From generation to generation, the Bible has been a source of sacred understanding, wisdom, guidance, and beauty. There is deep hunger in our time and communities for these things and who better to meet that hunger than the local church?
The local churches of the Southern New England Conference, UCC, now have expanded offerings to help meet those needs. As of January 1, 2023, the Massachusetts Bible Society is now part of the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ. The Massachusetts Bible Society is a Christian organization that promotes biblical literacy, understanding, and dialogue that is grounded in scholarship, is socially relevant, and is respectful of the many voices within the Bible and all those who turn to the Bible in faith.
“The Massachusetts Bible Society has been a standard bearer and go-to resource for our churches regarding biblical literacy and engagement,” said Rev. Liz Garrigan-Byerly, Executive Minister for Area Conference Ministry. “The Southern New England Conference is honored to become the stewards of this essential ministry.”
“Biblical texts have been interpreted in diverse ways from generation to generation and are always filtered through the lens of the reader’s faith and life experiences,” explained Dr. Theodore (Ted) Wilson, Interim Executive Director of the Massachusetts Bible Society. “The Bible has authority for communities of faith who take time to study and prayerfully interpret its message, but it is also important for anyone who wants to more fully understand culture, religious thought, and the world in which we live. We believe that everyone should know the Bible, whether they accept it as their sacred text or not. To that end, we have created accessible and comprehensive resources for all who are curious.”
Although the Massachusetts Bible Society has been giving out Bibles and sacred texts, including the Koran, for over 210 years, the organization also offers small group studies, a group of seminary and religion professors from a variety of faith traditions who help answer Bible-related questions, a video archive, and even free sermons, music, prayers, and liturgy for a virtual church service.
“We not only offer the physical reading materials in the form of our Exploring the Bible and Exploring Justice texts, but we also provide structured guides to help people talk about what is written, to gain a deeper meaning of the words, and the stories, and the songs – and how they fit into today’s world,” said Wilson.
Those resources will now be under the umbrella of the Southern New England Conference.
Pamela Piliero, former Director of Data and Donor Services for the Mass Bible Society is thrilled to see the integration that is happening between the two organizations. “It’s wonderful to know that the many efforts made over the past two centuries to provide Biblical guideposts to help guide folks during complex times will continue far into the future.”
“The move by the Society to secure a partner started three years ago with prayerful discernment, meetings and discussions with several organizations,” said Rev. Philomena Hare, president of the Massachusetts Bible Society Board of Trustees. She explained that the Bible Society believed the Conference had shared values and the capacity to carry on the Society’s mission, and even expand it in ways that perhaps they could only have imagined.
“We consider the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ the right partner and an important voice to bring the good news to all people and especially to the ones with their backs against the wall,” she said. “We believe the leadership and staff of the Conference have the depth to reach a broader audience as well as the capacity to expand the Society’s current programs into new ministry areas.”
“These are complex times and people are searching for ways to make sense of and navigate the world,” said Wilson. “The truth is, humans have always lived in a complex world, and have looked to the sacred texts to help guide them out of the darkness, to be a port in the storm. If we are being buffeted about by high winds and crashing waves in our life, we want to find a safe harbor, a place to get out of the maelstrom. The sacred texts can be a guide.”
“The Bible is a thread that connects us, neighbor to neighbor, present with past and future” said Garrigan-Byerly. “Whether through critical study or spiritual practice, as a component of public worship or personal devotion, the Bible is a crucial part of how people of faith understand the world, themselves and God. For Christians, it also guides us as we seek to live the love and justice of Jesus. I am excited for all the ways that the resources of the Mass Bible Society will allow us to equip our local churches to serve faithfully in this time.
Expanded Offerings for Promoting Biblical Literacy
“Our aim as a conference is to have a positive and lasting impact in our world and we have always valued our ecumenical partnerships and collaborations that join us in this mission, “said The Rev. Darrell Goodwin, Executive Conference Minister of the Southern New England Conference. “This new relationship with the Massachusetts Bible Society enables us to provide programming that is steeped in historical and relevant promotion of biblical literacy, understanding, and dialogue that is grounded in scholarship, as well as socially significant, and respectful of the many voices within the Bible and all those who turn to the Bible in faith. It furthers our mission to aid local churches in helping communities make sense of the world and make the love and justice of Jesus real.”
“When people engage in sacred texts together, we encounter the fullness of the human experience—grief and lament, joy and delight, awe and wonder, praise and thanksgiving, human brokenness and divine grace. Through those encounters, relationships deepen and trust expands,” said Garrigan-Byerly. “In today’s culture where many feel disconnected, at odds with one another, and battered by storms of our world, what a blessing that we have this around which to gather and serve.”
“The Board of Trustees is delighted that these two progressive Christian organizations are coming together to continue the work of promoting biblical literacy to 21st century hearers,” said Hare. “And we are confident that our original 107 Congregationalist Founders would be proud that the legacy continues.”
The complete process of consolidation will take a good part of 2023. During this time SNEUCC is committed to continuing the Bible grant program, promoting the Dickinson Series and maintaining the Donald A. Wells Preaching Prize (although on a later timeline). They will also be assessing other MBS programs and developing ways to integrate biblical literacy into their work.
About the Massachusetts Bible Society
The Massachusetts Bible Society is a Christian organization that exists to promote biblical literacy, understanding, and dialogue that is grounded in scholarship, socially relevant, and respectful of the many voices within the Bible and all those who turn to the Bible in faith. The Massachusetts Bible Society operates on three basic principles:
The Bible was written by many authors, all inspired by God. It is neither a simple collection of books written by human authors, nor is it the literal words of God dictated to human scribes. It is a source of religious truth, presented in a diversity of styles, genres, and languages and is not meant to serve as fact in science, history, or social structure.
The Bible has authority for communities of faith who take time to study and prayerfully interpret its message, but it is also important for anyone who wants more fully to understand culture, religious thought, and the world in which we live.
Biblical texts have been interpreted in diverse ways from generation to generation and are always filtered through the lens of the reader’s faith and life experiences. This breadth and plurality, however, are what keep the Bible alive through the ages and enhance its ongoing, transformative power.
About the Southern New England Conference, UCC
The Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ came into being on Jan. 1, 2020 with the coming together of the historic Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island Conferences. The Conference is one of 36 regional bodies of the United Church of Christ, a distinct and diverse community of Christians that come together as one church to join faith and action. The Conference comprises 615 churches, more than 1600 authorized ministers and nearly 120,000 members. The Conference has been founded under a united covenant to Live the Love and Justice of Jesus.
Following Jesus’ call to discipleship, and bound by the covenant we share as siblings in Christ, we – the members of the United Church of Christ in Southern New England – declare these values essential to our shared ministry together through the following vision:
We understand the local church exists to make disciples of Jesus and we welcome all people unconditionally to share in this calling.
We commit to making God’s love and justice real by loving our neighbors, children, and all of creation through our collective work, such as seeking racial, economic, environmental, and LGBTQ justice.
We believe God calls us to bring new life as agents of change and so we embrace and encourage adaptive and transformative leadership wherever the Body of Christ is gathered.
We encourage local congregations and varied ministry settings, inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, to form covenant partnerships with all who work for the common good in their local communities and throughout the world.
Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane writes news articles for the SNEUCC website. She is also the editor of the Starting With Scripture newsletter. Contact her if: Your church has a great story to tell about an innovative ministry. You have a prayer request to ...