By Rebecca Wallace
On the first day of 2020, the North Georgia Conference introduced a conference-wide initiative to read the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, breaking them down one chapter per week for the year. Every Wednesday, the Conference emails a reflection from a clergy or layperson and a link to the chapter to read. The readings and reflections started with Luke 1 and the Conference is now well on its way to completing Acts. The Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts have 52 chapters total, so they made the perfect pairing to read in a year.
The intention of this initiative was to offer a way to become more spiritually disciplined and open to what the Holy Spirit has to say to each of us in 2020. No one could have predicted how something so simple would be so needed this year.
“We live in this great time of disconnection in a denomination whose history and tradition are rich with connection,” said Debby Stikes, Director of Discipleship and Care at Griffin First UMC. “The conference-wide reading has helped us connect spiritually, but also emotionally with each other.”
Rev. Blair Zant, director of the Center for Congregational Excellence, echoes how meaningful this experience has been.
"Scripture is a gift to us. It is the cannon of our Christian faith, and the lens through which we can see the world. And ideally, that scriptural perspective transforms how we live out our faith in the world," said Blair. "I have been deeply moved this year when, on a weekly basis, I got to read each passage of Scripture through the lens of a different member of our NGUMC family. This practice has steadied my devotion life, as the witness of ancients spoke prophetically to modern trials. (Anybody else read the part about Easter coming to a people sheltering in fear behind closed doors in a new way this year? Or how about the churches in Acts who grew leaps and bounds when households committed to Christ together and formed churches in their homes?) This practice has also deepened my compassion for each devotion writer."
Why Luke and Acts?
As Bishop Sue explains, “Both focus on the power and work of the Holy Spirit. The gospel of Luke describes how the Holy Spirit works through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, and includes some of Jesus’ most compelling teaching and parables,” she says. “Acts picks up as the power of the resurrected Christ is breathed upon the Church, and describes how the Church without hesitation follows the Holy Spirit wherever it leads. It reminds us how we are to continue God’s story for all of creation by proclaiming the good news to all the world and working to reconcile all people to God.”
When Nate Abrams of Smyrna First UMC was asked to write a reflection and saw the list of available passages, he said that Acts 6, being a call story, jumped out at him.
“One of the cornerstones of our faith is sharing our faith journey to illustrate how God has moved in our lives so that others might believe and be strengthened,” explains Nate. “Part of my story is having begun the ordination process only to be called by God back to the laity. I felt it was important to share that we are all called by God and that no one call is more important than any other.”
The "Reading Luke and Acts" e-newsletter has more than 2,000 subscribers and many of those subscribers forward it to their Sunday school classes or other small groups. At least one church forwards the weekly email to their whole congregation.
All the Luke/Acts reflections from 2020 can be found here. Churches are welcome to take this idea and replicate it with their congregation or small group 2021. Churches may use the reflections written this year or have church members write their own!
"Thank you, thank you, to all 52 of you who shared (and will share) glimpses of your life and nuggets of your wisdom in service to making disciples of Christ in 2020," said Blair. "This is actually one part of 2020 I wouldn't mind repeating in 2021."
Rebecca Wallace is a communications consultant (and United Methodist) in Atlanta.