– Wesley United Methodist Church certainly isn’t unusual in featuring a Saturday morning Bible study. But its reach is far from usual: people in Texas, Wisconsin, Maryland and other areas distant from Lexington, via Facebook Live.
“Welcome to our Bed or Breakfast Bible Study,” says Lead Pastor D. Anthony Everett, co-facilitator of the weekly study from the church’s fellowship hall. He’s sitting around a table with three other people: Vic and Shondele Hall from the church and a visitor from the Kentucky Annual Conference.
But this small group is far from alone. Pastor Everett is tracking more than 100 people online who have tuned in this mid-December morning for the 12th
and final Old Testament session of the “Disciple Fast Track” study from Cokesbury. As they check in by typing their names on the Facebook feed, he greets each by name. Most are regulars.
Welcome to Bible study in the 21st
Pastor Everett later explained that he and the church decided to begin the Bible study that gives people an option of attending in person – and getting breakfast, courtesy of the Halls – or of tuning in via Facebook from the comfort of their homes.
Not many choose to attend in person, not even for a delicious breakfast that this day features fruit, juice, and a Lexington delicacy: fresh doughnuts from Spalding’s Bakery. But even if the locals choose to forgo the food and just take part online, that’s fine with Pastor Everett.
The fellowship hall is buzzing with activity as he conducts the lesson, which starts promptly at 10 a.m. EST. A group of ladies from the church works in the back of the room by the kitchen preparing plates for shut-ins. The small table at the front of the room is just the right size for a small Bible study group. The only unusual aspect is the laptop streaming the Facebook Live feed.
After a brief welcome and introduction, Pastor Everett plays a short video from Pastor Justin Coleman, who prepared it while chief ministry officer of United Methodist Publishing House. It sets the historical context for the lesson, which focuses on the Old Testament stories of Daniel and Jonah. The video plays on a screen on the wall, and he turns the laptop around so the camera can capture it for the people tuning in online.
“That’s one of the most profound stories in the Bible – Daniel in the lion’s den,” Pastor Everett says after the video. “Even if you don’t know the Bible, you know that story.” The point: No matter where you go and what you face, God is in control.
During the discussion of Jonah – who tried to flee from God’s command to warn the people of Nineveh of their destruction if they didn’t repent of their evil ways – Pastor Everett ties the lesson to a contemporary challenge: people facing addiction or some other personal demon – “the lowest of the low” – who suffer terribly before they are delivered from the pit of despair.
Then as now, the people put their hope in the coming Messiah, and that’s the message that Pastor Everett leaves them with. The lesson finishes after a little over an hour, and he signs off of Facebook Live. He reminds them that the 12-week New Testament study will begin in January.
Pastor Everett said afterward that he got the idea to start an online study from Rev. Dr. Jasmine Smothers, lead pastor of Atlanta First UMC, who uses the teleconference app Zoom to conduct Bible studies online. A school colleague of his, Pastor Kyran Leo John of First Seventh-Day Adventist Church of White Plains, New York, has taken it to another level by livestreaming with Mevo camera technology.
“I had been watching (online Bible studies) for some time and I said, ‘You know what? We’ve got to do this,’” said Pastor Everett, who received his master of divinity degree from SMU Perkins School of Theology in Dallas and is a doctoral student at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
Wesley UMC is a predominantly African-American congregation of about 225 members, and Pastor Everett said that the majority of those tuning in on Facebook are African-American, as well. But the beauty of livestreaming online is that anyone, anywhere, can watch in real time or the video later. “Facebook Live opens it up to anyone.”
He said he didn’t have any particular expectations before they started and is pleased with the online participation. After each video, he shares it to his page, as do Shondele Hall and Labianca Frazier, a church member and co-facilitator of the Bible study who, at 22, can reach out to a younger audience. The Wesley UMC Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/WesleyUMCLexington/
-- also is tagged, adding to the reach.
Shondele Hall said she and her husband are happy to prepare food for anyone interested in coming in person rather than following along online. Food preparation aside, they prefer being there in person.
“I just love Bible study,” she said. “I will go to any Bible study there is.”
Pastor Everett said the church is looking to enhance and expand the Saturday morning study in time and as they add to the technology.
“It just continues to grow.”
WANT TO TAKE PART?
Wesley UMC’s Saturday morning Bed or Breakfast Bible Study will resume Feb. 3. If you’re interested in being part of it, contact the church at (859) 293-5873 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org