This year was Chris Mohr’s second year of leading Bible study at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. George Schaefer and Chris co-created the class last year at The College of New Jersey. They agreed it would be good to do again this year, despite the constraints of video conferencing. It was very successful and 27-37 people attended each day. Here follows an interview with Chris about this year’s class!
How do you decide what you will cover in a class?
Usually I notice a whisper, nudge, or sometimes even a shove to look at a particular text. As I read or reread it, it may become clear that the Spirit has something here for the group I’ll be sharing the text with.
Most often I have taught Bible lessons in Firstday School, first in San Francisco Meeting and then in Green Street Meeting since 2011. In those classes, I wanted our youngest Friends to become familiar with a few of the best-known stories, parables, or adages in the Bible. I also looked for passages that had striking imagery that would appeal to young children, such as sea monsters or cherubim.
A few days before the first day of Bible study at Sessions this year, I saw a brief video clip of the late Rep. John Lewis. When I heard it, I just immediately noticed resonances with various Bible passages, so found some verses, and that was the lesson.
George Schaefer had suggested looking at Psalms, so that was already going to be Saturday’s focus. Then in the Friday evening plenary, Naomi Madaras talked about facing our own anger, and the Psalms were referenced. So that seemed like Way opening to dig into that aspect of Psalms!
What do you feel you bring into the class? What do you feel you take away?
I am generally familiar with the contents of the Bible, have an awareness of Quaker practices and worldview that are anchored in Bible passages, and tend to focus on sections that seem most alive for liberal Friends today.
I usually come away with new insights provided by the other Friends in the group. When it goes well, I carry a sense that we abided in the Presence together, and that’s always an occasion for joy.
Can you speak to why the Bible is meaningful to Friends everywhere today?
Well, let’s be honest, the Bible is not meaningful to some Friends! Yet it is meaningful to the majority of Friends worldwide, as well as many, many liberal, unprogrammed Friends.
For me, the Bible’s underlying story is about how humans have connected with the divine in different places and times; how that connection can liberate us to be wholly who we are meant to be; and how it also nudges us to help others be free, too. We Quakers hope, expect, and regularly experience such connection to the divine in worship as well as in everyday life. So the “types and figures” found in the Bible may help us learn some of the same lessons today.
As Rep. John Lewis said in his final essay for the NY Times on 7/30/2020, “You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time.” To me, that includes the Bible (though I also don’t read it as literal, fact-based history as we understand it today).
Who are your frequent partners in creating the Bible class?
Most of my Bible-based lessons have been in Firstday School! I started in San Francisco in 2005, and continued at Green Street Meeting when we moved to Philadelphia.
A couple of years ago, George Schaefer and I started hosting a weekly Bible study for half an hour on Wednesdays, followed by a half hour of waiting worship. We draw from organizations on site and also staff of nearby Quaker groups, namely Friends General Conference (FGC) and Friends Journal. It is very loosely structured; we pick a text, take turns reading a few passages aloud, and then pause to reflect or comment. What was the historical context for this? How does it connect to other parts of the Bible and to Quaker practice? Does it connect to my life today?
I learned this method of Bible study at San Francisco Monthly Meeting, where for three decades, Bruce Folsom has hosted twice-monthly groups in this format. The late Stephen Matchett, also of San Francisco, traveled in the ministry to lead such Bible studies, and called it “Come as you are Bible study.” You don’t need theological training, a particular set of beliefs, or even much familiarity with the Bible; you can just show up and listen to what the text had to say to you and to what others found in the text.
Any thoughts you’d like to share?
The Bible has been described as an entire library, not a single book. Feel free to dip in here and there just to see what might speak to you. Read different translations. You can get a sense of them from online tools like Bible Gateway.
For Sessions this year, I mostly used The Message by Eugene Peterson, which is very contemporary in style and not a word-for-word translation. In my view, it helps one approach a familiar passage with a fresh perspective because the words and images are so different.
Chris Mohr serves Friends Center as the Executive Director and is also a member of Green Street Meeting. Thank you Chris!