The Discipleship Class at Grantham Brethren in Christ Church in Mechanicsburg, Pa., has an unbroken tradition of 50 years. When COVID-19 closed everything down in March 2020, we were in the middle of a study of the Psalms.
We transitioned to Zoom and remained there until August 2021. Zoom turned out to be a haven for introverts like me. For reasons that are hard to explain, it was easier for me to participate in discussion over Zoom.
People joined us who could never have joined in person — from places like North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia. A former beloved pastor now living in Florida became our class chaplain, reading Scripture and praying for a list of requests that kept getting longer.
When we’re at church, the class lasts for an hour. But on Zoom some of us sometimes spent almost two hours together.
Our convener started a Facebook page for check-ins, discussions and additional readings during the week.
At Grantham, we haven’t used the language of “Sunday school” for more than a decade. When the change was announced — from Sunday school to Learning Communities — some of us scoffed. I still revert to the traditional term sometimes.
But over the past two years, thanks to Zoom, we really became a learning community. We’re a group of folks who found a way, amid the disruption and isolation of a pandemic, to come together and learn, even about difficult topics like complicity in racism.
Habits we began on Zoom have continued: collecting prayer requests each week, using poetry and technology. On Zoom, teachers could use video or PowerPoint, which in person had always been an annoyance to arrange. But we asked for and received a smart TV, which we now use regularly.
We’ve been taking advantage of that technology in our current study of Jesus’ parables. Using Greg Carey’s book Stories Jesus Told: How to Read a Parable, we’ve watched videos of Carey explaining parables, listened to other scholars (including a Jewish scholar of the New Testament) and watched excerpts of sermons from different Christian traditions. We’ve tried to apply the parables not only to our personal lives but also to the way we do church at Grantham.
Our class is a testimony to persistence. Amid the changing ideas of what Sunday school should be, our little community persists in learning together to be disciples of Jesus.
As one of our newer class members has said, “This class is special.”
Harriet Sider Bicksler is retired from a career as a writer and editor and still serves as editor for the Brethren in Christ Historical Society.