This week Christians light the Shepherd candle symbolizing the JOY the world experienced with the birth of Jesus. We hear the word joy often during Advent in both scripture and song. The shepherds received good news of great joy and—then and now—it resounds around us.
Among our Stewards spreading joy this Advent season is Pax Christi Catholic Community in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. This vibrant community recently received the Gospels and Acts volume of The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition and is actively creating year-long programming to reach out across faith traditions to connect the joy of the Bible with others.
Planning the Year
To help roll out programming in a way that encourages broad participation, Pax Christi started their planning process by engaging their ministry councils. Carol Bishop, Parish Director, described the group as “a really interesting collection of people that don’t ordinarily do ministry together but were interested in helping people encounter the Bible.”
Joined by Joan Howe-Pullis, Director of Justice Ministries and Liturgical Coordinator, some of the questions the staff and ministry councils explored were how do we reengage; how do we deepen engagement; how do we grow engagement again since the pandemic? In reflecting on this process, Carol shared that one of the most incredible gifts of working with The Saint John’s Bible did not occur to her at all before they got involved. It is the possibility that they would gain a new understanding of their outreach mission as a parish.
Creating Space for Joy
As part of the programming, a Gallery area was created so people can experience the Bible by seeing it, turning the pages and being with it. Once the Gallery was set up, the parish docents were invited into the room to get a feel for the space. The Gospels and Acts volume was on display surrounded by framed pages with illuminations. Carol described their reaction as simply joy, “It’s just there. It’s the joy of the Holy Spirit, and joy is the word.”
Little Moments of Joy
As the program launched during a weekend in November, Carol and Joan saw many small instances of joy in those who had come to see the Bible and how it engaged people in a beautiful way.
One woman asked whether she might take a photo of the Resurrection illumination to send to her family in India. As they talked about the illumination depicting Mary Magdalene and Jesus in the garden on the morning of the Resurrection, the woman was overjoyed at hearing the story. By wonderful coincidence, her confirmation name was also Mary Magdalene. “Simple encounters with the Bible such as these can inspire moments of great joy,” Carol observed.
The excitement among the many faces that stood out often belonged to the children, even the little children. The curiosity and innocence as the kids interacted with the Bible was unparalleled and led to endless questions that inspired deeper thinking for their adult counterparts.
A Unifying Experience
Carol and Joan share the perspective that it is important for people to understand The Saint John’s Bible is more than a book of pretty pictures; it is an experience to enter into. In fact, one parishioner commented, “‘I just didn’t get the Bible until I saw it.” This sums up why Pax Christi aims to continue sharing this experience of The Saint John’s Bible throughout the year.
An extensive calendar of outreach opportunities is coming together with each of the ministry councils sharing their gifts within the parish and community. It has become a unifying experience which engages people on a new level. From incorporating the Bible and the illuminations into the liturgy and bringing prayer cards to local care centers, to a calligraphy class, and even Vacation Bible School, the emphasis is not just the physical book but the feelings that the words and illuminations evoke.
Lessons and Carols is one of these experiences. With The Saint John’s Bible present, there was a lot of enthusiasm to make their traditional Christmas Eve event a separate evening to celebrate Advent. The illuminations will be paired with selected readings and participants will get to sing beloved songs while the art of Bible envelopes their evening.
It is a tradition at Pax Christi to host an interfaith thanksgiving celebration, and this year, January 15 is designated as World Religion Sunday. People of all faiths from surrounding communities are invited to take part in song, dance, and prayer. This year, The Saint John’s Bible and its illuminations will be incorporated into this community outreach.
The Timing is Perfect
The events for the next several months will support Pax Christi’s founding mission: do justice work in the world and reach out across faith traditions to have a global understanding for what faith really means. They are hopeful The Saint John’s Bible will help them spread joy and ignite the spiritual imagination to people around the world.
“It’s beautiful that the Bible arrived here for the start of Advent,” said Carol. “Having it here is a tangible sign that God is with us. I want people to know the joy it brings.”