The Ladies Bible Study Class held on Wednesdays in the Fellowship Hall of First Baptist Church in Tellico Village is more than a routine Bible class.
The class is truly a support group for women built around the Christian principles they study and practice, associate pastor Kem Lindsay said.
Founded several years ago by Teresa Barnard, wife of senior pastor Charlie Barnard, the group has grown to nearly 100 women.
The class started out as a Sunday school group for just a few adults. When COVID-19 hit, the class moved from a small classroom on Sundays to the scholarship room on Wednesdays. It was then that the band really started to grow.
Teresa said more people were able to attend on Wednesday mornings, especially people who might have attended a different church on Sunday. As they began to bring friends, the class continued to grow.
In a typical meeting, 50 or 60 women gather around a dozen tables in groups of five or six.
During a recent class, the participants hugged and acted more like close friends than classmates.
“We are all for each other,” said care group leader Terri Donald.
New members are often asked about their favorite cookie. Sometimes the class brings a variety of cookies and exchanges them within the group, Donald said.
The class has a solid structure built around around 10 care groups of 8-14 women per group. Groups are led by a single person who stays in touch, handles prayer requests, and generally looks after other members of the group.
The leader also calls or sends letters and birthday cards to members to keep communication going outside of meetings.
“A lot of women have lost their husbands,” Donald said. “We are part of their family. I’ve heard some of them say that sometimes those are the only hugs they get all week.
The class also offers a chance for serious Bible study and will usually focus on a specific Bible book. The group is currently studying the New Testament book of Ephesians.
Other fields of study are more varied and interesting.
One class focused on the “bad girls of the Bible,” Donald said.
Teresa, a retired nurse, said she had no formal training in the scriptures, but had paid close attention to the Bible all her life. She said she likes to make the class interesting.
“The Bible is never boring,” she says. “It’s as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.”
Class members have also been involved in missionary projects related to host families and local schools. Steeke Elementary School benefited from the group’s generosity.
Donald said that when Charlie retires later this year, Teresa is expected to retire as well. The church is looking for a new pastor and hopefully a new Bible study class leader will emerge.
“We hope God will lead the right person to us,” Donald said.
Until that leader arrives, she said the structure and direction of the care group will continue to maintain momentum.
Donald said the group is always looking for new members.
“I challenge them to come for three visits,” she said.
Teresa said she was confident the group leaders would be able to maintain the class and grow it.
“They are wonderful women who understand,” she said.