by Rev. Dr. Linda Hartley, Assoc. Minister (Designated Term)

A week ago, our Confirmands received their Bibles. It was a chilly Saturday along the banks of the Barrington River behind the education building here at the church. The sun was shining, and Fall was definitely in the air. It was part of our Confirmation Celebration (postponed from May) which will be officially celebrated this month during our virtual worship service on October 18th. As is the case with so many things this year, we’re doing things a little differently.

One of things we did differently was to record the Confirmands releasing doves with only immediate family present. In addition to receiving their Bibles, the Membership Team gave each Confirmand a cupcake (in lieu of the traditional celebration cake at coffee hour) and a river rock inscribed with the date. In short, we continue the traditions we can and modify those we cannot. It was different, but it was also good – good to gather within the guidelines set by the state to celebrate the faith journey thus far of these eight young people. You will see the recording of these events during worship on Confirmation Sunday – mark your calendars for October 18th!

This week, I’ve been thinking about the gift of a Bible to commemorate each Confirmand’s faith journey to this point and to support each one along this continuing journey. As we all know, the journey of faith is never over. We are always faced with new challenges which call upon us to grow in our faith. As a Christian community, we reach out to others for support and turn to our Scriptures to help us along this way. As I thought about the significance of gifting each Confirmand with a Bible, I got to thinking about my own Bibles.

As a pastor, I have several Bibles: a more formal-looking Bible with a black “leatherette” cover for reading in worship services, a couple of big study Bibles with footnotes galore, and a few Bibles with different translations of the original Hebrew and Greek. While I appreciate all of these Bibles, my personal favorite is one I ordered many years ago from Better World Books. I had begun attending a Congregational Church and noticed that the Bible in the pews, and the Bible from which the Scripture was read every week, was different from the Bible I had been using my whole life.

I had grown up in a church that read and studied the King James version exclusively. I had grown up believing that this was The Bible, the only Bible. I had become so accustomed to hearing the language of “thee” and “thine” that to hear “you” and “yours” was a little unsettling. It didn’t really sound “religious.” But I was also curious, so I took meticulous notes in the margins of my Order of Worship one Sunday about the version in the pews – a New Revised Standard Version. I wrote down the publisher information, the date of publication…the whole deal. Then I went online and ordered a second-hand copy, second hand because I wasn’t sure I’d like it very much. It was an experiment. An experiment that has paid off.

When I opened the package a couple of weeks later, I found a rather non-descript hard-bound Bible with a dark blue cover. Nothing notable about that, except when I opened the cover I found that this Bible was dedicated to a Julianna from a Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. I have often speculated about why her Bible ended up at Better World Books. Did she already have a favorite Bible? Did this one get lost in a move and donated to a thrift store?

I don’t know how it ended up at Better World Books, but I am grateful it did because it has become a treasure to me. It’s the Bible I open when I’m seeking direction. It’s the Bible I have filled with bookmarked passages that have helped me find God’s word speaking to me. It’s the Bible I read from each morning before beginning my day. It’s become a cherished companion on my own faith journey. And I’ve grown accustomed to the more “updated” language.

In seminary, of course, I found so many more translations such as the New International Version (NIV), the NET Bible, the New King James, and one called The Message. Each version of the Bible (and there are many more versions than these four) offers a slightly (and not so slightly) different translation. And each one provides a different insight into how we understand and perceive God and God’s word for us. In particular, The Message is written in contemporary language that often surprises me with new ways of seeing familiar passages. Exploring different versions can wake up my study even as I may still find myself going back to the NRSV I got second hand.

It’s funny though, how the version (the translation) we grew up with sticks with us. I found this out a few years ago when I was in Appalachia with a group of seminarians. In the Baptist churches and the Evangelical churches, the King James version was, and is, the version. Hearing passages read in the Old English, I found myself reciting along. It was like putting on a well-worn pair of jeans or a favorite pair of shoes. It fit in all the right places. It took me back to sitting in the pews with my mom and my grandmother, the language so evocative and familiar. It took me back to the beginning of my journey learning about God, about how much God loves me, about how much God loves each one of us.

And through the language, I was suddenly connected to the people I met in Appalachia in churches I had never visited before. The Bible can do that too. When I open my second-hand Bible and see Julianna’s name inside the cover, I feel a connection to her. I hope she has a Bible she treasures, a Bible that is also well-worn and filled with bookmarks. I hope the language, whether “old” or “modern,” helps her see how much God loves her too. I hope reading it and hearing it read aloud reconnects her with those who first showed her what love looks like. I also hope she knows that her Bible which found its way to me is being looked after very well.