Story Magazine - Spring/Summer, 2009
Book of Faith Initiative Inspires ELCA Congregations
by Kelsey Holm, Communication Specialist
Since the Book of Faith Initiative kicked off in August 2007, it has swept through congregations in the
ELCA, growing and evolving in unique ways. What is now a churchwide initiative came from one simple, compelling thought: "We really have to think about how Lutherans read the Bible." That thought spawned a conversation among members of Philadelphia Lutheran Church in Dallas, N.C., who took their resolution to their state synod. In turn, that synod took the resolution to the 2005 churchwide assembly.
"This resolution really captured the imagination of the assembly," says Diane Jacobson, Luther Seminary
professor of Old Testament. "It morphed from simply talking about the authority of Scripture into getting the church more involved and engaged with Scripture, as well as learning more about Lutheran insights into how Scripture works."
Two years later at the 2007 assembly that resolution would become the Book of Faith Initiative and Jacobson named its director. Since then, she has been traveling the country visiting with both lay folks and rostered leaders as congregations and other institutions of the church find unique ways to
make the Initiative their own. The purpose of Book of Faith is "to increase biblical literacy and fluency for the sake of the world," she says.
A different kind of initiative
"There's been great enthusiasm, but there's been frustration borne of a church used to operating within
programs. And that's very natural," says Jacobson. "It takes a while to say, 'If this is going to work, it's going to work because we're all in it together, not because it's a top-down thing. That takes a new imagination and a different kind of leadership than we're used to.
"There have been some wonderful programs in the ELCA and its predecessor bodies--Word and Witness, Search, Bethel. But when we stop we've not had in place ways to continue and go deeper. By making this a grassroots vision rather than a program, the hope is that the Initiative will be the first
step in a recommitment of the ELCA to Scripture being at the center of a life of faith."
As part of this grassroots approach, the ELCA will hold various teaching events across the church, including the Book of Faith Jubilee Aug. 14-16 at Luther Seminary (see page 11). The ELCA has also created a network of synod advocates to create and talk through various ideas. Nearly every synod in the ELCA has at least one advocate devoted to Book of Faith.
"These advocates are working with people on the ground--bishops, congregations, lay schools, colleges,
seminaries, camps, men's and women's groups. In each different institution, the question is 'How does this vision work out where we live?' The advocates are keys to helping this vision become a reality," says Jacobson.
Congregations find new opportunities
Pastors and lay leaders are also working to gauge how they can get their congregations to delve deeper into the Bible.
"There are lots of fun things going on across congregations," says Jacobson. "There are small groups and new members and old members joining together, encouragement in the home, just all kinds of neat things."
At Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Menomonee Falls, Wis., Meredith Bedker Musaus, '86, senior pastor, and
David L. Shelstad, pastor of education, small groups and congregational outreach, are rising to the Book of Faith Initiative challenge to "Join the Conversation."
"I am having so much fun trying to think of creative ways to tell the story," says Musaus. "I have grown
in my understanding of Scripture, especially when I have been preaching and teaching."
Holy Cross is an official Book of Faith congregation, and it's been involved since the early days of the Initiative. So far, Musaus has gotten her congregation to look at the Bible in multiple unique ways. She started with a card series called Lutheran God Talk.
"Each week people received a brightly colored card with a different descriptor of the Lutheran Understanding of Faith--for example, Grace, Two Kingdoms or Saint and Sinner. The first week four cards were given out with an explanation of what was to come," she says.
The idea came from another pastor at a KAIROS course led by Luther Seminary faculty. The cards were on
a silver ring that allowed individuals to add more cards, with Musaus gleaning material from "The Lutheran Handbook," the "Lutheran 101" and "102" series and "Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms," edited by Luther Seminary Associate Professor of Old Testament Rolf Jacobson.
From there, her ideas--and attendance--grew. She offered a six-week series on How to Read the Bible and
Understand It using Book of Faith materials and the DVD series "How Lutherans Read the Bible." Then she
went off the lectionary to teach a well-received Epiphany series on major Old Testament characters. During Lent, Wednesday services were devoted to how the Word of God continues to speak to us today; on Saturdays and Sundays Musaus used the church's stained glass windows to tell Bible stories revolving around the windows' portrayals of the four Gospels and the symbols leading up to Pentecost.
Musaus, who has been in her current congregation for three years, also plans to use a method from her last congregation to reach inactive members through preaching.
"I want to gather some of the most inactive members of the congregation in text study, invite them to reflect on the Scripture and help me craft my sermon. Then I will ask them to come to worship to hear the sermon and give me feedback," she says. "In my last congregation quite a few people came and kept coming back to church!"
Reaching the hard to reach
Musaus has hit her share of roadblocks in getting her congregation to pick up Book of Faith. For the most part, adult Bible studies have been poorly attended, both midweek and on Sunday mornings.
"People are busy, distracted and cocooning these days," she says. "They say they would love to attend and desire to learn more about the Bible, yet when it comes down to a time commitment it just doesn't happen." So Musaus is reaching her congregants where they are: in the pew on Sunday morning. And she's not giving up.
"We are trying to do more biblical education in worship. I've done quite a few sermons that were more
like Bible study. We will do another sermon series on New Testament figures next Epiphany and I will
probably do some type of biblical series this fall," she says.
A team effort
Part of the responsibility of leaders like Musaus is to figure out the best ways to engage people who haven't been engaged before, and to make it fun, exciting and challenging, says Jacobson. In Santa Barbara, Calif., multiple church organizations are coming together to meet that responsibility.
The recently formed SALT (Serving as Lutherans Together) is composed of Christ Lutheran, Grace Lutheran
and Trinity Lutheran churches, plus Lutheran Campus Ministries at University of California, Santa Barbara. The purpose of SALT is to "create a common vision to expand and enhance our ministry together as congregations and throughout our community."
The four organizations that make up SALT decided to tackle Book of Faith together after Karen Wilson, Trinity's director of Christian education and a 2007 Luther graduate, found information about the Initiative on the Augsburg Fortress Web site in August.
"I was instantly captivated that Diane was leading an initiative that vocalized what I observed: congregational members do not know their Scriptures. I realized that this would fit the SALT
congregations' desire for inter-congregational studies. I also felt strongly that any joint missional work needed to be first strongly rooted in studying God's Word together," says Wilson.
The SALT committee enthusiastically agreed to Book of Faith. Before launching the first phase of their
ministries in January, SALT held a combined service of all its congregations where everyone was encouraged to "Sign the Sign." With their signatures, members showed their commitment to become more scripturally literate. That sign then traveled among the congregations throughout the month of January as SALT kicked off the initiative with "Rediscovering the Book of Faith."
"Three of us pastors each took responsibility for one of the three sessions in 'Rediscovering the Book
of Faith' and, on three Sundays in January, in round-robin fashion, taught and preached for each of the
three congregations," says Trinity Pastor Truls Person, '85.
SALT dug deeper by bringing Jacobson in to teach the first three chapters of "Opening the Book of
Faith." Following the daylong event, 70 members signed up for a total of nine small groups, some of them
inter-congregational, focusing on "Opening the Book of Faith." After all groups finish, SALT will decide
what to do next. Wilson is hopeful that the inter-congregational aspect of the groups will be maintained
Changes large and small
"When I brought Book of Faith to SALT my question was, 'How will God change our community because our churches decided to break the spines on their Bibles together, approaching the text from a multitude of perspectives, including Lutheran?'" she says. "I fully expect our congregations to be changed by God speaking to them in community with others.
"The studies are doing what we have needed for decades. They are breaking down the walls between the congregations, mitigating decades of distrust between members. This can only positively strengthen
our unity as Christians and as Lutherans here." Person sees the potential for Book of Faith and its accompanying resources to have a positive impact on a small and large scope.
"The conversation and resource sharing that is supported by the Book of Faith Web site holds enormous potential for individuals and congregations," he says.