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Dwelling in the Word: How I went from trepidation to appreciation

John King and Kaileen Alston
John King, Director of Administration

I spent well over two decades, from the time I was confirmed until the day I took the job with the diocese, avoiding Bible study like the plague. Adult forum after Sunday service? “Oh, gee, I have to run – the [insert dependent pet or child] has [insert activity or ailment].” Or I'd just slide past the coffee hour table and slip out through the kitchen. I could not fathom sharing my (at best) Bible trivia knowledge and hoping it passed for real scriptural authority. Then I was introduced to one of the exercises that is at the root of the Going Local process, Dwelling in the Word.

I first encountered Dwelling in the Word when I came to work for the diocese, and we began starting our Diocesan Council meetings with it. I was responsible for setting the agenda, so at first participation was just something I mustered up. And when I was partnered with my boss – who, yeah, is the Bishop – I was convinced that it was karma for all those years of not participating. So I gave it my best shot.

The first few times, I played it very safe. The passage we worked with was Luke 10: sending 70 people out with instructions on how to extend peace and how to make yourself at home when welcomed – and if you weren’t welcomed, how to express your displeasure about that. And the three questions to dwell on with your partner– sitting there, with the Bishop, my boss, with no real exegesis of my own other than a few quick observations about dust on sandals and extending peace. Then, hearing the Bishop’s perspective, with exegesis enough for the two of us. Good times!

But then, the next month, we read a different translation of the same passage. And the things that caught my attention – the ability to compare and contrast. How it spoke to me, and how it captured my imagination. I felt like I was at least going to move up the grading curve that month. I even listened more deeply to what the Bishop (did I mention he's my boss?) was saying, and the correlation with the passage with an experience from his life story. As we finished the activity, I felt more in tune with the journey of discipleship and knew much more about the person I was sharing the journey with.

After a few more meetings, and a few more translations, I was feeling the Spirit nudge me in my role as a leader. The scripture had become this covert blueprint for how to proceed in forming new relationships in my work: how to be a disciple; how to lead more effectively; how to listen, extend my peace, and receive it back in kind.

There have been passages we have used which have really sparked some motivational moments for me. I think of the parable of the sower, and how the grain knows to grow a stalk at first, and then the head, and then the fruit ripens, then it can be harvested. What I have taken from that it is all about the infrastructure. We can’t enjoy the fruits without the proper infrastructure. And that, as Director of Administration speaks to me most of all. I am being called to put the infrastructure in place for there to be the ability of fruit to be gained. If I can provide the proper tools to my coworkers, they can flourish with their respective ministries, because their talents can be used where they need to be used – to work at what they are called to do by God.

Now when I partner up with the Bishop, I am no longer worrying about having a right answer, but I am sharing how it speaks to me in that moment. How we can make the connections, and tend to the fields, and see the fruits as God intended them to be. And I listen to where the passages caught his imagination. And I continue to listen throughout our meetings. Because it is how God is working, and it is how God is allowing us to work. It’s not Bible study – it’s 20 minutes at the start of our time together that grounds us in listening to scripture, to God, and most importantly – each other. And it is how we get the work – God’s work – done: grounded in scripture.

So that’s my story. I invite you to utilize the resources on our website and try it for a few months. Add Dwelling in the Word to your Vestry agenda for four months. Follow the directions. Allow an additional 20 minutes to do the exercise. Watch what happens – you will see that it truly does become a spiritual practice gaining new insights from the texts, and providing context for your work as a vestry. You will see that it influences your decision making, your discussions and your relationships with one another. It won’t make you a religious zealot, but it could very well provide some insightful guidance along your journey as a community.