As many of you will know, over recent years, from time to time, every three or four months, I have offered a Saturday morning Bible study at the invitation of the chaplain or churchwardens in which we focus on a particular book or biblical theme. I enjoy leading it, and I hope the participants also find it stimulating. Normally we have about 30 people present, the majority from Holy Trinity, with others from various Geneva churches, and the occasional brave soul from another part of Switzerland.
Each year one of the Bible studies explores the lectionary Gospel for the coming year. This year, beginning with Advent 2020, the key lectionary Gospel is Mark, so the latest Bible study, held on Saturday 14th November, invited us (with a slightly cringe-making pun!) to be ‘Marking the Way’. As most of my friends are aware, Mark’s Gospel is a particular favourite of mine, so I especially enjoy the occasions when I can share my enthusiasm for it. The word ‘Way’ or ‘Road’ (odos in Greek), is a key word for the Gospel of Mark, (what ‘posh’ biblical scholarship calls a ‘hermeneutical key’!). Mark is telling the story of Jesus walking this ‘way’, of John the Baptist his fore-runner on the way, and inviting us – you and me – to join Jesus’ earliest disciples in literally following Jesus ‘on the way’. By the end of his Gospel Mark makes very clear the challenge that is implied in such an act of following. The comment by Christopher Burdon somehow sums it up for me: ‘In the end, there are two ways of dealing with the Gospel according to Mark: either we throw the book away and opt for a gentler religion, or we act on it and attempt to follow this man (Jesus) through glory and through terror.’
Of course these days we are ‘doing things differently’. The Bible study on Mark, like an earlier one I led on ‘The Bible and Creation’ at the end of April took place via the medium of Zoom. Over the last 8 months or so, I have discovered what (if you had asked me a year ago), I wouldn’t have dreamt possible – that I can teach using the medium of Zoom, and can even enjoy doing it! It does mean that sessions can’t be quite as interactive as I would ideally like, and that I have to prepare strategically by ensuring that people get appropriate handouts in advance. But such challenges come also with opportunities. There were over 50 people present at the Bible study on 14 November, and many of them were located in places well beyond Switzerland. Among others there was quite a group present based in Vienna, and it was a delight to notice that the Holy Trinity Geneva mission outpost in Tain, Scotland (aka Canon Alex Gordon) was also with us. The sharing of educational opportunities that Zoom makes possible is something that I am sure that the Diocese in Europe will want to develop, even when we eventually return to ‘normal’ life again.
I am proud of and grateful to Holy Trinity Geneva for its ability, capacity and willingness to ‘host’ such an event, not only for its own congregation, but also as such an ‘offering’ to the wider diocese. One of the things that I have become aware of in recent months, both in relation to my role in the Diocese in Europe (Director for Lay Discipleship), and in my current home base in Dorset, is that it is the well resourced churches (such as Holy Trinity) that are finding it easier to cope with and respond to the demands that the current pandemic is making upon us all. It is good that we are able to use our talents, and resources in such a constructive way for the benefit of the wider church.
By the way… with the kind permission of Jenny Buffle, I am writing two articles on the Gospel of Mark for the Magazine; one will be published in the next issue, and the other in the issue that will come out in Lent. You will be able to read more of my thoughts and ideas there…