The Rev. Poulson Reed, rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Phoenix, Arizona, cites Psalm 96:9 when discussing how The Saint John’s Bible came to find a home at All Saints’. “Our Episcopal liturgy truly seeks to ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,’” he wrote. “Having the Heritage Edition felt like a logical extension of what we value.”
Nanette Towsley, the church’s director of communications, agreed. “Music is always a huge portion of our worship here – sacred Anglican music rather than contemporary music. The kind of people who want to come to church for that are the same kind of people who love the art of The Saint John’s Bible.”
A Community Called to Giving
That value for art and beauty first brought The Saint John’s Bible to the church in 2015, when an anonymous gift from a parishioner enabled the church to take part in the Year with The Saint John’s Bible program. In 2007 and 2008, many members of the parish saw the original folios at the Phoenix Art Museum, so when church leaders later learned about the opportunity to host the Heritage Edition for a year, the community was enthusiastic.
“Here was this amazing book that provided lots of inspiration to get new generations looking at the Bible,” said Towsley. “We fell in love with the concept.”
So in love, in fact, that toward the end of All Saints’ year with the Heritage Edition, enough individual donors stepped forward to enable the church to acquire its own seven-volume set.
“Honestly, I expected that we would enjoy our Year with The Saint John’s Bible and then say our fond farewells,” wrote Reed. “But as we got closer to the end of our year, we kept mentioning that there was this possibility of purchasing the full set, if enough donors were interested. We weren’t pushing it, just leaving room for the Holy Spirit to move. I was amazed when a small number of donors, with one amazing anonymous donor as the lead, came forward individually in response to the invitation, and met with me to say they felt called to do this.”
“Drawing People into the Life of Faith”
Now that the complete Heritage Edition has a home at All Saints’, church leaders have woven it into many elements of the community. Volume 6, containing Gospels & Acts, is part of each Sunday’s processional and recessional, and is placed on the altar in a custom-made stand for services. (“Our deacons have gotten very strong,” said Towsley.) A case in the church’s library displays other volumes on a rotating basis, alongside materials helping visitors reflect with a self-guided visio divina.
The church has also integrated the Heritage Edition into religion classes at its day school, helping students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade grow their relationship with the Bible. “The joy with which [the students] see it…” said Towsley. “They’re just entranced by the images.”
Towsley explained how the contemporary elements of the illuminations help make a connection with the students. “When you show them the time markers, that’s one of the things that catches their attention – the twin towers, the AIDS virus, the DNA. When you bring it down to the things they can understand today, I think that’s when the light bulb goes on.”
The church is sharing those “light bulb” moments with the broader community by regularly hosting visiting parties from other parishes, as well as using the Heritage Edition as “a mission tool both for evangelism and for discipleship and transformation in Jesus,” wrote Reed.
“Jesus had a gift for invitation, for drawing people to him,” he explained. “And then they would want to stay with him and follow him. I feel like the Heritage Edition has a magnetic way of drawing people into the life of faith with this amazing synergy of Scripture and art. The more time you spend with the images and text, the more they help deepen your faith.”
This deepening of faith was surely the motivation for the donors who made All Saints’ acquisition of the Heritage Edition possible, and church leaders remain grateful for their generosity, anticipating the impact it will have far into the future. Reed explained, “It was one of the most joyful moments in my ministry when we exceeded the [fundraising] goal, knowing that we could leave this kind of spiritual legacy for the next generation.”