Paul Jones offers a different style of Bible Study

A buzzword in the contemporary study of scripture is ‘Contextual Bible Study.’ This is where groups experience the word of God within their own context and community and are then challenged and changed by this encounter—such as a prison or a women’s group in East Africa.

How, though, can the freshness and challenge of scripture be brought to bear on our own congregations? There are, of course, many and varied ways this might be achieved through House, Small or Bible Study Groups or the homily at weekday Mass, for instance. But the challenge still remains of how to engage the whole worshipping community and, in my experience, that realistically means on a Sunday.   So each Advent we ask everybody to read the Gospel appointed for that year, which generally gets a reasonable response. This year I was harkened by one member of the congregation who simply continued reading. Firstly, the whole of the rest of the New Testament, and then he started working his way through the Old Testament—and is now in the middle of Job!

There is still, though, the challenge of how to encourage a more corporate response and reflection on scripture. One way that has proved encouraging for our congregation is to ask them to prepare a tabloid newspaper article on a chosen Bible story. Like all good ideas it has been shamelessly borrowed from someone else; in this case, The Tabloid Bible: The Everyday Lives of Kings and Prophets by Nick Page (SPCK, 2016). In this book, a whole variety of Bible stories are given the red top treatment.  

The advantage of responding to a Bible story through the lens of a tabloid newspaper article is that it has to be concise and eye-catching, but can be opinionated. For me, it was the different perspectives and the contemporary resonances that is most interesting about this exercise.    

So, on Easter 4, I asked the Sunday congregation to prepare a newspaper article on the following week’s story of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7.55–60). These would be displayed in church and would be the sermon for that Sunday. So each entry was attached to a pillar and the congregation read them in the normal sermon slot. A prize was be given for the ‘best’ entry. Out of a usual Sunday attendance of between 70 and 80, there were 15 responses and these were from a broad range of the congregation in terms of age, gender or whether they were new or long-established members.

A sample of these articles are shown opposite.

This exercise cannot be overdone and it requires a story that is amenable to the tabloid treatment (which is quite a few). Lest a preacher think this is an easy way to fill the Sunday sermon slot—be warned. My experience is that it takes much longer to arrange, type up any handwritten entries, and display all the articles than would be required for a more traditional Sunday sermon!

Fr Paul Jones is the Parish Priest of All Saints Babbacombe