By Laurie Oswald Robinson
Members of Houston Mennonite Church know that daily Bible reading is at a scant 32 percent among Mennonites. But they also know it is not just a number “out there.” It reflects their struggle with honing a biblically-based identity in a world abuzz with secular distraction.
Rather than let the world shape it, Houston Mennonite decided to invite scripture to more deeply shape the church in a process called 12 Foundational Scriptures. During August, the congregation discerned 12 foundational scripture texts that express its identity and calls the church into a future with God.
“By September they had solidified an open-ended list that allows for changes as the congregation grows and stretches,” said Kathryn Bauchelle, disciple committee chair.
“We began by brainstorming what scriptures were memorable to us as individuals, and then narrowed those down to 12 that identified us as a congregation,” she said. “There was good give-and-take on what corporately resonated with us at this time in our church life.”
A favorite scripture for Bauchelle, who came to Houston from Australia, is Jeremiah 29:7, 11-13: “Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its peace you will find your peace. …”.
“Houston is a city of transplants,” she said. “This scripture reminds us to embrace a city not our traditional home and seek its peace and welfare. It encourages us in our mission to care about this city in ways that fit who we are.”
Renewed biblical focus is also taking hold among other Western District Conference (WDC) congregations. The movement is paving the way for WDC to launch the Year of the Bible (YOB) on August 1, immediately preceding WDC’s annual assembly. The hope that ancient scriptures can be forever new in transforming power promises to stoke the “smoldering wick” of biblical literacy into a bright light.
To fan the fires, Marlene Bogard, WDC Minister of Christian Formation and Resource Library Director, sought resources through a $9,980 grant from Schowalter Foundation.
In the months leading up to the launch, a planning team is shaping a YOB website www.yearofthebiblenetwork.org that provides resources for individuals and congregations to craft their own programs. They are also planning some events that support the conference-wide biblical focus.
“You can’t be missional unless you are being formed in Christ,” Bogard said. “Scripture is foundational to our faith. When we have strong foundations, we are more likely to develop a view that looks beyond ourselves to the needs of the world.
“If we want leaders 20 years from now, we need to teach the scriptures to our youth and children now. God is active in our world and we are invited to work alongside God in a living partnership. And we can’t work alongside God if we don’t know God’s biggest message to us—the scriptures.”
Pastor Peter Goerzen helped Grace Hill Mennonite Church, Whitewater, Kans., engage with a 12 foundational scriptures project this past fall. “In college, God used biblical studies to renew my spiritual life. Today, I want to be part of renewing our love for scripture and developing better habits. It is exciting to allow God’s story to more deeply shape our lives and congregations.”
In Wichita, Kans., Hope Mennonite engaged in a Reading the Bible in 90 Days project, which guided about 50 members of the congregation in reading 12 pages of the Bible every day for 90 days.
“We used a DVD series to guide us,” Pastor Brett Dewey said. “The materials gave us an overarching view and pegs that were especially helpful when trudging through tough parts of the Old Testament and other tricky texts.
“We weren’t just reading and skimming but gaining biblical literacy and contextual foundation. Many of the participants completed the program, but the goal wasn’t completion as much as it was simply to prompt people to read and understand more of the Bible than they had before.”
Iglesia Menonita Casa Betania (House of Bethany) in Newton, Kans., is also looking forward to YOB. Currently they have a mid-week Bible study and work at biblical literacy then. Pastor Jaime Cazares personally wants to buoy online engagement with the buffet of resources to be found there.
“Being part of the planning team has helped me to see how many resources there are online,” he said. “In accessing these resources for the first time, my perspective has broadened tremendously. Most of the adults in our congregation don’t use the Internet because of their language limitations. I want to encourage WDC to translate as many resources as possible into Spanish.”