Tomorrow evening (Dutch time), which is tomorrow morning in California, I start a five-week series in the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School, which is one of a dozen or so options for members of of the Loma Linda University Church. This Sabbath School is usually visited by some fifty or more people. It is named after Roy Branson, a charismatic ethics professor and peace activist. He was one of founders of the Spectrum journal. Roy’s teaching career included professorships at several Adventist Universities and ended with his position as associate dean at the School of Religion at Loma Linda University. I had come to know Roy quite well and greatly admired him. Apparently, he also appreciated some of the things I was involved in, for he was instrumental in the invitation that I received to spent three months in 2014 as a visiting professor at Loma Linda University. Aafje and I greatly enjoyed this extended stay in Loma Linda. At the time, Roy led one of the many special sabbath schools on the university campus, which we attended. Earlier, when he taught at Washington Adventist University he had invited me several times (when I was in the USA for General Conference meetings) to give a presentation to his class of the Sligo Church in Washington. During my 3-month teaching quarter at LLU Roy also asked me to do a five-week series in his class.
After Roy suddenly died in July 2015 the sabbath school class continued. It was renamed as the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School (RBLSS) and is since coordinated by Dr. David Larson, another respected ethicist at the Loma Linda School of Religion, and a close friend of Roy. He and his wife Bronwen have become good friends of Aafje and me. Since about a year the RBLSS meets via ZOOM. Earlier this year I did a series of presentations about aspects of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. My recent book (I have a future: Christ’s resurrection and mine) provided much of the content of these presentations, which were followed by intense discussions. The new series that begins tomorrow is based on a book that has yet to appear. The publisher (Stanborough Press in the UK) is in the final editing phase of the manuscript of a book about the Second Coming of Christ which I wrote last year. The book will not just analyze the traditional Adventist views about this theme but will also discuss some issues that for me (and many others) have become quite problematic. The working title of the soon coming book is: He Comes: Why, when and how Jesus will return.
The phenomenon of on-line Sabbath Schools opens a new chapter in Adventist church life. The Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School is just one of an increasing number of special sabbath schools which choose topics that are deemed to be relevant for those who regularly attend, rather than following the “regular” GC-endorsed curriculum. But a new development, due to the use of ZOOM, is that attendants of these Zoom-Sabbath schools no longer exclusively come from one region, but also from far-away places, even from outside of the United States. Each week I now receive in my in-box an annotated and updated list of some fifteen “progressive” Zoom-Sabbath Schools, which enable me (and all others who receive this weekly update) to choose where I will go digitally, dependent on whether I am interested in the topic and appreciate the presenter.
Closer to home I notice in my own country (the Netherlands) two things. First, it appears that those local churches that offer an on-line Sabbath School, do what they can to ensure that it has a good quality. Due to the nature of on-line events preparations tend to be more detailed and the treatment of the topic is in many cases more systematic and the discussion more to the point than one would see in most “normal” sabbath school classes. But is also appears that most church members who on Sabbath tune in to an on-line service do some shopping before deciding which of the available options they will choose, and do not include a sabbath school in their viewing strategy. Will this period of digital worship lead to a further erosion of the Sabbath School, which probably will not be reversed when things go back to “normal”? Or will we perhaps also see new initiatives with ZOOM sabbath schools, even when we can meet again physically, targeting those who want a different kind of Bible study and are looking for discussions about topics that directly touch their daily lives, with the advantage of not being restricted by geography or traditions of format and time. I believe this could be a good thing, as long as it complements, and does not replace, the physical community of worship time.