Wine Before Breakfast: Joy in a Minor Key

wine before breakfast

Wine Before Breakfast. It is a compelling, curiosity-raising name for a Christian community that gathers weekly at Wycliffe College each Tuesday morning (at 7:22 a.m.) throughout the academic year. Led by Brian Walsh, Wine Before Breakfast features rich liturgy, creative music, provocative preaching, and the celebration of communion. Breakfast of home baking, preserves, juice, and organic fair-traded coffee follows in the chaplain’s office. Brian offers a taste of the Wine Before Breakfast experience, below. 


With Regina Spektor’s devastatingly painful song “Ode to Divorce” still hanging in the air, the community turned to the first hymn, “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee.”

But wait a minute.
I don’t recognize the tune.
There is something wrong here.
Something jarring.

And then the musicians begin to lead us in the hymn.

We are indeed singing “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee.”
And yes, the tune is from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,”
but it has been transposed to a minor key.

Joy in a minor key.

That’s one way to describe the Wine Before Breakfast community that gathers in the Wycliffe Chapel at 7.22 on Tuesday mornings.

Students from various disciplines at the university,
young professionals from across the city,
older folks deepening their discipleship,
street pastors, clergy, unemployed …
we are a richly diverse community of Jesus followers
who know that sometimes joy needs to be in a minor key.

Founded in 2001 while the smoke was still smouldering
from the World Trade Centre in New York,
and the world was in a state of deep shock,
Wine Before Breakfast has always had its pulse on pain.

Imagine planting a church with lament and Eucharist.
How “fresh” is that?
We invited people to come to church very early on a Tuesday morning,
with their fears and sadness,
with their anxiety and hunger.

And they came.
They continue to come.

With shattering candor, the ancient prophet Isaiah,
plumbed the depth of our human brokenness.
Depicting the collapse of the city of Jerusalem he wrote:
… all joy has reached its eventide;
the gladness of the earth is banished (Is. 24:11).

That has to be one of the most devastating two lines in all of Scripture.

Humans are made for joy,
but the sun has gone down on all joy.
See it on the faces of the refugees.
Look into the eyes of people on the street.
Strip away all of the distractions
and feel it deep in your own heart.

The earth is created good and delightful,
but the gladness of the earth is banished.
See it in the sweltering heat.
Watch gladness turn to rage in extreme weather.
Hear the creation groaning in travail.

When joy has reached its eventide
and gladness is banished from the earth,
despair is in the air
and hope is hard to find.

So what happens if worship knows such despair?
What happens if hope and history refuse to rhyme?

Well, maybe you sing joy in a minor key.

You don’t abandon joy to cynicism,
nor do you allow despair to drown hope.

But neither do you keep singing the praise songs
as if nothing is wrong.

Authentic worship embraces grief as the doorway to hope.
Authentic worship gives voice to the pain on the way to praise.

This is something of the ethos of Wine Before Breakfast.

Generously hosted all these years by Wycliffe College,
the Wine Before Breakfast community is open to all.
We are intentionally as inclusive a community as we can be.

With liturgy that is creatively Anglican, Wine Before Breakfast is a ministry of the Christian Reformed chaplaincy to the University of Toronto.

Check us out here, or even better, join us for the first service of the year in the Wycliffe Chapel on (appropriately enough) Tuesday, September 11 at the insanely early hour of 7.22am.

Because joy, even in a minor key, is born of hope, we are going to focus this year on “Hope Before Breakfast.”