My seminary experience was heavily centered on Biblical studies, but had the unfortunate effect of turning me against most established curricula for a number of years as I pursued the perfect program. Thankfully, I now have an appreciation for conversing during a study with carefully constructed programs that offer a strong basis in outline, homework, and scope.
Though the Cokesbury Disciple curriculum does not provide perfect scholarship for each lesson, it does provide a detailed outline, daily assignments with room for notes, reflections meant to tie Scripture to daily living and Christian discernment, an introduction to mainstream Biblical scholarship and weekly videos that express scholastic opinions, sometimes energetically. The length of the study creates powerful community bonds while the scope provides for a solid background on the lectionary. It was just this curriculum that Christ Church, Coronado engaged.
During the past program year, a steadfast group of 55 parishioners participated in a 33 week intensive Cokesbury Disciple Bible study. After completing 30 minutes of daily homework and meeting weekly for 90 minutes, participants read more than 85 percent of Scripture. Beyond an increased comfort with the lectionary and confidence in reading the Bible, the study produced, and continues to produce, the fruit of long-term relationships.
Realizing that I was allowed to disagree with the curriculum allowed me to widen the scope of scholarly conversation and point to greater interpretative options, creating the basis for a more robust dialogue on how Scripture does and should influence decisions about pastoral care and ethics, and the role of Scripture for the modern believer.
My disagreement with the curriculum allowed participants to disagree with me and engendered a more risk-free environment for sharing. As a new clergy person (I was ordained to the diaconate in the last sixth of the class), the class concretized the Episcopal value of elevating reason and tradition alongside scripture as our group surveyed the entire Bible. I left with the confidence and comfort that most of the Old Testament judges were scumbags to be eschewed rather than emulated, that various Psalms readily open the door for life-taking radicalism, and the Holy Spirit serves as our heavenly court-appointed defense attorney. Despite sometimes reading the Scriptures as cautionary tales, I also felt emboldened in imagining how they continue to form the necessary canon of Scripture. Other participants disagreed throughout the course and, amazingly, we realized that we belonged together more deeply than we had before.
Two high school seniors from a fundamentalist tradition participated, driving 40 minutes to each class. The class was their introduction to: the Episcopal Church, where they experienced the ability to ask questions and express doubts in a truly risk-free environment, alternative ways of understanding and approaching Scripture, and respectfully disagreeing about faith. One of the students continued his interaction with Christ Church by joining our youth mission trip to South Los Angeles, and recently preached at both Sunday services. His sermon, in many ways a representative culmination of the Bible study, highlighted the warm welcome he received while also charging the parish to unabashedly identify God as its guiding light as it continues to address the needs of the community.
I must admit that seminary did not suggest taking such a relational approach to curriculum, but it has and continues to make all the difference in Coronado.
This fall, Christ Church offers a six-week study of the Nicene Creed’s history, theology, and vision for life. Classes begin September 17 and 18. Contact me, 619-435-4561, for details. +
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