“IT IS A WEDNESDAY morning in April of 2014, and I am looking out my windows, old casements in a 1928 building in an urban neighborhood in Norfolk, Virginia, waiting for a door- to-door car service provided by the area’s public bus company. If I’m paying attention and see her coming, my driver will pull up just as I walk out my front door, and we’ll begin the fifteen- minute drive to another ninety-year-old building, which, since its construction in 1920, has been a home for elderly women and where I have spent one morning a week for more than a year talking about the Bible with a group of women in their ninth and tenth decades.
My story starts here in this building. It is the story of a miracle, although not one of those miracles where statues weep and holy faces appear in tacos. It is not a study of the Bible, nor a story about the study of the Bible; it is not a story about a small group of women; it is not a story about an unusual assisted living facility; not a history of the man who built it nor a portrait of his wife, who inspired it; it is not my own story. This is the tale of what happened when all those stories converged in the late Winter of 2013 in the residents’ living room, in a large Colonial Revival building, in a bustling port city on the coast of southern Virginia.
Everything begins with the women: Kate and Neal; Inez, Evelyn and Terry; Lucille and Nan; Catherine and Wilma and Cora Mae. On two Wednesdays, Carmen was with us. Eventually, there would be Lydia.
When I arrived at the Lydia Roper Home in February of 2013, I was a resident, not a volunteer. I had spent a year paralyzed by depression and struggling with neurological disorders; soon after Christmas I had a terrible fall. I ended up in the hospital, in a rehabilitation center and, finally, at the Roper Home. I walked up the steps of that old mansion, and I didn’t come out of my room for a month. When I finally emerged, I didn’t talk to anyone at my table at meals and I refused to sign up for bingo, board games, arts and crafts, or songfests. I asked if, instead of joining an activity, I could lead one. I suggested a Bible Study. The Activities Director checked with the residents. The residents said yes, and we gathered. There were four of us: Kate, Inez, Evelyn, and I.
At first, I was the only one who said a word. I lectured; eventually I created introductory outlines: probable author and date of composition; intended audience; historical context. I identified main ideas, events, and characters. When I realized it wasn’t easy for some of the women to follow me in their Bibles, I typed pages of passages from the text. I typed in 22-point font. The few women who were then coming to the classes told me they were keeping the handouts, sometimes reading them later. I wrote them more thoughtfully, paid more attention to the details, tried to figure out what I wanted these pieces of paper to accomplish. I was working harder. I needed to work harder. I had found a way to survive.
By the time we started Luke’s Gospel more than a year had passed and we were an even dozen. I had moved by then into my co-op in the old downtown building with its long windows opening on the neighborhood. We had just spent a few months talking about Mark, the first Gospel written, and Matthew, nearly half again as long. We were talking about Jesus, of course. But in March of 2013, when we first met in the large first floor living room, we weren’t talking about Jesus at all. We started with Adam and Eve.
Before I retired from my final teaching post, I taught a course I called the Hebrew Bible as Literature. I taught that course in the independent secondary schools that were my meat and bread, in small colleges, in church adult education classes, in nursing homes, senior centers, even for a few months in a home for the blind. I once had a grant that financed classes in Women in the Hebrew Bible for a group of low-income women in Louisville, Kentucky. Those classes went on for almost four years. When they were finally over, the women who had been participating the longest took me for a day at the races at Churchill Downs. We stayed in touch for many years.
And that was how we started at Lydia Roper; I began with what I knew. We found more questions than answers. We moved as we were moved, with very little planning ahead. Our relationship with the Scriptures and our relationships with each other were changing.
Today, on this Wednesday in the spring of 2014, I arrive just as I have for almost a year. I settle in and watch our group assemble” (Prologue 7-9).
Windsor Manor Co-ops Spring 2014
Lydia H. Roper Home
Looking for Lydia; Looking for God
Gathering: Where We Are
“IN JUNE OF 1921, CAPTAIN John Roper, former Union soldier and, since the end of the nineteenth century, a legendary Norfolk lumber baron, died at the age of eighty-six.”
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