A dear friend, now departed this earth, invited me to join a Men’s Bible Study group at St. Michael's Episcopal Church ten years ago. He made two things clear. They served sausage biscuits every week and I didn’t have to say anything if I didn’t want to.
After my first Thursday morning with the group, Bill caught me in the parking lot and said, “Well, telling you that you didn’t have to say anything was certainly a waste of breath.” Yes, I have made a lifetime career of talking about things that I know little about.
I know more about the Bible now than I did then and proudly carry one with notes, highlighted passages, dogeared pages, and a protective plastic cover. And I know a lot more about the ten to fourteen fellow Episcopalians who show up religiously (see how I did that?) every Thursday morning at 7:00am for one biscuit, two coffees, and 60 minutes of study and fellowship.
The decades long continuity of the group is impressive and when I joined it was made clear to me that we meet every Thursday, including Thanksgiving and both Christmas and New Years Day when they fall on a Thursday. We seamlessly shifted to ZOOM during the pandemic and that innovation has enabled us to keep guys in the circle who have moved away from Raleigh. I have even tuned in while on vacation as have others.
We have guys in the group who have studied the Old and New Testament for years, guys who have taken and passed the Education for Ministry program offered by the Episcopal Church, and one guy who has even published a book of daily devotions. We have a full spectrum of personalities in the group, but a homogeneity of professional, cultural, and regional backgrounds.
And we like each other.
The rules are simple. The leader for the week buys the biscuits and comes prepared to lead the discussion of the week’s readings for the upcoming Sunday as prescribed in the Episcopal lectionary. That is, unless they forget.
There was one guy many years ago who forgot and showed up without preparation or biscuits. We talked about it regularly and it became part of the folklore of the group.
Then I did it.
Since I retired 11 years ago, I appreciate how much I relied on an executive assistant to keep me on schedule and on time. I occasionally mention that I need one again to avoid these kinds of mishaps. My wife has mentioned on more than one occasion that what I really need is my mother, but “she ain’t comin’ back”.
The point of that story is how forgiving the guys have been and how my ability to simultaneously laugh, dance, and bullshit has saved me from a public stoning on more than one occasion.
I looked around the table this morning and realized how lucky I am to have fallen into this band of brothers. We care about each other. We patiently listen to each other. We pray for each other. Yes, we love each other.
St. Paul in writing his letters laid out a series of rules that not only advance the church but keep any community together. Listening to each other and recognizing the validity of all opinions has kept this group together for many years. We don’t interrupt. We actively listen. When we disagree, we disagree with respect. When we think that something we said might have bruised feelings, we reconcile in the parking lot before we get into our cars. In the words of St. Paul, “never drive away pissed off.”
This morning, our leader whose faith has been a guidepost to me in my life quoted an end-of-life sentence by my grandmother that I had offered to the group some years ago. As I heard the words I thought, this is truly what brotherhood is all about.
We pray coming in and going out and feel better equipped to face the joys and disappointments that life serves up.
We are a Band of Brothers.