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Hallo again to all.

For the first time, the Archbishop of Canterbury hosted a live online Bible study through Facebook. Sitting in a dimly lit library, a ten minute discussion with the Revd Chris Russell on John 1:35-42 was followed by answering questions asked by online participants. There were over 2,000 participants from six continents. When the event was first announced, we were conflicted.

Bible study is often one of the more intimately interpersonal experiences of the Church. Certainly one would find it hard to believe that the earliest Christians, meeting in homes under the legal disapproval (or sometimes outright persecution) of Roman authorities, did not have opportunities to discuss scripture amongst themselves. The sheer amount of dialogue between early Christians in letters, whether canonical or not, seems to point to a community that engaged with its holy texts.

Certainly after the Medieval disconnect between the language of liturgy and vernacular, in the wake of Reformations and Counterreformations, a robust movement among the laity to study the Scriptures has become a commonplace of Christianity. The earliest Bible societies emerged in the mid 18th century. Gaining popularity over the next hundred years, these, organisations are dedicated to printing copies of the Bible in the vernacular and putting in the hands of those who could not otherwise afford or access them. They also promote the discussion of the material there within their local contexts. As John Wesley so dramatically put it:

God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God!*

We wonder though, whether something is not lost in the transition to an online format. The Archbishop and the Revd Russell had an animated discussion, and they clearly engaged with the text and their love for the Gospel—and Jesus' command to 'come and see'—shone through. Yet, there were times it felt like we were intruding on someone else's small Bible study group. A few questions from the audience only served slightly to remove that impression.

And yet, reading through Facebook comments from listeners from around the world, Anglican and otherwise, a few minutes out of their daily (or nightly) routine clearly made an impact. We have heard of other instances of book and bible study fully online, utilizing video chat, blog comments, or 'course management software' but none on this sort of scale or in this manner, which struck us almost as a 'webinar'.

We know of other attempts at bringing a format traditionally part of an 'in-person' experience to a large online audience, of course. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are all the rage in academia at the moment, and while they have had difficulties, they have also had stand-outs, such as Harvard's Gregory Nagy and his Heroes MOOC that created a cohesive community that continued on as HeroesX.

So, we do hope these Bible studies continue but we also hope that the Archbishop and his fellow participants—whether present physically or virtually—find ways to build community. As Archbishop Justin noted in his discussion of the passage from John, Jesus after all immediately invited the disciples of John the Baptist into his life:

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.

Perhaps the opportunity in such an online exchange is to find that chance for everyone to come and see in some way. Have you participated in 'non-traditional' Bible study or classes? Did you take part in or later watch the Archbishop's Bible study? What do you think? What works, what does? Best practices, anyone? Let us know.

See you next week.

Our Signatures

All of us at Anglicans Online

22 May 2016

John Wesley, Preface. The Works of the Rev. John Wesley: Forty-two sermons on various subjects, 1771.


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