Thursday, May 26, 2016

Non-Denominational Bible Study: I Never Knew This Was Possible!

by Julie Gerver, guest blogger.

I have never participated in a non-denominational Bible study before and was anxious when I got there!

I work in the Vocations department of Glenmary Home Missioners. We took a trip to East Tennessee to visit our missions there. 

Fr. Steve Pawelk leads a Bible study, which includes at least 15 people of different denominations gathered together to reflect on Scripture. Our group of 8 people dropped in to participate and observe.

When we arrived, I was actually kind of nervous, to tell you the truth! My assumption of different faiths coming together and talking about God was always one of disagreement or conflict. So the thought that a room full of people could discuss Jesus without any tension was kind of amazing. It was quite an experience to see that that can really happen.
The group took turns reading from passages and then periodically stopping to discuss what they had just read. They work from a structured Bible study course book.
Visitors Mike Cain and Julie Gerver deep in thought.
I have been Catholic my whole life. I have never been in any ecumenical setting as such where I have discussed the Bible or Jesus. I know that one of our focuses at Glenmary is ecumenism, but I never saw it in action in my Catholic life--I have never experienced ecumenism live like that.  

Maybe reading some apologetics books throughout my formation gave me the impression that we have to be armed, ready and prepared--which is true. In a good sense, we have to have an understanding of our faith and be ready to explain that to others. However, my impression from reading those kinds of books is that we have to ‘get ready for battle’-- to fight the attacks that are coming and be ready to fight back.

One of the comments somebody said in the Bible study actually addressed that. They said they are able to come together and discuss Jesus because the focus is on Jesus, not on dogmas or things that can separate people--it is just the truth of Jesus, his love and his coming for us. Everybody is able to share their personal experience of him.

Everyone had very good reflections.

If I didn't know going in that this was an ecumenical Bible study, and if they hadn’t mentioned that they were, I wouldn't have known. It was a united group, and there is something there that’s incredible. 

I observed a great way to interact and share our faith: You meet the person as they are. It is like you are saying, I care about you--I'm not trying to force anything on you, I care about you as you are. And that’s really cool. That helped me--first, to see that it is possible to get together and have positive interactions with people from different traditions. And second, to see that it is about loving each other as human beings, and the rest will follow. 

This Bible study group was very welcoming. The group had formed an identity where they were comfortable with who they were, so there wasn’t any of worry like, I have to be careful what I say, or Why are they here? I really felt a spirit of . . . well, a Christian spirit!

Afterwards, I was in the parking lot, talking to people as they were leaving, and it was just very friendly. People were saying, it was so good to meet you, that kind of thing. It was just human beings coming together and sharing what’s important to them. 
This was ecumenism 101 for me!
Fr. Steve Pawelk gives an explanation.

Fr. Steve Pawelk shares this:
The group started when the local Methodist church canceled their adult Bible study. People missed it and started coming to the one we had at the Catholic Church. Besides Catholics, we have people who identify as Quaker, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist and unaffiliated spiritual. We have had Baptists drop in, as well. Some have stopped coming but not because they are offended by the views--mostly because the course work was too academic for their tastes, as sometimes we get technical and look at the Greek words and such. We are intentional to prevent anyone from bashing the beliefs of another tradition. Our goal is not to win a point, but rather to reflect on how our various traditions interact with Scripture. There are now more non-Catholics who attend than Catholic!
Traveling Ecumenist writes:
This group shows they have enough in common in Christ that the denominational differences don’t have to come up. You still have to live your life in Christ today and tomorrow whether we resolve denominational differences or not.

Pope Francis reminds us to get to know Christ first--the doctrines and dogmas come second. They are important, but we need to get them in the right order. This Bible study group certainly lives that out!

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