by Moira Cullings
LANSING — In an era known for its busy schedules, heavy workloads and countless distractions, parishioners throughout Lansing and surrounding areas are breaking away from the noise to focus on faith. Their inspiration? The Bible.
At St. Francis de Sales, a parish of roughly 500 households, nearly 70 participants attend a 20-session adult Bible study course held on Monday nights. Attendants greet one another with warm smiles and enjoy coffee and snacks. The program then begins with a DVD, followed by small group discussions over the evening’s lesson.
The parish’s Bible study boasts humble beginnings, starting out in 2011 with less than a dozen participants. But in 2014, the attendance jumped to 45.
“This thing has worked because the Spirit wants it to work,” said Tama Brzustowicz, who plays a key role in running the Bible study with her husband Tad. “No question in my mind about that.”
What sparked the interest of additional participants was the decision to utilize “The Bible Timeline: The Story of Salvation,” a Jeff Cavins course that treats the books of the Bible as a journey through faith and time. The group has since moved on to the current program known as “Epic,” which features Steve Weidenkopf, who draws viewers in with an intriguing, informative overview of Catholic Church history.
Programs like these are what has encouraged many Catholics to slow things down, meet fellow parishioners and, most importantly, reconnect with God.
“This is just a bunch of people coming together to make it fly. We’re really direct — what you see is what you get,” said Tama.
St. Francis receives the Bible study’s DVDs from the archdiocesan office of evangelization. Participants purchase their own study books, making the program cost-effective and easy to follow. Participants are also given the option of donating funds for an additional book, in order to give those who cannot afford it the chance to receive one.
Linda Gilliland, a St. Francis parishioner of 20 years, has been attending the parish’s Bible study since it started nearly five years ago. A cradle Catholic, Gilliland joined the program because she “needed to advance a little bit further, and this was a good way to start.” She had received basic faith formation, said Gilliland, but “it kind of gets abandoned and watered down over the years. So this really keeps you tuned up and learning.”
Building on their existing knowledge of the faith appears to be a major motive for many Bible study attendees. Tom Novak, who has been a member of St. Francis for the past 15 years, said what motivated him to start this program was “a recommitment to my faith. That’s what did it, really.”
Novak, also a cradle Catholic, was motivated to learn more about the history of the church.
“I come in contact with a lot of people who are not Catholic,” he said, “so I wanted to be able to explain my faith.”
“The program used is exceptional, very engaging,” said pastor Father Bill McEvoy, “and the group is very welcoming and hospitable — folks feel at home very quickly.”
A course with more interaction and depth than the average Bible study, Gilliland said the program “allows you to form good friendships with people who have the same ideas and thoughts.” Novak remarked on how impactful it is “to listen, to get feedback from other people’s thoughts and ideas, as well as their life experiences in regards to the faith, from all different walks of life.”
It is clear the participants feel stimulated by this course.
“I’m extremely busy,” said Novak, “but this is extremely important, so I make time for it.”
People who are interested in participating in a Bible study like this but have hectic schedules are encouraged to try it out and attend as many sessions as they can. The key is to set personal goals that can be achieved with a little effort.
And the results are immeasurable.
“I think [the program] has drawn us more [together] as the body of Christ in prayer as a group, which helps in private prayer as well,” said Novak. Gilliland talked about the Bible study as an “internal type of conversion.”
It is clear that faith formation in a group setting also molds participants’ personal faith lives, continued Novak. This is an opportunity that can revamp your faith in God, no matter the stage of life you find yourself.
“We use a lot of Scripture at Mass, but I’m told a lot of Catholics don’t often open their Bible at home,” said Father McEvoy. “I am hoping the Bible study ignites a hunger for Scripture — to delve deeper into God’s word, to come away with more of an understanding of how God is revealing himself in their life.”
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