From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Americans find 'Disciples' in Britain

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Fri, 7 Dec 2001 13:49:53 -0600

Dec. 7, 2001 News media contact: Thomas S. McAnally7(615)742-54707Nashville,
Tenn.  10-71BP{571}

NOTE: Photographs are available with this report.

By Kathleen LaCamera*

LITTLE LEVER, England (UMNS) -- When the Rev. Doug Smith welcomes members of
the Monday evening Disciple Bible Study, his Texas accent betrays that he is
a long way from home. 

This corporate lawyer-turned-minister and his family have traded their
Houston home for the north of England while Smith is serving a yearlong
pastoral internship. Before taking up post in July, Smith wondered if his
new British parishioners might be interested in the intensive, 34-week
Disciple Bible Study program. Already trained to lead Disciple classes, he
was delighted to discover they were.  

"We saw it as an answer to prayer," said church member Brian Young. He had
seen advertisements about Disciple long before Smith arrived on the scene. A
British version of the program was launched in 1996 and includes
contributions from British theologians and church leaders. "It all seemed a
bit overwhelming in terms of time and money," Young remembered. "But when
Doug arrived he was already trained, and his enthusiasm for Disciple was

Smith leads three weekly Disciple groups. He is confident that Disciple will
continue long after he returns to Texas. 

"If these people can struggle for 34 weeks through this pretty intense
experience, they will bring other people along. We're creating disciples

Disciple was developed in the United States by the United Methodist
Publishing House in the 1980s, and to date more than 1.2 million Americans
have taken part in a course. Sessions cover both Old and New Testaments and
are designed not only to provide information to participants but to
encourage "personal transformation" as well.    

Smith's fellow intern and Texas Conference colleague, the Rev. Allison
Byerley, has also had success with Disciple during her year in England. She
runs three Disciple sessions a week for more than 40 participants in her
Hampshire Methodist churches. 

Byerley, who initially hoped she might have as many as six or seven people
show interest, said she is thrilled so many have taken on the rigorous
commitment to daily Bible study. But she also admitted she was surprised to
find that people knew so little about the Bible, especially the Old

"One woman told me she had never read the Old Testament, while another man
told me he only wanted to study the New Testament."  

Taking advantage of their proximity to London, Byerley is planning a
"Disciple trip" to see the British Museum's collection of ancient Near
Eastern artifacts. For her, it is just one more way of helping to bring Old
Testament to life. 

Linda Hernandez of the British Methodist Publishing House told United
Methodist News Service that the experience of Americans like Smith and
Byerley is invaluable for British congregations considering Disciple. An
American 'import' with a price tag of $750 in start-up costs, the program
can seem a daunting commitment for many British congregations. The situation
is not helped by the fact that "adult education" in local British churches
is far less common than in the United States. Hernandez estimated that by
June at least 5,000 people will have completed what is called "Disciple UK."

"Doug and Allison have done Disciple before and seen a lot of good things
come out of it," Hernandez said. "They're not tentative and are saying,
'We've got something really good here.'"

But it is not only Americans who are enjoying success with Disciple in
Britain. Hernandez remembered hearing from the Rev. Malcolm McCall, who
called from a snow-covered phone booth in the Shetland Islands, 150 miles
north of the British mainland. It seemed McCall was in a hurry to report
that a large number of people turned out in a snowstorm to sign up for
Disciple and he need additional books immediately. Hernandez said she was
delighted to supply them.

The Rev. Charles New in Wilmslow near Manchester says Disciple is "one of
the best things that U.S. Methodism ever gave us." New has conducted several
courses in the past and is preparing to start another soon. 

"I like the breadth of it and the fact there is this range of perspectives.
It's not trying to put across just one theological point of view."

Back at the Little Lever, Disciple session participants said they were in no
doubt that all the time and hard work was worth it - even as they sat
struggling with a lesson from Leviticus about animal sacrifice. 

"Most people haven't had all this explained to them," commented retired
teacher Carol Dyson. "I look forward to coming. ... I never expected to
learn about these kinds of things." 

For Marilyn Dobson, the course has been a "revelation," helping her feel
connected to a tradition that stretches back to the time of Moses. "It makes
what you do in church more meaningful. ... It's been very good."

#  #  #

*LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in England

United Methodist News Service
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