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When Worship Online No Longer Felt Like a Community, a Wine Club Became ‘Wine Church’

That all changed when COVID-19 hit. Seeing them every week created deeper friendships than they had had in real life before the pandemic.

“When you spend time with other people that are also gearing their lives to make time for you — you develop trust,” she said. “We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve done it all.”

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Sharing wine and food together has also helped create a sense of community — and brought an awareness of spirituality to the group, said Inrig.

He did not have much appreciation for wine until he met his wife, Jula, who had grown up near the wine country of Napa Valley, California. They had their first date at a vineyard, and he has been hooked since. Inrig credits German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote about the tangible nature of God’s goodness, and writer Gisela Kreglinger, author of “The Spirituality of Wine,” with helping him see a connection between faith and the grape.

“Drinking wine at its best is like prayer,” Kreglinger wrote. “We respond to God by enjoying his gifts and allowing wine to instill within us a sense of wonder, not just for the wine but even more for the generous giver of such a lavish gift. Wine calls us to worship.”

Bonhoeffer’s and Kreglinger’s ideas, Inrig said, helped him see wine as something more than a commodity to be consumed, a blessing as well as a pleasure.

Most of the people in the Saturday night wine group have ties to Inrig — people he used to go to church with or folks he has met in his work. Some are in California, others are as far away as Calgary, Alberta, or Fort Worth, Texas.

That has made picking out wines a challenge at times. Each week, Inrig chooses three wines and then sends out a link to wine shops in each group member’s vicinity that carries the wine. His choices have run from the great to the just OK. Then there were the Bulgarian wines, about which group members tease him to this day.

For Shannon and Cornelius Austin of Fort Worth, the laughter, wine, friendship and support of the wine church calls have been a lifeline in the pandemic. Cornelius Austin, who received a kidney transplant, spent most of the pandemic isolated at home.

“For me, it’s been friends, it’s been family, it’s been joy and laughter — it’s the highlight of my week,” said Cornelius.

The group also rallied around the Austins when Cornelius got COVID-19 despite all the precautions the family took, landing him in the hospital and putting his future health in danger.