"There was a desire ... for people to increase their understanding of the Bible"Conference News
Pastors at churches of any size need to keep in touch with their congregation’s needs. And in 2018, the leadership at Tampa’s Hyde Park United Methodist Church asked members what could help them the most on their spiritual journeys.
It didn’t take long to get the answer.
“There was a desire throughout the church for people to grow deeper in their relationship to God and increase their understanding of the Bible,” Senior Pastor Magrey deVega said.
The next step involved much listening to discussions about the best way to proceed. There were congregational surveys and town hall meetings, and a year after posing the original question to the congregation, the church decided to launch
The Bible Project 2020.
Members would join together to spend one year of daily reading, studying, and understanding the entire Bible.
deVega and the team spent much of 2019 developing a detailed study and social media plan, but it didn’t stop there. The aim wasn’t simply to read so many chapters per day. It was a total immersion in Scripture, individually and collectively.
“We aligned our missions and sermons around where we were in the Bible,” deVega said. “We had more than 50 small groups reading the Bible together and discussing what they learned. We developed a podcast with biblical scholars from around the country. It was exciting.”
The journey commenced on Jan. 1, 2020. About six weeks into the study, boom!
“Covid-19 hit,” deVega said.
Battling through the pandemic
That could have derailed the project in its tracks, but deVega said the opposite happened. It actually strengthened the congregation’s determination to proceed.
“The Bible Project actually kept us together,” he said. “We seamlessly shifted over to Zoom and kept going. Each group figured out its best way of coming together. And the timing of our lessons was amazing.”
Indeed, the congregation was studying Psalms while the pandemic caused deaths, job losses, and a sense of overall confusion.
After in-person worship was suspended because of the virus, the study plan focused on the exile of the Israelites.
|Rev. Magrey deVega|
“I think that was extraordinary," deVega said. "And when George Floyd was murdered, we were reading about the prophets and justice,” deVega said. “By Labor Day, when schools were disrupted, we were in the New Testament.”
None of this was a coincidence.
“It happened over, and over, and over again,” Hyde Park member Jay Kuhns said. “We were going through something crazy, but there were moments of crisis happening nationally that week after week aligned with our journey.
“Why did we as a church decide that the year 2020 was going to be the year we started this project? Those are the things I say are God things.”
Kuhns, the head of Hyde Park’s Staff Parish Relations Committee, took the lead on the social media aspect of the project.
“Part of our strategy was a Facebook where we posted content every day for a year, with a longer-form post on Saturdays. It became a broad reach beyond our congregation. As the team was preparing all this content, my role was to post all that content,” he said.
“There’s 365 posts plus 52 Saturdays, so there are 400-plus pieces of content. I felt like I was truly contributing in some way to the overall project for our congregation and what became a broad reach before our congregation.”
It took enormous pre-planning and execution, but the reward was worth the effort.
“It was massively impactful,” he said.
Individuals were free to use whichever version of the Bible they wished, but most followed the NRSV Study Bible.
“There was a thoughtful, scholarly, short-form article every day at the end of each chapter, and there was a prayer. When the Bible Project ended, and we got into 2021, I started to drift. So, I started again every day with the gospels and some of the other New Testament books,” Kuhns said.
The word spread
The story would still be amazing if that were as far as it went. But the ripples of The Bible Project began to spread far beyond Hyde Park, telling a positive story in a time of uncertainty for the United Methodist Church.
Bishop Ken Carter of the Florida Conference and his leadership team began to spread the word about what Hyde Park was doing. And Abingdon Press, a faith-based publishing house, took deVega’s material and rebranded it into The Bible Year: A Journey Through Scripture in 365 Days.
It offers a study guide, a pastor’s guide, and a group leader’s guide.
And most importantly, the study guide establishes the value of the journey.
In the introduction, deVega wrote of “the value of a sustained encounter with Scripture, a daily practice of reading it and meditating on it. That is our task as we read through the Scriptures together over the days ahead.
“Not to just read the words on its pages, but to do so prayerfully and responsively,” he added. “To narrow the 16-inch distance between our heads and our hearts and to allow the words of Scripture to shape our thoughts, our emotions, and our behaviors.”
Does it work?
Let’s ask Jay Kuhns.
“The Bible Project triggered a hardwire structure in me to be in the Scripture more than just reading a verse. It gave me a deeper connection to Jesus and my faith,” he said. “It really has been transformative.”
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org.
- Threat to withhold apportionments violates John Wesley's "Do No Harm" rule
- Florida Conference helped many small churches bridge the technology gap
- Frequently Asked Questions regarding the Disaffiliation lawsuits
- 106 Florida churches sue to exit denomination
- Florida Conference Response to Disaffiliation Lawsuits