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The Ear: “The Gift of a New Question”


The best Sabbath School classes “practice resurrection” (poet Wendell Berry’s phrase) by breathing new life into Seventh-day Adventist conversation and community.  The Ear hopes that short interviews of persons who lead such classes will inspire other classes and other teachers.

If stewardship of things good and beautiful begins and ends in love, Lillian Correa, of Adventkirken Betel in Oslo, Norway, qualifies for high regard.  She so fell in love with teaching her class that she enrolled at the University of Cambridge and earned a certificate in religious studies so she could do a better job. 

A resident of Norway for 24 years (for 16 years her husband led Adventist multicultural ministries in the country), Lillian Correa tells The Ear that her “greatest fear is teaching erroneously.”  Each Sabbath she rises at 5 a.m. to prepare, and if she passes through the door with “butterflies” in her stomach, she also asks God for confidence—and receives it.  “God is faithful,” she testifies, “to those who seek with all their hearts.”

Lillian Correa’s “English Bible Study Group” meets for one hour in a room of her beautiful, downtown church that seats 25-30.  She also teaches for the local Adventist church school.

—Charles Scriven

Question: What are one or two keys, do you think, to building a great Sabbath School class?

Answer: “One of the best gifts for the critical mind and for a living tradition,” says Mary Collins, “is the gift of a new question.”  This quote became the basic premise when my Sabbath school class was established eight years ago.  The teaching/conversational style of Jesus actually encourages this kind of pedagogy.  The opening dialogue in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) has an “expert in the law” asking a question, and Jesus replying by asking him how he reads and interprets the issue.  Jesus asks his opinion first, and at the same time challenges his “expertise.”  Without the humility to let God to challenge our “expertise” every step of the way, there can be no growth.

Question: How do you build community—the sense that your class is a mini-Christian family—among participants?

Answer: If we are created in the image and likeness of God, then awareness of the communal nature of the Trinity can enliven our sense that human beings cannot live in isolation.  With this thought in mind, we make it a point to be extremely mindful of our lives outside of the class—with our families, our work partners, etc.—and we include their struggles and victories as well as our own in our opening prayers.  We engage in social activities as well (Christmas lunches, occasional study sessions followed by a potluck). We have also, as a result of his visit several years ago, adopted one of Chris Blake’s Sabbath school ministries in the way of an extra offering for individuals/families in dire need. This particular ministry serves to keep our empathy and compassion antennas always turned on!

Question: Do you bring in guest teachers? Are some taken from the membership of the class?   

Answer: We are a very small Adventist community in Norway, so we have focused on taking advantage of the amazing roster of guest speakers our local church has been blessed with, many of whom have taught my class during their visits (John Brunt, James Londis, Alden Thompson, Ginger Harwood, among many others).  And on many occasions I have corresponded with scholars regarding our topics of study.  Alden Thompson was of enormous help in teaching topics from the Old Testament; James Londishas enhanced our topics of ethics and social justice; and the pastors of our church have also taught my class on occasion. 

Question: Does your class attract some people who may be on the “edge” of Adventism?  Is intentional effort put into doing this?

Answer: Attracting people on the “edge” of Adventism has been one of the greatest gratifications of our Sabbath school class, although our primary commitment is allowing God’s word to speak to us.  We have several who have been absent from the faith community for years because in their experience the church stopped being relevant for their understanding of truth. We have not employed intentional effort into doing this; people come to our class mostly through word of mouth.  Those on the “edge” are most likely better connected with others of similar experiences and they comfortably invite them to join our studies. We have been blessed with the participation of Muslims, Methodists, and Catholics, among others.  We have a Lutheran family that has faithfully attended our class for more than a year. 

Question: Do you follow the church quarterly? Always, sometimes or never? Why?

Answer: We begin each new topic by introducing a book or theme from the Bible.  I begin by inviting the class to share their knowledge on the subject, (emulating the dialogue between Jesus and the expert in the law). We then embark on an in-depth study of the book/topic while ensuring that we address the various perspectives initially shared.  This provides participants with a reassuring sense that their concerns will be addressed.  We always incorporate varied hermeneutical approaches such as history of the society at the time of writing, life of the author, original language, etc. 

Question: If your class is intellectually adventurous—you take up matters many would be uncomfortable with—how do you maintain good relationships with the rest of your congregation?

Answer: Our class came about as an effort here to increase awareness of the importance of communal Bible study.  I felt inspired to offer a class studying the women of the Bible, and quickly put together a skit to announce the start of this new study focus.  Three individuals would defiantly interrupt my announcement by asking if I was willing to address controversial issues.  I concluded by reassuring them that we would address all concerns.  The concept was very well received.  I am incredibly thankful to our pastors, church officers, and congregation, for their support.

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