The Bible has played a vital part in Friends' experience and testimony since our beginnings. There is great power in reading and reflecting together in the Spirit, which is how we will spend most of our time, engaging the texts in an open, non-didactic framework. Beginners to experts, all welcome. (PT, HG1, HG2)
This workshop is intentionally light on curriculum. Mostly the plan is to spend time in worship, Bible reading and reflection in large and small groups, with many opportunities to learn from one another and from the Spirit that animates the texts. My goal is to provide a convivial setting that allows participants to “be wherever they are” with the Bible, as long as they are willing to treat one another and one another’s contributions with tenderness and respect. This workshop is for you if you: are new to Friends or curious about Quaker views on the Bible; are looking for a “way in” to reading the Bible, or are struggling with your relationship to Scripture; have a substantial acquaintance with and love for the Bible already and relish engaging with others over the texts in an open and non-didactic framework; or are simply seeking an encounter with the Bible in the company of Friends in a setting that encourages listening to what the Spirit has to say to us through its words today. I hope we will experience the spiritual synergy of group Bible reading, that moment when the text opens up and reveals a fresh illumination of the Spirit. Each of us will bring a unique perspective to whatever passages we choose to read, and together there can emerge something new, stirring, surprising and even inspired, whether from an ambiguous parable of Jesus, a troubling tale or challenging admonition from the prophets, or a beloved chestnut you thought you knew backwards and forwards. Expect the unexpected.
If your Meeting does not provide opportunities for Bible study, I hope you also might take a fire for it back with you, perhaps with a new perspective on the place of Scripture in our lives as Friends, and secure in the knowledge that anybody can do this. To that end we will talk some about Friends’ views on the Bible, with attention to our history and the foundations of our faith; and we will probably look at and try a few different formats for group Bible reading, with an emphasis always on the spiritual openings afforded by our encounter with the text rather than on scholarly exegesis.
areas/topics to be covered:
Mostly, what I hope will be “covered” is our time together as we engage over what arises in the course of our encounter with Biblical texts, the Spirit and one another. Introductory talks may include an overview of the Bible’s contents, arrangement, languages and translations; why the Bible has been and is so important to Friends, and to me; how the Quaker conception of the place of Scripture in our devotional life differs from what some may think of as the “required” Christian view (Quakers were jailed for asserting that the Bible is not the word of God; indeed, the word of God is not words: it says so in the Bible!); and probably some talk about Jesus. I don’t know much about, and probably will not look to spend a lot if any time exploring, how the canon was put together or who decided what to include and what to leave out and why--though these certainly are not forbidden topics.
rough description of format:
A typical session will probably include: an opening period of worship; a spoken go-round to gather us; a not-more-than-half-to-three-quarter-hour talk and discussion on a topic related to Friends and the Bible (probably less of that later in the week); and the main event: group reading of a passage or passages from the Bible, with ample opportunity for reflection and response in a variety and/or choice of group configurations and formats. These could include worship-sharing, Friendly Bible Study questions (see suggested reading list), dramatization, writing, or simple conversation. One session will likely include an opportunity to scatter for individual and/or small group reading, followed by a worship/report-back time in the large group; another could see a variation on Bible reading in the manner of Conservative Friends, or a “Meeting for Reading” as described in Michael Birkel’s Engaging Scripture (see suggested reading list).
advance reading suggestions (none required!):
Books (all available from Quakerbooks, or try your Meeting library): Michael Birkel, Engaging Scripture: Reading the Bible with Early Friends (Friends United Press 2005); Paul Buckley & Stephen W. Angell, eds., The Quaker Bible Reader (Earlham School of Religion 2006); Robert Barclay (1648-1690), Apology for the True Christian Divinity (either the 2002 Quaker Heritage Press edition (also available online at http://www.qhpress.org/texts/barclay/apology/index.html) or Dean Freiday's 1967 Barclay's Apology in Modern English) (check out Proposition 3, “Concerning the Scriptures”: http://www.qhpress.org/texts/barclay/apology/prop3.html).
Articles/pamphlets: Henry Cadbury, “A Quaker Approach to the Bible” (online at http://universalistfriends.org/cadbury-1.html (Guilford College 1953)); Joanne & Larry Spears, Friendly Bible Study (FGC Quaker Press 1990, or online at http://www.read-the-bible.org/FriendlyBibleStudy.htm).
what to bring:
Bring a Bible if you have one, in any translation; pen and paper for journaling or other writing; and an open spirit.
About the leader :
Stephen Matchett is a Quaker by birth and by convincement, and a 30-year member of San Francisco (CA) Monthly Meeting (Pacific YM). Once an appellate criminal defense lawyer, he now spends much of his time facilitating conflict resolution workshops in prisons and in the community with the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). He has an active traveling ministry among unprogrammed Friends, offering presentations on reading early Quaker writers and on Friends’ beliefs, and following a call to support and encourage contemporary Quakers’ (re)acquaintance and engagement with the Bible. In recent years he has convened morning Bible study at College Park Quarterly and Pacific Yearly Meetings, using a “come as you are” approach. The growing number of Friends finding meaning in those sessions led him to offer, and to repeat the following year, a weekend program by the same name at Quaker Center, in Ben Lomond CA. This will be his first FGC Gathering.