalian will say “hi” to you in the liquor store.

Amarillo’s conservative religious and political beliefs are no secret. But in recent years, we’ve seemed to be moving – slowly but surely – beyond those days when church deacons enjoyed a glass of wine at home but never in public, or when churchgoers would refuse to acknowledge each other in the beer aisle at Walmart.

Consider the social and spiritual path of Matt Morgan, the human resources and communication director at Advanced Eye Care. Few Amarilloans are as fanatical about beer as Morgan, but he doesn’t fit anyone’s beer-guzzling stereotypes. He never performed keg stands at frat parties. He doesn’t blaze through a six-pack after a long day at work. He never gets wasted at weekend tailgating sessions.

But he can talk your ear off about why he loves complex Saison/Farmhouse ales in the summer, or why Black Butte by Portland’s Deschutes Brewery has become his favorite porter.

Morgan is a board member of Yellow City Coop Brewpub, a state-licensed homebrewing coop with nearly 200 local members. Like many in Amarillo, he has become passionate in recent years about local, handcrafted brews. Unlike most, though, he discovered this passion in a church small group.

“Drinking beer was a foreign concept to me,” says Morgan, who attended a Southern Baptist church during his childhood. “I grew up at church thinking it was wrong.” After high school, he left Amarillo for Hardin-Simmons University, a Baptist college in Abilene that does not permit alcohol on campus.

Back in Amarillo after graduation, Morgan got involved in a small group at another local church. There he met friends who, he says, “were beyond me in their beer maturity.” These fellow churchgoers would bring specialty craft beers to the group’s meetings. “We’d split one or two beers among the six of us,” he says. “Through that, I realized beer had a lot more potential beyond Coors Light.”

He also says that as he matured spiritually, he began to realize that some of the things he’d grown up thinking were extremely important to God – for instance, abstention from alcohol – were, in Morgan’s words, “kind of irrelevant” in the larger scheme of what it meant to live as a believer.

That’s how Morgan, a still-devout Christian, ended up planning beer socials and raising funds to open a consumer-owned brewery. He thinks many young believers in Amarillo are following a similar path. “There’s starting to be more of an appreciation for things that are local and handmade, with a focus on quality,” he says. More appreciation, perhaps, and much less judgment.

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Cheers!

by Jason Boyett

Jason is a journalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, and the author of more than a dozen books. His most recent is “12 World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity's Most Influential Faiths”, published by Zephyros Press. Learn more at jasonboyett.com.
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