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Students at commencement

Biblical Fluency

North Emanuel Lutheran Church

Location: Saint Paul, Minn.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
Size: 65-70 weekly worship attendance

 Download North Emanuel's VCP report or see report contents below:

Ministry context
North Emanuel celebrated its 120th anniversary in the North End of St. Paul this year. It is a congregation situated in the heart of changing neighborhood-more diversity in terms of race, ethnicity and economics. We have been hard hit with the economy. We are primarily an aging congregation with a few families. Our congregation is primarily Caucasian, Scandinavian background with some Liberian, Native American, Latino and biracial families.
Pre-existing practices

1. Bibles into Every Home and Pew

We purchased enough Bibles to have in worship and encourage people to use them for all scripture readings during worship. We have also begun giving Spark story Bibles to families with young children and a children’s Bible to upper elementary children along with “reward coupons” when families have read through either the Old or New Testament. We have a number of Bibles available for adults who do not have Bibles in their homes and freely give those away.

Just getting Bibles into people’s hands is seen as a very positive step forward for the congregation.

2. Short-term Bible Studies

We have begun to hold 4 to 5 week Bible studies outside of Sunday morning. Some of the studies are reading and reflecting devotionally; others are curriculum based. The Bible studies at this time are primarily pastor led.

We offered the same study but at different times: Tuesday evening (for working people) and Wednesday afternoon (for retired/at home folks). The turn out for the daytime study was much better.

3. Treasured Bible Verses

People were invited to submit their “treasured Bible verse” for the 120th anniversary (we collected 120 verses). Each week in worship, one of the verses is chosen from the glass jar on the altar and the verse is read. Then it is printed and displayed the following week in the sanctuary. The sanctuary has many verses now posted on the walls surrounding the people.

This has been very favorable. We are not sure if we will pull out all the verses or stop this particular practice now that the 120th is over.

Discoveries from listening process

1. Openness to Learn

People are more open to engaging scripture than we thought -- most of those who were interviewed had a favorite verse or Bible character that was helpful for them. This matters because it will make our projects and paths of engagement a little more positive.

2. Scripture not in Daily Life

For many people, the Bible seemed to be most alive for them when they were children/young. They don’t seem to rely upon scripture in their daily lives. It is not a part of the fabric of life (except on Sunday). Why this matters: Scripture speaks across the generations so we’d like to help people hear God speaking in all the times of their lives.

3. Holy Spirit is Present in Scripture

From the interviews, people do not have a great sense of “the holy, the divine” or the movement of the Holy Spirit. They also regard the Bible more as a “guide” rather than God’s story. This matters because the Bible becomes law rather than gift.

Opportunities for growth

1. Help People Hear God’s Story Again

2. Engage Scripture across the Generations

3. Lift up the Mystery and Power of the Holy Spirit

Experiments undertaken

1. Help People Hear God’s Story Again

Our theme for the year is “The Meeting Place” where God meets us in scripture and we meet Old Testament ancestors, Jesus and the early apostles. We are using a modified Narrative Lectionary, with all Old Testament stories fall, 2011, the Gospel of Mark January-Easter, 2012 and stories from the Book of Acts from Easter to Pentecost. During Faith Formation, we invite conversation around the biblical story of the day and how God is speaking in daily life.

In the fall, every family received a weekly reading guide to complement and supplement the preaching text from Sunday-readings and questions to ponder. This is the basis for the Sunday morning conversation following worship.

When we begin with the Gospel stories in January, we will have a 5 week Bible study/conversation using The Greatest Story: Jesus (Augsburg Fortress). This will once again be offered Tuesday evenings/Wednesday mornings.

Our Lenten series will be Water Marks for Wednesday evenings (from Augsburg Fortress).

As each “season” ends, we’ll invite people to reflect on the stories that seemed to be most meaningful; where they experienced God’s presence; what new or different insights they gained; did these last few weeks help them to “meet God” in their daily lives?

2. Engage Scripture across the Generations

The children’s Sunday school sessions follow the narrative lectionary-what is heard in worship is reinforced with Sunday school. Each family receives Faith in the Home Spark devotionals to encourage home devotions and Bible engagement. (These are given quarterly).

We are also instituting four monthly Family Faith Practices Nights (October, November, January and February), focusing on the following practices: blessing, living in joy, prayer and hospitality. Scripture is woven into each theme.

We have designed three special intergenerational worship events: Exodus (just completed), Transfiguration and Pentecost (fall, winter and spring).

3. Lift up the Mystery and Power of the Holy Spirit

Sunday worship will focus on the Book of Acts from Easter to Pentecost. There will be a Bible reading plan focusing on the Holy Spirit with time for reflection, journaling, prayer and perhaps a weekend retreat. Time will be spent on the fruits of the Spirit and where we hope to nurture those fruits in our daily lives.

Discoveries from experiments (July 2014)

Filed July 2014 by Kisten Thompson

Two years post-Biblical Fluency Project we have seen a general decline in the life of our congregation. Our average worship attendance is now between 40-45/week (as opposed to 65-70 when the project began).

We are working to discern possible ways forward as a congregation-yoking with another congregation, selling the building while remaining a Word and Sacrament community, seeking a new kind of life. We believe that 2015 will be decision time for the congregation.

In the midst of this discernment, we continue to commit to biblical engagement in the following areas:

  • While we do not have regular Sunday School anymore, from this project we have developed and built a monthly, scripture based children’s gathering for children ages 3-5th grade. We consistently have 10-12 children attend this, along with their parents-it may be that it could develop into a family style worship experience.
  • We continue to have short 4 week term Bible studies. 2013 was the Year of Discipleship with emphasis in key discipleship practices including Bible engagement. About 25% of the worshiping community participates in this.
  • We continue to have Bible conversations during worship as part of the sermon time about every 5 or 6 weeks. People are comfortable in picking up their pew Bibles to read along in worship (as evidenced by reading the Psalm responsively from our Bibles.
  • We have not been very successful in helping people articulate their favorite Bible verses or stories, nor have we been able to really help people engage a practice of regular Bible reading in the home.
  • As we wrestle with our way forward, we look to scripture to guide us in our prayers, discussions and pondering. Some verses that have been helpful recently have included Luke 9:24 (“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it”); 1 Corinthians 3:6 (“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth”); and Psalm 71.

Video: Becoming Able to Claim a Story or a Life-verse from the Bible