By Rev. Canon Keith Nethery
In January, the Deanery of London held a Deanery wide Bible Study.
Now you are probably thinking that is hardly a revelation. But ask yourself this question: Have you ever taken part in a Deanery wide Bible Study? I have no way of knowing how many of these have taken place in the Diocese, but I’m willing to bet the number is rather small.
We used a study from the Anglican Communion Office and while there were five scheduled segments, we only planned four weeks. The fact that we ended up extending the study to the full five weeks by popular request, is a good indication of just how successful this venture was, especially given that it was our first foray into the world of Deanery Bible studies. We drew close to 40 people for each of the evenings, which included a catered dinner, worship and the study. While I didn’t count, I would guess that we had more than a dozen different churches represented.
My favourite comment from one of the participants (I have to paraphrase as I didn’t write it down) went like this. “I thought we would just read a passage and the ministers would tell us what it meant. I never imagined that we would compare passages and work in small groups and all get to express our thoughts. It was wonderful!”
There seems to be something in the Anglican ethos that leads people to believe that they need to stay within the walls of their own church. I would go so far as to suggest that at times it seems people are afraid to venture into the wider Anglican world. Now, I understand the desire to stay with the familiar. I am one of the most routine-oriented people you will ever meet. But a long time ago I learned that when we step out and meet new people in new places within new experiences we all grow in leaps and bounds. The first time it can be a little frightening, but believe it; most of the folks in this wonderful world we call Anglicanism are nice people who are most willing to engage in spirited conversations.
So what should we do now? Check Deanery Bible Study off our bucket list and never visit it again? Or perhaps we would be better served to use this as a jump off point to encourage people in the Deanery and in fact across the Diocese to open new doors to learning opportunities. We can hunker down in our mantra of not knowing enough to be part of a wider study or we can celebrate the wonderful gift that God has given us in other members of our wider church family.
I had the privilege of leading four of the five sessions of our study and each week I found it harder and harder to stick to the agenda and call people out of their small groups into the wider circle. Each week the decibel level increased in the small groups as people found their voice and began to express their passion for Jesus with their new found friends. People were not just engaged in the study, they were exhilarated by it. Now exhilarated is not a word that I might normally express in connection with a group of Anglicans, but it was spot on in this situation.
There is much more to being an Anglican than just going to “your” church each Sunday. So many people in this group expressed joy in having an opportunity to visit several churches other than their own for this study. This is something that we need to encourage, promote, celebrate! We are all one big family! Yet sometimes we might actually give the impression that we are in fact many small independent units. We can blame this on the “other” churches or we can look inside ourselves and decide to lead the way into new experiences.
We are already talking about doing this again in the Deanery of London. How about your Deanery? Maybe you could suggest a joint study group? Maybe there are other projects you might do together?
What we experienced in the Deanery of London early this year is that we are much greater than the sum of our parts. We experienced new relationships, new ways to learn, new excitement for our faith! That can only be a good thing!
Rev. Canon Keith Nethery is Rector at Holy Trinity St. Stephen’s Memorial, London.
(Featured photo: Dennin Mayk, Unsplash)