By Jessica Connor, Special Contributor…
Like a weekend getaway in the middle of a crazy season, a new United Methodist audio initiative is sweeping the denomination’s South Carolina Conference while generating diverse conversation about Scripture.
It’s called Sunday Scripture Podcast, a weekly 15-minute show that is the brainchild of the Rev. Joe Cate, associate pastor at Buncombe Street UMC in Greenville, S.C.
Mr. Cate thought a weekly podcast would be a great way to generate strong dialogue about the lectionary Scripture used in worship each Sunday. He enlisted help from other United Methodist pastors across the state, launching the podcast March 14.
“I want to make the message of the weekly Scripture accessible to people that are attending church or on the perimeter of church,” Mr. Cate said, noting the podcast is an outreach tool to help bridge the gap between the church-eager and the church-apathetic.
Mr. Cate is the host, and several pastors join him each week. The pastors are intentionally diverse to keep the conversation fresh and lively: younger and older, men and women, different theological perspectives. Participating pastors include the Revs. Laura Bratton, Brad Gray, Megan Gray, James Ellis Griffeth, Dean Lollis, Will Malambri, Mollie Bame Reddic, Thomas Smith, Jonathan Tompkins, Sara White and more.
The podcast doesn’t just help laity. “It’s [also] fun to talk to other ministers about texts because we can come up with great ideas together that anyone can use as a resource for their sermons,” said Mr. Cates.
“The podcast is kind of an electronic version of a coffeehouse conversation with a group of pastors discussing Scripture,” said Mr. Tompkins, associate pastor at First UMC, Myrtle Beach. “It allows me to hear differing points of view, other than my own, from people throughout our conference who I would normally not be able to sit down with over a cup of coffee.”
They also keep the conversation at a level that will appeal to both the worship novice and the seasoned. For example, in the first episode, Mr. Cate explains what a lectionary is for those who don’t know.
“My true purpose is for those who have very little to do with church for whatever reason to hear the same message of hope and grace that we hear,” Mr. Cate said.
In June, the show was averaging 325 listeners each week and growing.
In the pilot, Mr. Cate told listeners the idea is simple: “We want to give you 15 minutes in the middle of your busy week to slow down and recalibrate your mind and spirit using Scripture passages, main points and images that are relevant in your life.”
Every week, the show covers three basic segments. The first segment analyzes a Scripture passage that is appropriate for the week, illuminating the main point with a real-life example. In the pilot, Mr. Cate compares the Israelites’ journey in Numbers 21 to a road trip to Disney World he took with his young children.
The second segment highlights a verse from the sermon text to help establish a basic theme for the week. The third segment describes an image from everyday life that will help listeners remember the theme; the April 18 podcast uses an image of toddlers to help us understand our behavior as adults.
Mr. Cate is spreading the word about the podcast in a variety of ways: regular church announcements, Facebook, Twitter, Textweek.com and an email distribution list. Listeners and contributors also share the show on their social media sites.
“In a society that increasingly spends more time online and on-the-go, I think this is an important way to reach out to folks beyond our church walls,” Mr. Tompkins said, encouraging people to tune in.
To listen to the podcasts, visit the religious podcast section of iTunes or http://sundayscripture.tumblr.com/. To sign up for the weekly email reminder, write to firstname.lastname@example.org and put SUBSCRIBE in the subject line. You will then receive an email each week with a direct link to a website and a direct link to iTunes.
Ms. Connor is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, where this story first appeared.