This program year, the Diocese of Southern Ohio is engaging in an experiment. It happened first at my parish, St. George’s in Dayton, a year ago. We wanted to have our common life saturated with reading one book of the Bible: Mark. For one semester, Mark filtered into every part of our common life; not just Bible studies, but also business meetings. The strength of the idea is twofold: ubiquity and flexibility; it gets into everything but one can move at a comfortable pace.
What would be the fruit, we wondered, of having so many different people all talking about the same thing, the same way we all might talk about a much-hyped movie or the season opener of Game of Thrones? We sold copies of Tom Wright’s Mark for Everyone, we had a guest scholar visit, and people who’d been terrified of reading Scripture were talking about the biblical narrative — and not just with the clergy!
So, we did it a second time, with Exodus. Again we sold books from the For Everyone series, again we had a guest scholar, again the Buildings and Grounds Commission began its meetings with Exodus instead of just what needed to be fixed. The story was our purpose for being there; it shaped us. And once more, people were talking about Scripture. We were owning our identity as a people of the story.
Now the Diocese of Southern Ohio has engaged the same project, but on a much grander scale. As a diocese we are engaging a year of immersive Bible reading — a major campaign to filter one book of Scripture, Exodus, into every corner of our common life. Folks in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, and rural towns across southern Ohio are coming together around a single book. Once again, we face a wonderful question: What will happen to us as a community if we’re all talking about, thinking about, and immersing ourselves in the same text?
Across such a diverse body of people, we’re going to have different interpretations, see different things, and yes (gasp) disagree with one another. But as the body of Christ, we will gather around a common story, make common prayer, and engage in common mission. The implications for justice in this particular book of the Bible and our exodus from comfort and privilege as a church are high on our radar.
So, what exactly are we doing? I should say up front that folks in our congregations are free to be wildly creative. Christ Church Cathedral hosted a Binge Read on Sunday, August 27. Biblical scholar Walter Bruggemann offered an amazing kickoff at St. Timothy’s, Cincinnati.
A diocesan formation team has worked hard to equip the wider community to make the most of this year.
First, on our diocesan website we’ve offered suggestions for a few carefully chosen and inexpensive Bible commentaries — books by Terence Fretheim, John Goldingay, and Carol Meyers. An individual or a group or a whole parish might select one of these. And we’ve offered suggested schedules for how a group might tackle the text most profitably. But groups don’t have to use any commentary. These are only suggestions. The real common text is Exodus. The idea is that we want to help people who don’t normally read the Bible (ahem … most Episcopalians?) start reading it. We’re especially excited about our smaller, under-served congregations being equipped.
Second, a blog will soon feature weekly reflections and online lectures from a variety of scholars and teachers. We’re also gathering sermons from our clergy across the diocese who are earnestly preaching from the Exodus lessons appointed this fall in the Revised Common Lectionary.
Third, all diocesan business meetings will begin with a conversation about Exodus. Again, we’re together for the story — and our leadership will model that commitment. This is our business!
Finally, four Anchor Gatherings will hold a diverse diocesan family together through the program year.
- Convocation, which meets on September 18 at the Procter Center just south of Columbus, will gather us together using a world café model of conversation. This will be spearheaded by our bishop, Tom Breidenthal.
- Diocesan Convention, November 10-11 in Cincinnati, will find its center in the Exodus narrative, and be so much more than a business gathering.
- Jubilate, our annual conference on liturgy and music scheduled for January 20, will focus on the Exodus themes embedded in the Great Vigil of Easter. We’re excited to welcome Bishop Neil Alexander, dean of the University of the South’s School of Theology, and Ellen Johnston, director of Virginia Theological Seminary’s Center for Liturgy and Music, as our keynote speakers. We’re also having a roundtable with our guests and Bishop Breidenthal on current discussions of prayer book revision.
- Our Capstone Colloquium, scheduled at All Saints, New Albany, on April 7, will feature a variety of speakers and conversation leaders. Biblical scholars Terrence Fretheim of Luther Seminary and Walter Bruggemann, retired professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, will be joined by Rabbi Daniel Bogard of Adeth Israel Congregation in Cincinnati and the Rev. Canon Mark Stevenson of Episcopal Migration Ministries for lively presentations and conversations about the Exodus narrative and our Christian witness.
These events are open to the public and we want to hear lots of different voices and see lots of different faces — these are not merely clergy gatherings. That said, we’re also hosting Fr. Martin Smith, formerly of the Society of St. John the Evangelist and a premier retreat leader, to lead a clergy day on themes from Exodus. We’re eager to hear from him on paschal mission and the connections between baptism, mission, and ministry.
What the fruit of all this will be, only God knows. We think, however, that gathering around the Word written is a good idea for the Christian community. Whatever the fruit will be, we in Southern Ohio are hoping to follow the cloud by day and the fire by night.