It is a standing joke that Episcopalians have no idea what is in the Bible. However, all too often it is not a joke.
The Bible is obviously important to the Christian faith, but many Christians may not know it very well, may find it difficult to read, or may not know how it is relevant to their life. An event in the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas offers teens a chance to come together, make friends, ask questions, and learn about God’s love letter to the world.
Miqra, which (right or wrong) we pronounce meek-rah, is a Hebrew word that means “reading.” It refers to the ancient Jewish practice of gathering at the local synagogue to hear a public reading of scripture. It is found in Nehemiah 8:8, where Israel’s leaders have gathered the people:
They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
And this is the primary goal of the Miqra program: to make Holy Scriptures accessible so that youth can understand what is being read.
In a nutshell, Miqra is an event where we read the entire Bible, cover-to-cover, out loud. It aims to give youth an entry point into scripture.
Even though no one sits to hear the entire seventy-two hours of reading, we hope in the portions they do hear that they will find little gems to be puzzled, challenged, or inspired by. Plus, youth enjoy the challenge of coming together to complete this amazing feat.
Miqra was first done in the Diocese of Kansas in January of 2002. It was started by the Rev. Kelly Demo. We hold Miqra each year during Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, since most youth do not have school on that Monday.
Miqra is open to youth in grades 6–12. When we started, we hosted all age groups together at our cathedral. In 2010, under the direction of then youth missioner Chad Senuta, we started splitting junior high youth and senior high youth into two separate churches.
We all start at the cathedral, then after registration and the general welcome, the junior high students get bused to another Episcopal church in town. They returned to the cathedral Monday morning so we could have our closing service together.
Splitting the groups gives us more space, gives youth more opportunities to read, creates a more quiet and spiritual atmosphere, and allows for age-specific programming. However, it also splits the community, eliminates opportunities for younger and older youth to get to know one another, and dissipates some of the energy and excitement of the gathering.
Starting in 2015, we hope to alternate between combined years and split years, so we can experience the benefits of both arrangements.
We begin the reading early on Friday morning, using adult volunteers, college students, and student leaders to do the reading for the first thirty hours. If the Bishop is in town, he always takes a reading time slot on that first day.
Volunteers sign up to read in hour-long blocks of time, all through the day and night. Youth can sign-up to read with a friend, and they can trade off during their hour-long time slot.
We always finish, but not always linearly. Occasionally, we need to have a group of students reading the last six to ten books of the Bible simultaneously on Monday morning in order to complete our goal. It’s amazingly powerful to hear the scripture read in this way. It almost makes me hope we don’t finish.
I asked youth this year why they signed up to read. The responses were great:
In 2010, in order to make the reading “public,” we started streaming the reading live online at ustream.tv. The Diocese of Chicago was holding Miqra that weekend as well, and we could check in with each other periodically.
Clergy, parents, and former youth also like to check in with us throughout the weekend and see how the reading is going. Sometimes you can even hear the rest of the group singing or doing compline in the background. It’s been great to get text messages from our seminarians at VTS saying, “I just saw you walk by the camera!”
We hang a sign in front of the reading so viewers can quickly tell what book of the Bible we’re currently reading. We also invite parents and adults from the host parish to help us out by coming in during the nighttime hours to listen to the reading and help supervise the youth.
Throughout the weekend, we have clergy speakers and workshops to help youth delve further into different topics on the Bible. To guide the teachings, we ask the questions, “What is in the Bible?” “Why should we read the Bible?” and “How should I read the Bible?”
In 2013, we started alternating our focus by studying the Old Testament the entire weekend and then the New Testament the entire weekend the following year. My personal favorite result of this focus was when I invited a clergy person to talk to us about all the references to the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament—and then we watched Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark as our movie for the event.
Youth also divide into small groups for discussion and reflection on what we’re doing and learning. During the Old Testament weekend, the groups are called “tribes” and named after the twelve tribes of Israel. During the New Testament weekend, they are called “apostle groups” and are named after the original twelve disciples.
Our speakers come up with questions for the youth to discuss in their small groups to help them process and remember what they are learning. This is also a great way for youth to get to know one another and connect to others their age.
On Sunday morning, all the participants attend service at the church where Miqra is held. We involve youth from the event in as many parts of the liturgy as we can. Youth participants do the readings, and we also have a couple of youth give a sermon.
The youth preachers are selected long before the event and receive advance instruction on how to prepare a sermon. The preachers include in their sermon a description of the event and how the experience has impacted them.
Additionally, we do compline every night, typically with Taizé music. We also have a praise band made up of youth and adult volunteers, so we build in times in the schedule to incorporate singing.
Sometimes the weekend includes an hour of contemplative prayer. We might set up different stations to include a labyrinth, listening to the reading, prayer journals, mandalas, or Anglican rosaries. I like teaching the youth that there are a plethora of ways to pray and exploring using all of our different senses and gifts as part of prayer.
We also try to build in some activities that are “just for fun.” We might have one workshop time that is dedicated to crafts, sports, and games. We watch a movie, or set up two and allow youth to pick one.
We invite a Christian band to give a concert. We sing karaoke. We play Just Dance on a Wii. We have a digital photo safari in our small groups, followed by a slide show of our efforts. We design nave Olympics or play another nave-favorite: church commandos. Probably not all of those the same weekend, but those are some of the things we have done over the years.
We end on Monday morning with a closing worship service. We tell those morning readers to stop if they reach the final chapter of Revelation and to begin reading the Apocrypha instead (actually, we put a sticky note in the Bible asking them to say, “Here pauses the reading.”) We read the final chapter of Revelation together as a group during our closing worship service.
In 2013, we started a new tradition with our closing service, based on the Jewish holiday Simchat Torah, meaning the joy of Torah. On this day, Jews all over the world read the last verses of the Torah, then sing, dance, and celebrate.
And then, a few moments later, they start reading the Torah all over again. They do this to represent that our learning from the scriptures never ends. It’s a circle with no beginning and no end.
So, in 2013, we started reading the first chapter of Genesis together to close out. After we finish that last chapter of Revelation, we go right into Genesis. Then, when we’re done with both chapters, we all clap and cheer and sing songs of praise.
Many of our youth say that Miqra is their favorite event. It makes me wonder about how Miqra is different from the others we offer.
It’s a little bit longer, thus helping us develop more as a community. It’s always held at our beautiful Cathedral. It appeals to the intellectual side of our faith, whereas some of our other events focus more on the spiritual. I also think the common goal, the amazing feat of reading the entire Bible from cover to cover in such a short amount of time, helps unite us and feel proud of being a part of something.
One adult evaluator named the following as the best part of the 2014 event:
[W]atching the youth of the diocese question their faith and have the chance to share their questions with their peers. Their doubts, questions, and fears about the Bible are what allow them to grow stronger in their beliefs at Miqra.
This 10-minute documentary includes interviews with youth and adults participating in the event in 2006. You can find out about upcoming Miqra events on the Diocese of Kansas youth website. You can purchase a “how to” guide to help you create your own Miqra event from Leader Resources.
Karen Schlabach has been the Youth Missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas since January 2013. Prior to that she was the youth minister at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church. You can reach her here.