On Saturday 21st October Modern Church South West arranged a study morning entitled ‘reading through Mark’.

The speaker was Canon Chris Burdon, a group member, who had been director of Lay Training in Chelmsford Diocese and had rearranged the New Testament syllabus there. He has also written Stumbling on God: Faith and vision in Mark’s Gospel, and was thus well qualified to address the subject.

We hoped that the session would be a resource for local churches as Mark is the lead Gospel for the 2018 lectionary which begins on Advent Sunday. In the event an eclectic assortment of some 20 people gathered at Manver’s St Baptist Church, which seems to have become ‘home’ for the group. Others were hindered by Storm Brian, which decided to block railway lines with fallen trees and make driving conditions from afar extremely unpleasant. We were, however, glad to have Jonathan Draper, our new General Secretary, with us.

Those who came were treated to a comprehensive resume of Mark’s Gospel, which of necessity seemed to go at the pace of the Gospel itself. The well known characteristics of Mark – the ‘and – and’ pace of the text, the messianic secret, Son of Man, the short ending and so on were all covered, with appropriate space allowed for interjections and not a little humour. It would be untrue to say that we were given an ‘overview’. Content and delivery were such that we were able to look at Mark from alongside and within. Participants were also put to work as we were handed the text (in English and Greek) of Mark 8:27 – 9:1)  and asked to study and comment on it.

Judging by the copious notes that were being taken, sermons by various clergy and lay ministers will be enriched by what was said. It was encouraging to see people taking notes of the future programme of the group which includes a day (on Saturday 3rd February 2018) when we look at the environment with Margaret Barker, who has developed an approach to biblical btudies now known as Temple Theology, and the Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, the Church of England's lead bishop for Environmental Affairs. On Saturday12th May 2018, Robert Reiss will talk to us about his latest book, Sceptical Christianity: Exploring Credible Beliefand a session in September focusing on the aftermath of people’s involvement with cults.

On a personal level I had been taught in my Evangelical theological college that Mark was ‘the’ Gospel about evangelism – because it is short, begins with ‘the beginning of the Gospel' etc, and justifies frenetic activity because of the frequent use of ‘straightway’. To hear that Mark ‘didn’t have much to do with evangelism at all’ was meat for the soul. We live, and we learn. Thank you, Chris.