On two Sunday mornings this month I am leading ‘Breakfast with the Bible’ at Chelmsford Cathedral’. I confess that I find ‘Breakfast with the Bible’ a strange, but impressive phenomenon.
I find it strange in the first place because it never takes a break. Every Sunday there is Breakfast with the Bible – even in the holiday month of August, when most church activities cease. My experience tells me that the Sunday services apart, every church organisation needs to take a breather – but not Breakfast with the Bible. And yet amazingly there are always a good number of people present.
I find it strange too because Breakfast with the Bible is never long enough. We are always under real time constraints, because Breakfast with the Bible is sandwiched between the 8 o’clock 1662 communion service and the 9.30 Parish Eucharist As a result, we only have half-an-hour for intensive Bible study. I would have been tempted to have run Breakfast with the Bible at the same time as the 8 o’clock service – but the fact is that a good number of the early service congregation come along to Breakfast with the Bible.
I also find it strange that the social make-up of Breakfast with the Bible is so diverse. Most of the punters are professionals with PhDs or other high-flying qualifications to their name; but there are also a number of people with limited educational ability and who stumble over the reading of the Scriptures. And yet, the group ‘gells’ – and people happily talk to one another. And everybody seems to cope when there is a discussion of the original Hebrew or Greek!
Yet for all its strangeness, Breakfast with the Bible is impressive. I have never experienced such intensive Bible study as takes place here on a Sunday morning. Although there are opportunities for inter-action and discussion, it is primarily a teaching event led from the front. The Dean of the Cathedral and the Canon Theologian are regular speakers, and both are extraordinarily competent scholars. This is not to demean other ministers who also take part – including myself.
Breakfast with the Bible is very different from a home group, where all too often Bible studies can descend into a sharing of ‘ignorance’, and where the Bible study guides are normally pretty basic. It is different too because there are many people at Breakfast with the Bible than at a home group – I guess we average around 30 or more. Furthermore, whereas in a home group members are generally committed to turning up every time, at Breakfast with the Bible membership is much more fluid. Although there is a ‘core’, many people come one Sunday, but then perhaps will not be there the next Sunday. Again, unlike a home group, there is precious little sharing and very rarely any praying for one another – Breakfast with the Bible is not a group for ‘fellowship’, but rather a group for learning.
If the truth be told, the breakfast on a Sunday morning is ‘mediocre’ – the coffee is great, but there is no jam to go with the croissants! But the teaching is superb. Every time I am present I find myself discovering something new.
Surprisingly Breakfast with the Bible appears to be one of the Cathedral’s best kept secrets. As far as I am aware there has never been a real effort to encourage more people to attend. Yes, mention is made of Breakfast with the Bible on the weekly newssheet, but the reality is that nobody is the wiser. It is just one of many ‘options’. But what an option people are missing. I wonder what would happen if instead of the normal morning sermon (which although ‘Bible-based’ is very different in character) the preacher were to go into ‘Breakfast with the Bible’ mode. I think the congregation would forgive the longer service, and that many might turn up the next Sunday for Breakfast with the Bible!