Presented by Brother Bob Elliot, from St. Anne’s in Desoto, at the Dallas Assembly Quarterly Meeting.
Church of The Epiphany, Richardson TX, 20 Aug, 2011
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and You shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
That opening prayer is one that is used in Cursillo. And I opened with it for a reason, other than the fact that it is always good to open with a prayer. But before I get to that reason I need to tell you a little bit about myself.
I was born and raised in North Tonawanda, NY, a suburb of Buffalo, NY. I was baptized, confirmed and was a member of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church there until I moved to Dallas in 1979 when I was 25 years old. After searching for a Church for about a year or so upon my arrival I ended up at the Church of Ascension in Dallas. There I was married and two of my three girls were baptized there. It was a wonderful place, a welcoming place and I still love that church. However I moved to Duncanville in 1991 and joined Saint Anne in Desoto.
I became very involved in the Church, served on vestry for many terms, been Jr. and Sr. Warden a couple times each and have been on many different committees. I mention this because through all of this I thought I was doing pretty well, I might have even been proud of myself. But then two things happened to me almost at exactly the same time.
It was about ten years ago I went to Cursillo, where I not only learned the prayer I opened with, but more importantly I was challenged, or maybe called is a better word, to follow a rule of life which included Piety, Study and Action. My piety was maybe OK, action, well I had some, but study, I don’t think I had ever done any since my 7th grade confirmation class.
If that wasn’t enough, shortly after I had attended Cursillo, my church, Saint Anne, started a Brotherhood of Saint Andrew Chapter. Being a charter member I was immediately greeted with the Disciplines of Prayer, Study, and Service. That study just wouldn’t go away. Maybe Piety is slightly different than Prayer, and Action varies from Service, possibly, but study is and was study. I was getting the message God; it was time for me to study. Let me tell you, study has truly been a blessing in my life.
So what is the Discipline of Study? Well according to our Devotional Handbook
The Discipline of Study is to study the Holy Scriptures regularly and the teachings of the Church, to attain a better understanding of how to follow Christ and bring others into his kingdom.
How can we get closer to Christ if we are not close to His word? How are going to bring others into this Christian life if we are not fully experiencing it ourselves? There are some people, and I really don’t think they are in this room, but their study ends when they leave Sunday School, whether that’s after Confirmation or after high school, but it just stops. That was me as I have already confessed to. What would happen in our occupations if we just stopped learning? Nothing profitable I’m sure.
Let me take a minute to dissect the Discipline of Study. The first part is “to study the Holy Scriptures”.
As it is said in Second Timothy – All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. Or the collect from the Book of Common Prayer that says Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them. So not only are we instructed by the Brotherhood to study scripture, but by even higher authorities.
The next word in the Discipline is “regularly” to study the Holy Scriptures regularly. Now that’s the great thing about my Brotherhood Chapter and I hope it is true of yours. We meet regularly and study regularly. Now I have other forms of study, such as adult Sunday School, which I am involved in-but you know-that doesn’t meet in the summer. And I just finished a two year bible study course “Crossways” but as I said – finished-that had an end. I also held a bible study in my home but that just petered out after time.
But the brotherhood chapter at Saint Anne-the study continues-twice a month-every month-year after year-no summer breaks-no ending point – very, very few exceptions – just continued study. The next part is “the teachings of the church” and we do that but that we include it with the regular study of scripture, and I’ll give an example of that in just a little bit. And then it concludes with, once again, the reason we study – “to attain a better understanding of how to follow Christ and bring others into his kingdom.”
It is in study that we can grow closer to Christ. It is in study that God can speak to us. It is study that leads us into a deeper Christian life. It is study that allows us to better serve others, as we are called to do. I would certainly hope that everyone and the chapters represented here this morning are involved with regular study.
At the Saint Anne chapter, we of course have a prayer life, though I am sure we could have benefited by last meeting’s talk, and I apologize for our absence, and we of course do service. But it is study that’s the glue that keeps us together. I think it is study that has made the Brotherhood one of the longest running organizations in our church. Since there are no women from my church to refute this, I’ll just say not only is it the longest running group, but also the best. As I have already said, we meet twice a month, the second and fourth Thursdays of the month, and when we can’t meet then we adjust the dates so we always without fail meet twice a month. Our meetings open with the Opening Service at 7:30pm and then we have study until about 8:45 and then conduct business after that. Way back when we use to do business first, but we found that we would spend too much time in discussion, which was robbing us of our study time.
Before I get into our study I want to give you a glimpse of our group. At any given meeting we have between 6 and 12 members in attendance. The skill level, if you will, greatly varies within our group. We have a very knowledgeable priest with over 50 years of ordained experience, another member is a Princeton Theological Seminary graduate, one has been a missionary, and then we have a bunch of regular guys like myself. And fortunately, we recently have had some new members join that are very new to study. Anyway with this assorted membership, our study works. And I think that is because the Holy Spirit is there. Going back to my opening prayer O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful. If we are faithful in our study, we will hear what the Holy Spirit wants to instruct us in, regardless of what level we are at.
One of the things we agreed on years ago is that our study would always involve scripture. We have over the years studied many books of the bible. We actually have studied Luke twice, once in such great detail, that it took us over two and a half years to study it. That didn’t stop us to spending all of last year on it again. But contrary to popular believe at Saint Anne we have done more than Luke. Well of course we did Acts of the Apostles written by Luke, but we have also done Genesis, many of Paul’s Letters, and have even been brave enough to tackle Revelation. We always know in advance what we will cover and appoint a leader or facilitator for each meeting. Everyone gets a turn to lead, everyone. Besides keeping the study on schedule, the leader is prepared with some basic information he has studied ahead of time. He may consult a commentary or search the internet to come up with some interpretation he may not have considered before. Hopefully other members have prepared also, but if not, it really doesn’t matter, since the whole point of our study is too encourage discussion and to get us thinking about what scripture is saying to us, what it is that God wants us to learn that night. And when I say we have discussions, I mean we have discussions.
Even though we respect what others have to say, it doesn’t always mean we agree with one another. To me that is the benefit of studying in a group, to be challenged by others, to be stretched by others. I have always said that in study with a group you get two studies for the price of one. Not only do you learn from the scripture but you get to study other men’s lives and learn from their experiences, to try not to fail where they have failed and to try to succeed where they have succeeded. Through the years, and the many bottles of wine we have shared together, yes we have wine at our meetings; we have learned to trust one another, to share our feelings. This is a difficult thing for men to do, but at the Brotherhood of Saint Andrew it can and is being done. We understand that what needs to remain in confidence stays so. We understand that many things we share as men can only be understood by other men. That is why we have an unofficial name for our chapter. A name we borrowed from the Little Rascals, The He-Man Women Haters Club. Obviously we use this as a joke. I don’t think we hate women, but it does shows that the relationship we have is a special one. It is a bond that unites us.
One of most interesting studies is the one we are currently conducting. We are using the new church publication “Holy Women, Holy Men-Celebrating the Saints” which to my understanding is in trial use to be the replacement for “Lesser Feasts and Fasts”. Actually I think the trial period ended June 30th. I don’t know what happens next, but anyway we are still using it and it has been a real treasure for us. It has a Saint for almost every day of the year and briefly tells their story. Many are Saints we have heard of before and many are great men and women at least I have never heard of before. So during the meeting the leader will give us information on the Saint that was chosen for that evening, using information from the book and possibly from other sources. Then as many of you may know, there are scripture readings appointed for each Saint. Scriptures that reflect the life they led. We read these scriptures and then discuss why they were chosen and what it is we are to learn from them and put into use for our lives.
An example of one of these Saints we studied was St. Alban. He became the first martyr of Britain many centuries ago when he changed places with a priest who was to be executed. His story is really quite interesting and I suggest if you don’t know it please look it up sometime. The point I am trying to make is that if you read one of the scriptures for that Saint, in this case 1 John, verse 16 reads – By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers – you can see how the study of the church teachings is tied to scripture.
Before you get the wrong idea though, I don’t want you to think that our study is super structured. We have the framework in place, but we do get off course in many discussions. Now that’s not a bad thing, since we believe that is the Holy Spirit at work. To reference our Devotional Handbook again, the Collect for Guidance in the opening service asks that the Holy Spirit “may direct and rule our hearts in this meeting”, and we truly believe that that happens. Using the study of St. Alban as an example again, our discussion on martyrdom eventually led to some quite fascinating and moving personal stories of how each of us were called to our Christian lives. We all commented after that meeting that something special had really taken place. I believe, no I know, it was the Holy Spirit directing our hearts that evening.
A great thing about the discipline of study is how it leads to the enrichment of the other disciplines. In your prayer life and especially in your worship life study adds to the experience. In worship the scripture readings are that much more meaningful when you have some understanding ahead of time as to what is being read. We in our Brotherhood chapter are simply delighted when the priest gives a sermon on an epistle or a gospel lesson that we have studied at some length before. The joke amongst ourselves is that we listen intently to make sure the priest “got it right”. But seriously, you listen because you know that the sermon is probably going into yet another direction than what you have covered before and you enjoy that opportunity to grow even more, continuing to build on the foundation that has been laid in the Brotherhood of Saint Andrew.
And study can lead to service. For many, many summers now, our chapter has cooked pancakes and sausages every other Sunday morning between our three services as a way to promote attendance as well as fellowship. This has been good service for us and a benefit to our church, it indeed has helped increase attendance during the summer and has provided an avenue for fellowship. If you were listening you noticed that we do it every other week. The reason for this, because as another part of our service, in alternating weeks we have a summer Sunday School for adults. This Sunday School usually reflects what we are studying in the Brotherhood. In past summers we have done parables, the travels of Paul, women of the Bible, and this summer we just completed our summer program on “Holy Women, Holy Men”. Each class was led by a different member of our chapter. This class was really appreciated by those that attended and is really just a terrific example I think of how study can easily be transformed into service.
A few months ago I was able to hear a talk given by Dean Kevin Martin in which he stated that many people go to church for 30 years and never grow spiritually. I know for me that the Discipline of Study has been the key for my spiritual growth. I know that to be true for many of you here today. I also know I could learn more about study from you than you learned from me. With that disclaimer, I am going to conclude with what I think are the top ten reasons why the Discipline of Study is important:
10. It is one of the Brotherhood of Saint Andrew Disciplines.
9. It leads to improved Disciplines of Prayer and Service.
8. It helps us grow spiritually.
7. It allows us to learn from the lives of others.
6. It stretches our thinking, hearing the thoughts and opinions of others.
5. You develop friends that you can share your feelings with.
4. You can see the Holy Spirit at work.
3. You grow closer to Christ.
2. God can speak to you through study.
1. You can drink wine with your friends and not get in trouble with your wife.