In addition to Bible Study 101 and Faith Book Club, we hold themed studies two or three times each year. These gatherings are for anyone who is interested in the chosen topics, books or themes. Past studies include:
Conversations on the Nicene Creed
This study might sound a little boring, but it drew record numbers from our faith community. For three Mondays in 2013, we talked about the Nicene Creed, a statement of Christian faith dating back to the 4th century. We asked questions like: “When did the Creed originate?” “Why do some churches say the Nicene Creed and others don’t?” “Why do we say the Nicene Creed?” “Is it outdated?” “What if I don’t believe some of the things the Creed affirms?” Several lay leaders, guided by our Vicar, facilitated each conversation that began with brief lectures on the context, content, and consequences of the Nicene Creed.
A Conversation on Zealot by Reza Aslan
We were drawn to this book because it drew controversy when first published, and because it centered on Jesus. Together we discussed the main ideas posed by Mr. Aslan as we talked about what it means to have our own deeply held beliefs challenged or reaffirmed. According to Mr. Aslan, Jesus was born in Nazareth and grew up a poor laborer. He was a disciple of John the Baptist until John’s arrest. Like John, Jesus preached the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God, which would be an earthly, political state ruled by God or his anointed, a messiah. Jesus never intended to found a church, much less a new religion. He was loyal to the law of Moses as he interpreted it. Jesus opposed not only the Roman overlords, Mr. Aslan writes, but also their representatives in Palestine: “the Temple priests, the wealthy Jewish aristocracy, the Herodian elite.” As with the other studies, this one opened our eyes to see Jesus in an elucidated historic context, and it challenged some deeply held beliefs about how he was viewed and regarded in his time.
A Conversation on Radical Welcome by Stephanie Spellers
Because our brand is “Open Minds, Open Arms,” we chose The Rev. Spellers’ book to challenge our thinking beyond well-worn notions of what constitutes hospitality. We explored how strangers were treated in ancient Judaism, by Jesus, and in the early Church. We then explored the concept of the “stranger” in our own day, and discussed how “strangers” are treated in American culture. We also examined the idea of welcome from the perspective of the one being welcomed. We came out of the study with a deeper understanding of welcome as a fundamental spiritual practice, one that combines the universal ministry of hospitality with a clear awareness of power and patterns of inclusion and exclusion in the faith community and in the culture. Our eyes were opened to the unintended behaviors that can make newcomers feel like welcome is all about assimilation, rather than believing that each person who comes into the community can and will change us for the better.
Conversation on The Agile Church by Dwight Zscheile
This book describes a cultural shift in 1990s America, and its implications for faith communities. Contributors to the cultural shift are digital communication and social media, a high degree of mobility, demands on families and working people, the freedom experienced by retired and affluent people, all combined with a decrease in “the culture of joining.” Add to that the skepticism that younger adults view institutions and the great extent to which people can affiliate with like-minded people, and it all helps to elucidate the numerical decline of Western Christianity, particularly the mainstream Protestant Churches and some segments of Judaism. The author invites examination of long-held practices, language we use, and the degree to which we meet the world where it is today. We came out of this study with a deeper appreciation of the experiences of our own members who span generations, and a better sense of how we might use language to draw more people rather than drive them away.
Advent Study of Matthew’s and Luke’s Nativity Stories, and Western Christmas traditions
Two lay leaders offered a three-week exploration of the Nativity of Jesus, first as written about in Matthew’s gospel, and then in Luke’s gospel. The third session focused on Christmas traditions as they have been celebrated in the Western world, through the ages. We looked at the influence of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on some more modern Christmas traditions. For those who participated, the attention to the birth narratives of Jesus combined with the historic review of Christmas traditions enhanced our understanding of some of our own Christmas practices, and also deepened our understanding of how the nativity came to be written about in only two of the canonical gospels, and of how different those two accounts are.