Essex, Connecticut – It was no surprise to TheReverend Kate Wesch how quickly her congregation at St. John’s Episcopal Church connected with The Saint John’s Bible. Located along the Connecticut shoreline, halfway between New York City and Boston, Essex is an area filled with art museums, theaters, and picturesque Hallmark views – inevitably, as a community that appreciates the arts, they were drawn to the Bible instantaneously.
After partnering with The Saint John’s Bible during her tenure as Associate Rector at Epiphany Parish in Seattle, Washington from September 2013 to December 2014, Reverend Wesch knew that she wanted the same experience when she became Rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church. In February 2022, Brad Neary, Director of The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program, brought the Bible to Essex and introduced it to the congregation.
Intrigued by its intersection of art and scripture, the Heritage Edition captured the imagination of the faith community at St. John’s as well as the greater Essex community.
“The Bible really appealed to them because they not only saw the art, but also the calligraphy, and they really heard the story. It connected with them in a deep way that made them want to spend more time with it,” said Reverend Wesch.
Without question, Wesch felt an urgency to bring the Bible back to their community after Neary’s initial visit. So, in September 2022, St. John’s Episcopal Church began a one-year relationship as a partner with The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program.
Wesch gathered a Core Team together to oversee this year to the fullest. In addition to Wesch, the Team includes Liturgical Coordinator Allison Fresher, parishioners Maggie Walden and Jennifer Miller, and Warden Dan Evangelisti. Together, after visiting the original manuscript in Collegeville, Minnesota, they met weekly to discuss their plans on how they were going to experience the Bible both inside and outside of their parish.
“I think one of our primary goals was to make sure that we established a framework to share – how could we offer the Bible for others to see, and then how could we incorporate it into our worship services.” said Allison Fresher. “It was sort of like drinking water from a fire hose because there were so many things we knew we could do. We had to figure out what our priorities were and how we were going to organize our plan.”
Sharing The Light of The Saint John’s Bible
The Saint John’s Bible was officially introduced to St. John’s Episcopal Church on September 11th, 2022. The community immediately incorporated the Bible into its Bible Studies program, which dramatically multiplied attendance over what it normally had been. Soon enough, the Team started receiving calls about people who wanted to see The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition.
“I’ve seen the interest in Scripture and study of the Bible through The Saint John’s Bible deepen. People are much more interested in Scripture than maybe they were before,” said Wesch. “I’m noticing that because of the way we’ve studied the Bible, they’re now connecting to it more. They’re embedding it in within its context. For some people, The Saint John’s Bible has given them a way to learn it differently. It’s made it more approachable, and that’s making them want to learn and study even more.”
The Heritage Edition found itself as an integral part of St. John’s Quiet Days, in addition to their Lent activities. A Quiet Room was deliberately set-up so participants could meditate and reflect on their experience in silence. On one Quiet Day, participants volunteered to read the entire Gospel of Mark aloud one chapter at a time in the sanctuary, then proceeded on to the Quiet Room for a moment to themselves. St. John’s also displayed both The Pentateuch and Gospels and Acts volumes of the Heritage Edition during an all-night vigil service as part of the Lenten activities.
On another occasion, Tim Ternes, Director of The Saint John’s Bible at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library made a visit to St. John’s and projected images across the walls of the Church. Then, he asked groups to step forward. “What do you see?” he asked them, inviting members of the congregation to explore their perspective of the Bible for themselves.
“The astonishing thing is that when The Saint John’s Bible is open in our church, a ray of light just comes out, and people are drawn to it,” said Fresher. “They all say, ‘We wish we could have more time with it. We really, really would like to see more.’ It draws them in, and it transforms people.”
As a partner, it felt important to the Team at St. John’s Episcopal Church to reach as many people as possible within and outside of their parish. The Team brought The Saint John’s Bible to other Episcopal churches in the area to spread that ‘ray of light’ to other congregations who might not have their own chance to see it.
Wesch describes one afternoon where the Team took The Saint John’s Bible to Bridgeport, a city near Essex, and presented it to three congregations. The people from these congregations consisted of English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, and Haitian-Creole people. Wesch shared the story of The Creation, a page depicting chaos to order with merging colors and a stripe of gold at its center. During the viewing, a Haitian man grew very emotional, and decided to step forward and share a profound story.
“He said, ‘I come from Haiti, and it’s really bad right now — the violence there and everything happening. But what this shows me is what I know to be true. That thin gold line that runs from top to bottom through the chaos, through day one – I know this, because even in Haiti, even right now in the worst of everything, God is present. God is there.’ He was experiencing it palpably as he saw it reflected in them,” said Wesch.
An emotional response to The Saint John’s Bible is not uncommon. During another visit, Wesch and Maggie Walden presented the Bible to a group of senior parishioners – life-long worshippers who collectively have hundreds of years of church experience under their belts. For an hour, the group gathered around the familiar text, experiencing the Bible they know and love from a new perspective.
“They all had these big smiles on their faces, full of surprise, awe, excitement and joy. They were just light and joyful,” said Wesch. “It was an hour of connection and community with The Saint John’s Bible that they love. They kept commenting on things like, ‘I love this story, is there an illumination for this one? May I see it? Let me see another page.’ It was one of my favorite afternoons. None of them wanted to leave.”
Reflecting on the Light
It will be a difficult send-off for St. John’s Episcopal Church in September, as their last few months with The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition come to an end this summer. The Heritage Edition has become seamlessly integrated into the life of the worship community, all thanks to the determination and passion put into weekly worship services, events, and visits coordinated by the Core Team.
“We’re incredibly grateful. All of us have been changed in one way or another. This has been a true gift to our parish and to our community. I think that’s my primary feeling about it at this point – I feel gratitude for how it’s changed us all and our community,” said Fresher.
“I feel that our time with The Saint John’s Bible has been a blessing beyond my wildest expectations. I would encourage any church or group that’s thinking about taking this on to do it. Just do it. It will come to you. It will light its own way, and before you know it, you will be thinking of ways to share it and understand it and be blessed by its presence amongst you. You don’t have to be a huge cathedral in order to make it work. Not at all. It’s all about your connection and the journey you bring to it, and it’s just a remarkable gift,” said Walden.
At the end of their partnership, St. John’s Episcopal Church will have shared The Saint John’s Bible with more than seven religious institutions and several assisted living locations, arranged more than fifteen group visits to the church itself, and welcomed dozens of walk-ins drawn into the church to see it. The sincere connections that parishioners at St. John’s have experienced over the past year hosting two Heritage Edition volumes of The Saint John’s Bible expose some of the most fundamental impacts that the work has on our modern world – to bring us together and to ignite the spiritual imagination.
“The mission that continues to lead our year with The Saint John’s Bible is not just about how the congregation engages with it, but how to make it available to others and then, how to share it beyond ourselves. I think that’s what enriched and transformed our experience with it,” said Wesch. “St. John’s has been deeply blessed through our experience with the Bible over the past year. Being stewards of this incredible work of art and scripture has enriched and transformed our congregation in ways we never dreamed possible. We look forward to seeing what God has in store for us next.”
Learn More About The Saint John’s Bible Experience
To learn more about the numerous opportunities that a community can experience The Saint John’s Bible, from an evening or a weekend, several months, or a full year, contact Brad Neary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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