By the time Yvonne Nellum listens to the Gospel during Mass, it’s the third time she has heard it that week. Yvonne first reads the Gospel on Wednesday, then reads and discusses it during Thursday night Bible Study organized by her parish, St. Peter Claver in Tampa. Finally, she hears the Gospel proclaimed by the priest during Mass on Saturday evening. Rather than tuning out after hearing it so often, Yvonne says she learns something new each time and she has discovered just how rich the Scriptures are and how much the ancient texts relate to her life today.
“Deacon Ben will go into the past to give us the historical context, to know how people were living in those days. Then people in the group will share what they got out of the reading. Then you have the priest’s interpretation in his homily for still another perspective. It really broadens your view on God’s Word,” said Yvonne.
The Bible Study Ministry at St. Peter Claver has been meeting for just over a year under the direction of Deacon Ben Hooks who began the study in September of 2019 as a way to help parishioners prepare for Sunday Mass and understand the biblical roots of the prayers that are said. As the study has continued, he has seen unexpected fruits blossom from the group. There has been a deeper appreciation of Scripture and also strong community bonds formed. The members have coordinated outreach and have applied what they have learned to their daily lives as they strive to courageously live the Gospel.
“The classes offer them an opportunity to discover the layout, the order of the books, and the humanity of the Biblical characters and the similarity of their struggles and concerns with ours today. This insider perspective has changed not only their view of the Bible but their view of themselves as fellow believers, Disciples, who see themselves and familiar struggles in those ancient pages,” explained Deacon Ben.
Many of the lectors in the parish attend the Bible Study and have welcomed the opportunity to understand more deeply the often-difficult readings by delving into the context, characters and themes – what was going on when the reading was written, who was speaking to whom, what were the issues most important then, and how do they speak to us now.
“The lectors have all greatly improved as they learned the who-what-when and why of the readings and they have become storytellers about familiar people rather than just readers of the news,” said Deacon Ben.
When ministries couldn’t meet in the Spring, Bible Study moved online through weekly Zoom calls, but if anything, the pandemic has only made the group stronger as more and more people sought connection with their community and comfort in the Word of God. Members are able to be missionary disciples from the comfort of their own homes by inviting friends and family to join them, no matter how far away they live.
“At least through Zoom we can still have community. We are able to see each other and make that Christian connection and pray together,” said Yvonne. “It allows you to reach across borders, across cities, and outside the boundaries of the parish. I say, ‘God Bless Zoom!’”
For the time being, Bible Study will continue to meet online, allowing participants to learn and pray together, to share a bit of their heart and home with one another, and to be empowered to live out the Gospel every day.
“What a privilege to see them carefully handling their family Bible that had so many memories and was so special but had rarely been opened, if at all. Now they wonder why they hadn’t done so earlier because it truly does contain their family story. The concept of ‘God’s call’ now has meaning for them,” said Yvonne.