One of the more interesting experiences I have had here is my dad’s invitation to the Tuesday night Bible Study that he (and many others) have been a part of for years (I think over 20). I have always admired this group because I think it has been the nearest thing to what John Wesley had in mind for the class meeting. Yes, they do Bible study (which I realise some might say is the wrong way to go about a ‘class meeting’, and they would certainly have a point), but I have observed them over the years holding one another accountable, challenging and encouraging each other, and really sharing each other’s lives, and most importanly answering the question how is their relationship with God.
This Bible Study that my parents have been a part of for so long became something of a standard for what I imagine when I have (1) sought for myself a group of committed Christians to walk life with and (2) attempted to set up house groups in my own churches. It sounds like a near impossible standard, but there are at least two times where I have got close to (1).
The first is the ‘Sunday school’ class where April and I met. The class met at Trenholm Road United Methodist Church in Columbia, SC on Tuesday nights and we called ourselves the 20s group because we were mostly in our 20s (we didn’t want to be known as a ‘singles class’). We met for a meal, followed by a Bible Study and prayer for each other. But we also saw each other on the weekends. When we met up to go out to eat, for a drink, etc., we met with each other. The group split up finally when we began to go our separate ways because as people in our 20s, we were all in a transition (April and I left for Duke as it winded down).
The second time was during our time at Duke when we began attending Epworth United Methodist Church in Durham. Again, we met on Tuesday evenings for refreshments and a bible study. This group was mixed between my friends from seminary and people our age from the church. We got along brilliantly, even though those of us from seminary knew each other better because of the daily grind of classes. But, we often all met out for other social events outside of the normal Duke life. The time got cut short as the lifestyles of the church members (many again in their 20s) changed and those of us in seminary graduated.
I haven’t had much success in starting groups in my own churches. There is a house group at Wilpshire which may very well become that as they grow together; and there is a Bible study at Mellor that meets, but circuit responsibilities generally keep me from being a regular there. I do wonder if they fear the intimacy that groups like my parents’ bible study share. Not to say that any group is perfect and there are always parts of us that we keep at a distance from others and there is a reluctance on the rest of us to push deeper. I wonder if the ‘British reserve’ pushes that line further away than Americans do. The difficulty (as the link above makes clear) that when it meets as a Bible study, the temptation is to keep it at that level and not interact it with what goes on in our lives.
Overall, though, there isn’t the emphasis on adult education generally in the UK. The story I often tell is that someone once thought April and I were childhood sweathearts because I said we met in Sunday school. Her delight turned to utter confusion when I said it was an adult Sunday school class. I am speaking with broad strokes here, but I generally get the feeling that the church life of many British Methodists is fulfilled by Sunday morning and that represents the ‘religious part’ of life. In speaking to other ministers, I don’t think I am alone in feeling this way.
Where would I challenge my parents’ Bible Study then? What would I tell them if they asked how they might make a move deeper? (They haven’t asked, but they know my dad and neither of us generally wait to be asked our opinion.) Perhaps I would return them to the principles of Wesley’s class meetings. Meeting as a group as long as they have can get too familiar, and maybe it’s time to rethink some things. Is the line drawn at where one keeps things private or where others would be willing to push need to be redrawn?
If anyone is interested in John Wesley’s class meetings for today, I reccommend reading Kevin Watson’s brilliant series on the subject. Here is the last post in the series (the 6th) which gives links and a breif summary to the previous 5.