From left, Tavetia Hughes, Anita Nichols and Patricia Prowell, in their individual Columbus homes, take part Wednesday in a weekly St. James United Methodist Church women's Bible study conference call. The group used to meet weekly at the church on Military Road for Bible discussion and lunch but converted to a new format in response to the coronavirus pandemic in March. Since then, its participants have almost tripled in number. Photo by: Courtesy photos
Former Columbus resident Eunice Boston calls in from her home in Las Vegas to the St. James United Methodist Church Bible study conference call Wednesday.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
Jackie Richardson of Columbus follows along in the Bible study guide "Embraced by God" during Wednesday's call.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
August 15, 2020 8:01:13 PM
As the noon hour Wednesday approached, Tavetia Hughes in Columbus double-checked that she had everything needed close at hand. The house was quiet as she waited with her phone. Her husband graciously finds elsewhere to be during this planned 60 or so minutes each week.
A bit before 12 o'clock, other women began dialing in, connecting to a conference call. The COVID-19 pandemic may have scuttled their weekly in-person Bible study and luncheon at St. James United Methodist Church, but it didn't stop them from carrying on -- and expanding -- the spiritual bond.
To the group's surprise, the move to conference call has almost tripled participation. No longer does the Wednesday study involve just women from Columbus. Word of mouth to friends, sisters, in-laws and others has grown the numbers, at times to almost 50 people. Now participants in Tennessee, Ohio, Nevada, Missouri, Indiana, Michigan, Texas and California have joined in.
"It's amazing how the power of the word, wanting to learn about the word, about God, has increased our Bible study group," said Hughes, who serves as study leader. "It is amazingly, fantastically pleasing because whatever conditions are going on in our lives, we can stand on God's word."
Patricia Prowell, whose husband, the Rev. Dwight Prowell, is pastor of St. James, said, " ... The distance that COVID-19 has given us has also given us a different way to connect with each other."
Each Wednesday's session is structured, following the book "Embraced by God: Seven Promises for Every Woman," by Babbie Mason. Hughes facilitates discussion and questions. Prayer requests are shared; sometimes songs are sung. Amid the stresses of a pandemic, concerns are expressed, too.
"COVID-19 has affected every facet of our lives -- the church, the gym, the doctor, going to school, going to sports," said Hughes. "We have talked about our worries, our anxieties, our fears -- and this Bible study has squashed a lot of those fears. ... It's amazing how these lessons were written, how each lesson really touches on what we are going through in our lives right now."
Prowell said, "I'm thankful for our conference call, being able to continue to share the word of God with our fellow members and friends and family is such a support to my faith in God and all his blessings. We get the chance to share things ... and I have found that has been a help to me, to hear how others on our call are coping, particularly coping during COVID-19."
Anita Nichols of Columbus hasn't missed a weekly conference call yet. Her sister in Indiana can even take part now.
"I've heard people say the Bible is living and breathing, and that's true because there can be a scripture you may have read last year, and you say, OK, I got that," said Nichols, a member of St. James since 2003. "But after you've gone through other things and you reread that scripture, you can understand it a little bit more."
Eunice Boston calls in from her current home in Las Vegas. She graduated from R.E. Hunt High School in Columbus, alongside Hughes. Boston's husband recently passed away.
"The Bible study came into my life at the right time to fill some emptiness there," she said. "Studying the Bible just fulfills my life because I've been through so much, and being a student of the word has helped me get through trials and tribulations in my life."
The weekly conference call -- an interim solution to a pandemic-induced problem -- has not only allowed study and fellowship to continue, it has opened a door for the group to grow beyond its physical boundaries, a consequence unforeseen back in March.
"We just know it's going to be a glorious day if and when we can ever get a chance to meet back at the church," said Hughes. "It'll be a wonderful hallelujah time. But the people who have joined us who are not from Columbus have really expressed a desire to continue. We have looked ahead."
Carrying on with a conference call, or moving to a platform like Zoom are under consideration. Whatever the future may hold for the women of St. James UMC Bible study, the bond they share deepens with every call.
"I just love it," Hughes said of the weekly connection. "It is the highlight of my week. ... Our Christian spiritual state I think has grown stronger on these calls. One lady joked, the only thing missing is the food."
Editor's note: To learn more about the St. James UMC Bible study, email Tavetia Hughes at [email protected]
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.