By Lou Baldwin
Special to the CS&T

NEWTOWN – When Mai Pham first heard about “The Great Adventure: A Journey Through the Bible” she wasn’t one bit impressed. Pham, who is director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Andrew Parish, Newtown, Bucks County, just didn’t think a DVD-based Bible study program was a good fit for the parish. “I didn’t want a canned program,” she said.

But some parishioners who had attended a session elsewhere were really enthused.

The course, which is a product of West Chester’s Ascension Press, calls for members of the Bible study group to read assigned passages of the Bible, consider the questions posed by the accompanying material, then come together in small groups for discussion. After this the DVD is played, during which writer and lecturer Jeff Cavins further explains the text.

Before adopting the course, a group from St. Andrew traveled to St. Anastasia Parish, Newtown Square, to see the Bible study in action.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Pham said. “The way he (Cavins) weaved in Scripture and catechism was wonderful. It was all through a Catholic lens, and he did it on a timeline cleverly weaving in the Old Testament and connecting it to current events and salvation history, and it was not watered down.”

St. Andrew Parish doesn’t do things halfway. Starting in February 2008, the parish undertook the introductory course, “A Quick Journey Through the Bible,” then advanced to a 24-week course.

This fall they have begun another 24-week course, “Matthew: the King and His Kingdom.”

Right now there are about 250 adults signed up for the course, and because of the great number, they are spanided into four sessions: Tuesday morning and evening and Thursday morning and evening. They meet in the “Olde Church,” St. Andrew’s original church.

For the group discussions they are further broken down into smaller table groups of about 10 members each.

“I think the program is phenomenal,” said Liz Tolkach, who attends the Tuesday evening session. “The greatest fruit seems to be people getting excited about reading Scripture, especially the Old Testament. Also, people have a better understanding of the Mass.”

Tolkach believes through the Bible study program, which has drawn people of various ages and backgrounds, parishioners are getting to know each other and forming a better sense of parish community.

“I hope other parishes pick this up,” she said.

Francis Quinlan, who attends on Tuesday morning with 50 or 60 people, said the program “is very moving and a chance to really get into the Bible.”

He started to attend the session last year during Lent and has just continued. “I’ve never regretted it,” he said. The small group discussions get quite spirited as each person has a different take on the assigned reading, then during the DVD lecture, “you can here a pin drop,” he said.

As for the impressive number of St. Andrew parishioners who take time to come to the Bible study groups, Quinlan is not surprised.

“I think we are the biggest parish in the diocese,” he said.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.