023: The Present and Future of Mormon Stories Sunday School

We have put out 22 episodes of Engaging Gospel Doctrine so far! As we wrap up the Book of Mormon and look forward to covering Doctrine & Covenants and Church History, this seemed like an ideal time to put out a mini-episode covering what we have accomplished, what we plan for next year, and what we need to make that happen.

What We Have Accomplished

We launched a podcast! We went from nothing and hit the ground running putting out a podcast a week. We pushed our production so that we are at least a few days ahead of almost all lesson schedules. Friends and strangers emailed me to tell me that this project is needed, fulfilling, even spiritually healing. Permit me to share two of my favorite comments:

“I am enjoying studying the scriptures for the first time in my life. Seriously. First time. I started just by listening to the podcast, but now I want to read the chapters first to see what I notice on my own. Reading scriptures used to bring a lot of confusion and questions…feelings I didn’t know what to do with. Reading the scriptures was supposed to fill me with peace and make my entire day go better. I was obviously deficient in some way. To avoid being reminded of this I avoided reading the scriptures. But, this podcast has changed that for me. Oh, I still have the confusion and questions, but now I know how to approach that. The freedom to critically examine the scriptures and listen to others do the same has stopped me from being weighed down by uneasiness. Now I come away with good feelings and life lessons. Often those come from the parts that would have previously been most troubling to me.”

“I’m so grateful for the way you’re able to approach this book of scripture with the critical knowledge in your back pocket and an eye toward an uplifting and faithful reading. Thanks so much. This podcast is helping me appreciate Mormon scriptures in way I have not felt for some time.”

Listeners are responding to the way this podcast models an approach where we challenge and are challenged by the scriptures, and where we bring together scripture and gospel principles with real life and its issues. I think we have succeeded at striking a balance of pointing to critical issues while focusing on the nourishing substance of the scriptures. Though I designed this podcast to be faithful and at home in a Church context, I was taken aback by how quickly people began to incorporate it into their lesson preparation and Sunday School involvement. We have invited over forty class members on the podcast, many of whom had not been on a podcast before. We have modeled equitable participation by men and women. We have brought your comments and questions into the discussion. We have a facebook group of over four hundred members which has hosted some amazing discussions. We are getting over sixty thousand downloads an episode and probably have about five thousand listeners. We are meeting needs, educating and touching individuals, and building momentum. Thank you for all you have done to make this possible.

Our Plans for Next Year

Producing this podcast has proved both more challenging and more rewarding than I anticipated. It takes time, study and thought as well as a great deal of emotional energy. Your feedback and donations do a great deal to validate my efforts. Next year’s curriculum presented me with a dilemma: Between my training as a Biblical scholar and intimate familiarity with the Book of Mormon, I can efficiently prepare three years of Gospel Doctrine lessons. But American or Church history are not my specialties. I do not have the details about the history of the Doctrine and Covenants or Mormonism internalized, so preparing the lessons myself would require a prohibitive amount of time. I seriously considered skipping the year and picking up again with the Old Testament.

But thanks to some brilliant and helpful friends, several other alternatives are possible. One option would be to have four teachers of which I was one, each teaching a lesson a month. A second option, the most promising solution right now, involves having a “research and production team”. The team will assist me in preparing the lessons, filling in the gaps in my knowledge with their expertise, and I would still teach most of the lessons, keeping mine the main voice of the podcast.

The organization of the lesson manual also requires some creative solutions to model effective Sunday School teaching. Unlike the approach to the Book of Mormon, we are not scheduled to read through the Doctrine and Covenants next year. In fact, the student manual covers less than 30% of the text and 51 sections are skipped entirely.

So in addition to modeling the lessons and discussions, we will have an additional segment covering Church History and treating the Doctrine and Covenants in more detail. We will present the precursors to our modern Doctrine and Covenants, explore the sections in chronological order and discuss their historical context. These episodes be launched under the “Excavating Scripture” title.

Two other projects I have been working on that I plan to finish next year include

1) a series of twelve brief audio visual presentations that introduce the ways that History, Philosophy, Sociology, and other disciplines inform the study of religion and Mormonism as well as addressing specific topics such as Scripture, Revelation, and Agency. These presentations will serve as a “toolbox” of resources that help provide a framework for a healthy, mature faith. Mormon Stories and other resources provide a wealth of information but not the tools to process that information. These presentations seek to meet that need.

2) Longer Mormon Stories style interviews on the Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and Old Testament as well as possibly the Book of Mormon.

As passionate as I feel about this podcast, however, I also need to finish my dissertation this year as well as fulfill my teaching responsibilities. I need to be drafting most of a chapter a month and putting at bare minimum twenty hours a week into my dissertation and often more. If I can’t put adequate time into these primary responsibilities, I can’t do the podcast. If the subscriptions and donations are not enough that the time I put in is worth it and the support is helping me finish efficiently rather than hindering me, I can’t do the podcast. I need help, and I need your support.

What You Can Do To Help

1) Continue to participate in the growth of the podcast. Keep listening to it, using it for your lessons and comments. Share it with friends. Come to this blog and make comments and ask questions. Join the facebook group and even sign up to be part of the class discussion! Go to iTunes and write a review. We still have a few spots open for our Research and Production Team, so if you consider yourself well-read or an expert in D&C and Church History, please contact me!

2) Donate. I know that countless causes compete for your resources, but if you have benefited from this podcast, the most substantial way you can help is to sign up for a monthly subscription. If everyone who listens donated $5 a month, this podcast would be completely taken care of. We have been averaging about $300 a month in subscriptions (a third of which comes from one generous donor!) and single donations of about $100-$200 more per month. I haven’t done the math to see whether that even equals a minimum wage part time job for me, but it makes all the difference feeling that support and that my time and efforts are appreciated and worthwhile. As I noted, I am working to finish my PhD dissertation and it would help more than I can express to not have to worry about money over the next year, to worry how to pay my tuition and meet other needs. This will help me finish my PhD efficiently and tackle other projects relating to the Bible and religion. Part of the podcast being sustainable is my ability to pay James Estrada who puts in about ten hours per episode for postproduction. With the research and production team and the audio-visual presentations there will be other expenses. Think of your donation as paying for a book of resources, or my favorite example, as tuition for a college course. Though it is true that I would not get paid for a Church calling, as we know the Church has other ways to meet its financial needs.

3) Tell us about yourself and how we can make Mormon Stories Sunday School even better. Please take a few minutes to complete this survey so we know who is listening and how we can serve you better.

These past six months we have been in a push hard and build the foundation phase. I have put in about all I can. Simply put, if I get enough support and help I can continue the podcast next year, and if I lack this support, I can’t. I will need to put the podcast on hold until my dissertation is complete. If I had adequate time and money for my needs I would be glad to continue this project as a labor of love. But as it is, I can’t do it without support, financial and otherwise. I can’t do this without you.Thank you for listening. Thank you for your time, your feedback, and your support. This is not only my podcast, it is our podcast, and thank you for being part of it.

 

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