Community Bible study celebrates 25 years of interfaith connection

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The Ann Arbor Community Bible Study team of servants, left to right, Jane Hughes, children’s director; Patricia Esteva, Senior Leader and Prayer Chair; Faye Taylor, assistant director of children; Donna Langford, Educational Director; Jan McMorris, Assistant Academic Director and Senior Manager; Val Morsfield, Principal Chef; Nancy Sivulka, coordinator.

Photo courtesy of Mary Pittman

In 1985, Katie Renken little did she know that her simple walk with a friend would lead her on a 25-year journey of faith. But when this friend invited her to help start a community Bible study in Ann Arbor, she was hooked.

This year the Ann Arbor Community Bible Studywhich is part of an international organization, is celebrating 25 years of a weekly in-depth Bible study that serves nearly 200 people from different denominations, churches and towns in the county.

Community Bible Study (CBS) began in 1975 in the Washington, DC area and has grown into an international ministry. According to the organization’s website, CBS is intended to be “every person’s Bible study, accessible to all.” Every man, woman, youth, and child will be so loved and loved that all will feel at home in their classroom, regardless of background, education, church involvement, ethnicity, or economic status. Our desire is to build unity amid the diversity of our community. CBS is intended to complement, not compete with, the programs of individual churches and to foster a spirit of Christian unity between Protestant and Catholic denominations.

In the 1980s, the Ann Arbor team met for many months, praying and looking for talented leaders, coordinators, and participants. In order to start a full 30-week course, CBS needs 60 participants and a core service team including at least an educational director, an associate director, a coordinator, and a children’s coordinator. Renken joined the original servant team along with several others who still compete on the Ann Arbor CBS today. All leaders have received intensive training and monitoring through CBS Affiliation.

Given its history, the Ann Arbor launch was indeed a success, with 196 people and 93 children gathering at Knox Presbyterian Church on Wagner Road to study the book of Genesis over the next 30 weeks.

Deep Study approached the Bible in four ways: 15 to 20 minutes a day of individual Bible reading and study; small group discussions of up to 12 small base groups, where students shared questions, comments and related the study to their personal lives; large group lectures by the educational director and follow-up study with written commentary.

Core groups, Renken explained, help people really connect with the message. Primary and servant leaders meet a second day each week, and each primary leader connects weekly with each student in their group of eight to 12 people.

In grassroots groups, Renken said, “People are interested in deeper relationships not just with God, but with each other.”

Sometimes these conversations can be difficult.

“Blessings come in packages we may not want to open,” Renken said, but are overcome by focusing on “how Jesus Christ redeems the world.”

Throughout the process, people form “incredible, deep and meaningful friendships,” she said.

Several members I spoke to during a recent visit to a CBS rally confirmed this sentiment.

Mary Pitmana CBS student for about 18 years in California and Ann Arbor, said the weekly discipline helped her “enter the world” on a more regular basis and that she enjoyed connecting with her core group each week.

Nancy Murphy is encouraged by the interfaith spirit of CBS.

“It gives me hope for Washtenaw County,” she said. “It’s so encouraging to meet so many people from different churches, Protestant or Catholic, who love God and want to know more.”

Donna Langfordthe current director of education, who left Connecticut three years ago and has been involved with CBS for 30 years, explained that the four-way Bible study process “really brings the scriptures to life” for people .

The experience “changed me,” she said, a message she delivered to the entire crowd minutes later during the large group talk.

“Every week,” Langford said, “come expectantly. God has something for you.

Community Bible Study meets every Tuesday from 9:15-11:15 a.m. at Knox Presbyterian Church at 2065 S. Wagner Road. For information and registration contact Nancy Sivulka at 734-665-5294 or [email protected].

Pam Stout coordinates coverage of Faith and Home and Garden for AnnArbor.com. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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