Story Magazine - Spring/Summer, 2009

The Bible Initiative Continues to Pass It On

by Kari Aanestad, M.Div. junior

My father began decades ago to give away Bibles as a Gideon, and now, about 50 years after I first saw him do it, here I am carrying on the tradition," says David Hayes, member of the Luther Seminary Foundation Board of Trustees. Hayes and his wife, Andrea, notable donors to Luther Seminary for the past 14 years, have given a gift and a challenge to the seminary, which has recently been extended to its graduates: give away as many Bibles as possible.

The program, named The Bible Initiative: Pass It On Project, began a year and a half ago when the Hayes
offered to donate 400 hardcover pew Bibles to Luther Seminary's Chapel of the Incarnation and Chapel of the Cross if the seminary agreed to replace the Bibles when they were given away. All of the initial 400 Bibles have been given away, and the seminary is in the process of ordering more. "We are distinguishing ourselves by lifting up the use of Scripture," says President Richard Bliese. "We are striving to become who we actually are as Lutherans; that is, people centered in the Word, which
are people of Word and Sacrament."

Given the great success of this initial gift, the Hayes family decided to expand their contribution to
the broader church. They set up a fund named for David Hayes' father, Lloyd P. Hayes, to which other
seminary trustees--including Michael Schwartz, Diane Kosnick Nelson and Lee Sundet--have already contributed. With money from that fund, up to 20 students each spring will be invited to participate in the Pass it On Project and receive Bibles for the pews of their new congregations. Like the Bibles gifted to the seminary, these Bibles also will be inscribed with an invitation to take the book home or to where it is needed.

In turn, the congregation will commit to replacing the Bibles that are given away. Once the congregations have given away and replaced one-half of their Bibles, the congregation will
officially be recognized by Luther Seminary as a Book of Faith: Pass it On congregation. They will be
publicly recognized by the seminary and receive a small gift in recognition of their contribution to the project.

This program is a part of Luther Seminary's involvement in the Book of Faith Initiative, a major initiative of the ELCA to increase fluency in the Scriptures, the first language of faith, over the next five years. "[The Pass It On Project] seems to be a great complement to the wider church's Book of Faith effort, so God's timing is, as always, perfect," says Hayes.

"Both of these projects [the Pass It On Project and the Book of Faith Initiative] help us take seriously the agenda of the church: we should help all baptized Christians feel more at home in the Scriptures and allow them to help make its stories their stories of faith as well," says Seminary Pastor
John Mann. "This is a wonderful way to get seminarians concerned about their responsibility to teach the first language of faith--the understanding of the Scripture. It's also a wonderful way to familiarize congregations with the use of the Bible in worship and study, and to introduce Scripture to
people who have never owned a copy of, or read, the Bible."

Seminary graduates of the 2008-2009 academic year who wish to participate in the project are required to take a workshop either this spring or summer. Spots are limited to 20 and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The workshop, co-taught by Mann and Diane Jacobson, professor of Old Testament and director of the Book of Faith Initiative, will introduce both the specifics of the program and general pointers on Bible teaching in the parish. All senior students who participate will receive significant
gift incentives.

"Seminary students really need to recognize that their questions and the things that will excite them in
understanding the Scriptures are really quite different from lay people's questions," says Mann. "They need to learn how to listen to their congregation members, anticipate their questions and engage them in learning how God is present and at work in everyday matters. The workshops will help teach them how to do these things."

Bliese agrees. "This project shows our commitment to teaching the Bible, teaching how to teach the Bible and giving away the Word of God," he says. "The Bibles are a subtle yet powerful symbol that speaks volumes about who we are as both students and leaders."

Excitement about the project has already reached beyond the seminary. "We've received word that the Luther Seminary pilot has already begun to inspire some Lutheran congregations in the Twin Cities area to start their own 'Bible projects' in their churches to place and give away Bibles in the sanctuary. That's the kind of fire we hope to ignite and spread," says Hayes. "Andrea and I enjoy few things more
than giving away Bibles, and we're thrilled to have a new vehicle at Luther Seminary to help germinate
and spread the Word far beyond what we can do individually. Our ultimate hope is that all these Bible initiatives will one day result in hundreds of churches giving away thousands of Bibles every year."