New wine in new beer kegs

February 13, 2013 | Viewpoints
Phil Wagler |

What would you do if a dead preacher left you $13,000?
In 1752, Arthur Price, Archbishop of Cashel in Ireland, died and left the equivalent of about $13,000 to his godson, who shared his first name. This second Arthur, a 27-year-old entrepreneur who had recently experienced a spiritual awakening, wondered what to do with such an unexpected gift.

Those were tough days for the Irish and Arthur’s heart was broken at the state of his people. The “Gin Craze” raged as people sought escape in cheap booze from their sorry lives and unsafe water conditions. In the mid-1700s, it was said the average person consumed 45 to 65 litres of gin each year. Arthur was infuriated with this drunkenness and its effects, and began to sense God calling him to “make a drink that will be good for them.”

So he combined his broken heart, love for Jesus and entrepreneurial talents to develop a dark stout drink low in alcohol and high in iron, so people felt full before over-consuming, a drink that a 2003 University of Wisconsin study discovered bolsters heart health and is better for a person than coffee or pop. With the archbishop’s inheritance he bought an abandoned brewery in Dublin and went to work producing his creation. Oh, and he famously gave it his last name: Guinness.

That may be surprising enough, but consider further the impact of Arthur Guinness’s Jesus-centred life and work. His grandson, Hendry Gratton Guinness, became the Billy Graham of a spiritual awakening in Great Britain in the late 1800s. Other descendants transformed public housing and influenced the implementation of a system aimed at reconciliation based on Matthew 18 to end duelling as a means of resolving conflict.

By the early 1900s, Guinness became one of the best workplaces around. The influence of Arthur and his conscientious family meant 24-hour medical and dental care and an on-site massage therapy for workers. In addition to this, education and funeral expenses were paid, as well as a full pension. The company had libraries, reading rooms and athletic facilities.

And today the Guinness Brewing Company has the “Arthur Guinness Fund” that blesses social entrepreneurs in the tradition of Arthur to deliver measurable, transformational change to communities around the world. The fund was developed in 2009, the 250th anniversary of Arthur investing the archbishop’s inheritance, and has invested more than $5.5 million in social transformation. Everything from community gardens, mental health assistance and adult math classes to jobs for the disabled, to the mentoring of ex-prisoners, empowering those who work in search and rescue, and a program of men’s sheds where guys gather to fix bikes for local schools or repair furniture for people, have all been supported by the social entrepreneurship inspired by Arthur Guinness, who put the wine of the kingdom of God into beer kegs.

Now this tale is not told to defend the consumption of alcohol, but rather to make us think again about what a Spirit-inspired imagination can do for God’s glory and the good of one’s society. Arthur’s redemptive creativity was one small part of a new social transformation and produced a legacy of goodness. We, too, have a responsibility for the welfare of our locales (Jeremiah 29:7). Should not our love for God and neighbour awaken such inspired genius still? Ought not those who know the hope of the kingdom get creative for the common good? What would you do with $13,000?

Phil Wagler is inspired by kingdom creativity and seeks to encourage more of it as a pastor in Surrey, B.C. E-mail him at

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Phil Wagler's use of the founding of the Guinness Brewery as an example of redemptive entrepreneurship was a poor judgement call, as was the editor's decision to publish Wagler's February 18 column. I won't dispute his contention that a pint of Guinness is easier on the body than gin or his contention that Guinness is a relatively good corporate citizen. I will suggest, however, that using a multi-national brewery as an example of "Spirit-inspired imagination" is in very poor taste and demonstrates a significant lack of sensitivity. WHO statistics put Canadian's yearly alcohol consumption at around 8 litres. We know too well the wreckage caused by alcohol abuse in our country. Well...Ireland's alcohol consumption is just under 15 litres per adult and much of that total is brewed by Guinness. If alcoholism in Canada is bad, by what possible logic can a brewery contributing to twice as much alcohol consumption and accompanying social problems as we have in Canada be described as redemptive? Ask the families who experience alcohol related violence or who are unable to buy groceries because a parent spent the pay cheque on pints of Guinness how they feel about its use as an example of "redemptive creativity" or its "legacy of goodness"

I get that Wagler's column is "Outside the Box" and is designed to get readers thinking. I also get that Mennonites have traditionally disapproved of alcohol use and that its a bit cheeky to write about a brewery in our magazine. What I don't get is how an article including such an epic lack of judgement could be published in a church paper.

With fraternal care and concern I venture to comment on K. Enns’ observations on ‘New wine in new beer kegs’. As someone thoroughly grounded in the theology of Aquinas I read this piece by Phil Wagler with delight and admiration at the brilliant way he so skillfully integrated the history of Arthur Guinness with the message of Sacred Scripture - Jeremiah 29:7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Wagler’s article also demonstrates a sophisticated theology keenly cognizant of the downside of Manichaeism but in which, unfortunately, K. Enns seems to be entrenched. May I respectfully recommend supplementary reading in line with Wagler’s article? The book is entitled ‘The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality: A Drink Called Happiness’ by Paul Murray OP Burns & Oates 2006.

Well still alcohol is not just a problem of small countries.

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