Zion Mennonite Church used texts from Ohio Conference's Dwelling in the Word Scripture reading initiative for a fall sermon series. Thanks goes to Zion Mennonite for sharing this illustration, which was used in conjunction with the series.

Participants from across the Conference reflect on Scripture reading initiative

When Sue Short, collaborative minister at Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold, heard about Ohio Conference’s Dwelling in the Word Scripture reading initiative, she was excited about the plan. “That’s something that’s important to me — encouraging folks to read Scripture, and however that can happen, I’m on board for that. Sign me up,” she said.

Conference Minister Dick Barrett announced the Dwelling in the Word initiative last summer, noting that especially during this time of discernment about the future direction of the Ohio Conference, it seems important to focus on spiritual disciplines as we seek God’s will together.

For the Dwelling in the Word initiative, Dick Barrett invited everyone in the Ohio Conference to read through the entire New Testament by the end of 2022, noting that in order to read through the New Testament in a little less than six months would require reading only two chapters per day. A suggested reading schedule was provided.

At Zion Mennonite Church, congregation members were encouraged to read the scriptures on their own, but in addition, the church used the Dwelling in the Word scriptures as the basis of a fall series of worship services.

Sermons in the fall worship service series were designed to introduce the passages that congregation members would be reading in the upcoming week. In order to give continuity to the sermon series, the sermons focused on answering the question, “What does this passage have to say about being a faithful disciple?” Some of the themes for the series were “Faithful Disciples are Rooted and Grounded in Love,” “Faithful Disciples Imitate Christ,” and “Faithful    Disciples Disciple Others.”

As part of the sermon series, Sue Short invited several people to give a two-minute Dwelling in the Word testimony prior to the sermon, reflecting on what they had experienced or learned while Dwelling in the Word.

Members at Zion engaged with the Dwelling in the Word Scripture passages in other settings as well. A Zoom Bible study that meets on Tuesdays used the suggested texts, and the congregation’s youth studied the texts in their Sunday school classes.

Sue Short noted that she encouraged people at Zion who got behind in their reading not to give up on the whole project, but instead to start again with the current Scripture readings and not worry about “making up” skipped readings. “The important thing is to be in the habit of regularly engaging with Scripture, and if you only get through part of this reading plan, that’s OK,” she said. “You’ve done more than you would have done otherwise. It’s just developing a regular habit.” She also encouraged people who don’t enjoy reading to try listening to the Scriptures, whether on an app, online, on CDs, or even on cassette tapes for those who still use them.

An individual experience

While Zion Mennonite Church leadership encouraged a group effort for Dwelling in the Word, some other people from around the Conference had a more individual experience. Eldina Nussbaum, a member of Crown Hill Mennonite Church, didn’t read the Scriptures with a group. However, she felt connection with others from around the Conference as she reflected that others were reading the same Scripture passages as she was. When links to the daily texts were posted on the Conference Facebook page, she began reading from that source (which used the New International Version of the Bible). “I thought, well other people are reading these very same words, and that seemed very meaningful to me, that I was doing it with others.”   Eldina noted that participating in this spiritual discipline helped give clarity on things that Ohio Conference delegates will be discussing in upcoming meetings.

A way to engage community

Another individual who appreciated the chance to engage Scripture with others in the Ohio Conference was Glenn Nofziger, who began his work as pastor of Sonnenberg Mennonite Church in Kidron on Sept. 1. The Dwelling in the Word initiative began while he was in an in-between period, during the three months between the end of his work at Martins Creek Mennonite Church and the start of his time at Sonnenberg. Participating in Dwelling in the Word was one way for him to plug into the Ohio Conference in that in-between time. “I appreciate the invitation for us all to do something together,” he said. “It felt unifying to me.”

Once Glenn began his work at Sonnenberg, he started participating in the area pastor-peer group, which also often focused on the Scriptures from Dwelling in the Word.

Glenn noted that he is currently in the process of reading through the entire Bible for the 10th time. “Reading through the Bible has been an important practice for me. It’s been grounding, and it’s how I hear God speaking to me, more than anything.”

Reading together at home

The Dwelling in the Word reading schedule generally assigned two chapters of Scripture each day. Sundays were kept free and could be used to catch up on any missed readings.

In another part of the state, northwest Ohio, Dean and Jeanette Beck of Central Mennonite Church made a practice of reading the Dwelling the Word scriptures out loud to each other. They used a Bible app on their phones, and they took turns reading aloud the Scripture to each other. Dean and Jeanette noted that as they read, they often would discuss the passage as ideas came up, and when they had questions about a particular passage, they would sometimes consult Bible commentaries for background. The Becks said that sometimes the discussions of the day’s Scripture would lead into discussions of other related topics.

Dean and Jeanette said that they appreciated having the Scripture reading schedule set out in advance so that they did not have to wonder what they should read next. They also appreciated that the schedule mixed the order of the books of the New Testament, so that they were not reading all the Gospels right in a row. Jeanette noted that she marked off each reading as they completed it, and she liked to see their progress. “It was really a good thing to sit down together and do that, two chapters a day. It wasn’t a long time, but it was very worthwhile,” she said.

Asking questions with a group

Back in Wayne County, Miriam Zehr, associate pastor at Oak Grove Mennonite Church in Smithville, also found Dwelling in the Word to be a very good experience. “At first, I just was doing it personally, for me,” she said. However, during the fall Sunday school quarter, she led a Sunday school class based on the Scripture passages in the Dwelling in the Word schedule. About 12 people from Oak Grove participated in the class. Each week, after Miriam gave a brief introduction to the passage, class members discussed a variety of questions, such as “What in this passage spoke to you? What verse stood out as one of your favorites and why? What questions do you have about this scripture?”

Miriam also expressed appreciation for Ohio Conference’s online prayer times which were held on Wednesdays at noon during the fall. Those prayer times were based on the resource Take Our Moments and Our Days: An Anabaptist Prayer Book. Although the group that gathered online was small, she appreciated the chance to share together with others from around the Conference. “There’s something about praying out loud together and reading scripture together that is more meaningful to me than just reading chapter after chapter by myself.”

As for Dwelling in the Word, Miriam expressed appreciation for the interactions she experienced in this Scripture-focused effort. “This is what church should be,” she said. We should be reading scripture together and talking about it. And we didn’t agree on everything, but just having these conversations around Scripture and getting insights from other people — I just found that to be what church should be.”