A basic awareness in spiritual renewal and growth programs is that the Bible, while the heart of our knowledge of our faith, is read by very few people these days, especially Episcopalians - and to get people to read more of the Bible is to give them a transformative experience.
That is the goal of this program, known as "The Book of Books Book Club."
We read the Bible over two academic years, from the beginning of October through the beginning of June, covering the Old Testament in the first year and then, in finer detail, the New Testament during the second year.
The reading schedule is week by week, so that there's not too much to try to cram in, but those doing the program meet monthly to look closely at some specific elements from the previous four weeks of reading.
And the schedule itself has three options each week: what's on tap if you're reading it all, what to read if you only have time this week for the essential stories, and, if you're really pressed for time, which stories to read because we'll be discussing them in the monthly meeting. These choices give people permission to just keep going, to not give up when a week or two get away from them.
The program begins with a simple appeal: lots of our people, and people in our culture in general, want to read the Bible - all of it - but either find it too intimidating to start or too much of a struggle to get past the second half of Exodus (let alone to try to wade through Leviticus!).
I started this program because what works for people is to read the Bible together, to support each other and to feel responsible to each other and to egg each other on. Also, it helps to give them permission to skim sections - to look at what's there but not get lost in it (really, does anyone need to know how to make an ephod in such detail?).
The other thing I discovered when I first ran this program was how much it meant to me: I realized that while I'd read the whole Bible, in seminary and beyond, I'd never read it from cover to cover - I'd never read it in that order, and to do so changed how parts of the Bible related to each other in my mind.
Two perspectives, then: the appeal to parishioners is that they've always wanted to read the Bible but can't do it alone - so let's read it together. And from my perspective, it changed how I saw the Bible and my ministry: I saw the Bible through my parishioners' eyes as I read it with them, and I saw that I was more competent about the Bible than I thought I was.
Wonderfully, then, the “Book of Books Book Club” is transforming for parishioners and their clergy together. Our relationship with the God of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the New Testament deepens as we discover together that this spiritual tool is ours to explore, to interrogate, and to use.
_____________________________ The Rev. Craig D. Townsend was ordained to the diaconate in 1982, and to the priesthood in 1983. For the past twenty years, Craig served as Associate Rector and then Vicar (senior associate) at St. James’ Church on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, where he was in charge of education programs. In addition, from 2003 to 2016, Craig directed a Lilly Endowment-funded program for the mentoring of newly-ordained clergy that was based at St. James’. He joined the staff at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity, Brooklyn, in the fall of 2017 to serve two Sundays each month for worship leadership and adult education. Craig’s second parish position (after beginning his career in Michigan) was at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity, where he was Associate Rector from 1984 to 1987. Craig holds a PhD. in the Study of Religion (American Religious History) from Harvard University. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Cathy Fuerst, and they have two grown sons.