On a blustery March morning in a midsized town in northeastern Ohio, people gather for Sunday worship. With about 400 baptized members, Trinity Lutheran Church an ELCA congregation is similar to the community it serves, with an even mix of young, mature and senior members.
“The congregation is small enough to know people by their names and yet large enough to be always meeting someone new,” says a man extending his hand in greeting to a visitor.
Settling into a front pew is a senior couple with the grandsons they are raising.
At the back of the assembly is a young family — new members — a mother, father, their 3-year-old toddler and his infant sister, who was baptized just the week before.
A single mom and her teenage daughter are chatting with a retired widower, whose children left the nest years ago.
A brother and sister play a rhyming game while their parents talk to friends about the upcoming adult forum retreat.
A typical Sunday morning for this ELCA congregation?
Not really. Because today is Bible Sunday, and this year it’s different.
When the congregation’s pastor, Tom Lyberg, returned from an ELCA Churchwide Assembly, he was brimming with ideas for the “Book of Faith: Lutherans Read the Bible Initiative.”
The vision of the five-year initiative is: “That the whole church become more fluent in the first language of faith — the language of Scripture — in order that we may live into our calling as a people renewed, enlivened and empowered by the Word.”
One idea the pastor brought back was: “Never give a child a NEW Bible. Instead, take that Bible and pass it around to family members, parents and grandparents, and have it marked up with favorite Bible passages.”
The pastor thought it was perfect for his intergenerational congregation. This March morning, as the hum of activity dies down and people are seated, carefully marked Bibles are being placed into the hands of fourth graders.
A mother watches her child eagerly turn the pages of his Bible in search of the brightly colored highlights she made for him. She remembers the cross bookmark a member of her home congregation crocheted for her when she was a child. It now marks the page where her confirmation verse can be found.
A teenage girl laughingly points to the passage she was allowed to pick out for her little sister from Leviticus 3: “All fat is the Lord’s.”
A woman tells her granddaughter about the beautiful white Bible she received the day she was confirmed, April 6, 1952. She remembers the date because it is stamped in gold leaf on the back cover of the now well-worn book she still uses in her daily devotions.
“I want her to read the passages that have touched me from the Gospels of Mark and John,” says the grandmother. “Perhaps one day she too will give her grandchildren special Bibles with her favorite passages marked and tell them of the Bible their great-grandmother marked for her. She may even share the verses I picked out, and they will know a little something about me.”
As the call to worship begins, members of the adult forum wonder what ideas the pastor is going to use at their upcoming Bible retreat.
“Yep,” a man whispers to his wife, “Never give a child a new Bible — I can’t wait to see what the Bible is going to give us on that retreat.”