“How do we encourage daily bible reading on a congregational level?” It started with this simple question asked by the Melville Church Session. The answer grew into a 6-week challenge which saw about 50 adults and 20 children and youth reading stories from the Old Testament together.
With help and support from Tori Smit, our Regional Minister for Faith Formation with the Synod of Central, North Eastern Ontario and Bermuda, a reading plan was created which allowed families to read along using one of two children’s story bibles (provided at no cost to families through generous donations from individuals in the congregation).
While the initial goal was to simply read scripture, the challenge itself gained greater purpose as we sought to use it as a way to prepare for Advent, to understand the story of God’s people from the very beginning, and to find our place in the family tree of God’s people. The reading plan itself was simple, families using story bibles were given an average of five readings a week while those reading from their bibles were given complementary scripture references for all seven days of each week. A short weekly commentary, discussion starter questions and a short prayer were also provided. Families and individuals were encouraged to talk together about what they were reading.
Sunday School, Bible Study and Worship
To bring continuity to the project, the Sunday school classes also followed the challenge. The Sunday School teachers set aside regular lessons for the two months and planned lessons around one of the stories from the week to give the children a chance to read the story one more time and to discuss and do activities related to their chosen story. Our weekly adult studies also joined in with our two adult bible studies (one which occasionally had a child join) reflecting on the readings each week.
Worship also picked up the major themes as we traced the story of God’s people through the Old Testament together from Genesis to the Prophets. Our children’s sermons introduced all of the main characters met during the previous week’s readings and connected them to previous weeks. To keep a visual reminder of where we were in the story, we gathered wooden figures to represent the various people found in our weekly readings. We placed these figures on the communion table following the children’s message and enjoyed adding new figures each Sunday to our display. This culminated on the final Sunday with each adult being given a wooden figure on the way in to worship and the children being invited to collect these figures from the adults during the children’s message and add them to our growing family tree as a reminder that we are part of God’s story too. (The display of wooden people was fondly referred to as “the mob”).
Our weekly reading themes also coloured the planning of our music, prayers and preaching. Sermons followed the broad story arc, catching the major theme of the week and integrating one or more of the weekly readings. “Strong Women” fell on Remembrance Sunday so we took the opportunity to make special mention of our past and present service-women as well as the role that women played on the home front. We had a member join that day as well and she agreed to give a brief talk about her faith and she wove the readings into that as well.
A Church Family Tree
Participants were further encouraged to write their thoughts, questions, and reflections on each reading onto distributed paper leaves each week and to add them to a large tree trunk placed in our fellowship hall. Each Sunday the kids and adults came with handfuls of thoughts and wonderings printed or coloured on their leaves. It was a delight to watch our family tree grow every Sunday as the kids collected the leaves and stuck them on the branches for them. Those unable to attend mailed them to be added on their behalf, some chose to mail them to children who were then given the task of adding them, which they did gleefully.
We were also grateful to have a field education student from Knox College, Mirim Kim, join us to work alongside our young families and our bi-monthly WeeWorship program to facilitate learning and celebration specific to our youngest worshipers around the theme of the challenge. We launched the program at Wee Worship with a map to colour taking each person on a journey through a forest with a ‘Model Magic’ self who would jump from pathway stone to pathway stone to mark their reading journey.
One of the greatest strengths of a challenge such as this one is that it was accessible and adaptable to all ages and stages. Together, through a broad variety of materials and activities the whole participated in this integrated project. Friends and members who were unable to attend church for any reason were able to follow along at home and know that they were participating along with everyone else. Leaves and reflections were mailed to the church to be added to those already on the tree. Large print versions as well as a digital copy of the devotional were distributed to those who needed them, and the weekly readings were also sent out by email. Others found that they preferred to listen to the daily readings instead of read them, which is easily done thanks to the multitude of audio versions of the Bible available today.
For some, it was the first time reading portions of the Old Testament while for others, it was an opportunity to “connect-the-dots” of the stories they had known for years. Still others challenged themselves even further and filled in the gaps by reading the portions of scripture not covered by the designated readings. Some of our young families found that it was easy to work a daily story into their routine. Others found that they were playing catch-up on the weekend, but the joy in however anyone, young or old, chose to participate in the challenge was that we were all being nurtured by God’s word in a way which united us and encouraged inter-generational discussion both on Sunday mornings and throughout the week.
The feedback on the challenge was positive with the most common question being, “So, when is the next one.” By the time this article goes to print, Melville will have completed their second challenge (reading the Gospel of Mark through Lent).
We’d love to share our materials with you by linking a non-church specific copy of the bible reading devotional booklet for you to use at your church, our colouring sheet designed to help each family track their journey, and a sample of our poster. Drop by Melville Presbyterian Church, or call or email Tori Smit, the Regional Minister for Faith Formation and let us know how your bible reading project goes.
The booklet will appear out of sync when you open it, as it is ready for you print out double-sided, short-edge binding and then fold and staple into a booklet. If you wish to photocopy a number of booklets for your church, print out single-sided, photocopy short-edge binding in the order that you printed them, fold and staple on the centre fold. All should make sense in the page order then.