By JEAN DRISKELL, Special to the Bulletin | Published August 22, 2014
ATLANTA—“Blest are those who hear the word of God and keep it” is the Scripture verse Keri Allen uses in her ministry to encourage others to read and study the Bible, to learn, know, and apply God’s word in their lives every day.
The former director of adult education and evangelization at the Cathedral of Christ the King has now begun a new women’s Bible study ministry, “Proclaim My Word,” which emphasizes life application. Open to all the women in the archdiocese, it is meeting at Holy Spirit Church.
“Proclaim My Word is to do exactly what it says and to help reach as many women, right now, as possible,” Allen said. “It’s the great commission to go out and spread the Good News. So, in my small way, that’s what I’m trying to do, by putting women together in community to learn his word, not just know about it, but to actually live it, and find out what difference does it make in your life.”
Allen, who has a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University, New Orleans, said that she wants this Bible study to help women understand what they believe and why and to really make the Scripture they study their own.
Having “life application,” Allen said, is to ask the questions: What difference does Scripture make in your life? How does it relate to your life situation?
She focuses on biblical people who went through difficult times but did not lose faith.
“I try to use examples like that to build up faith, to eliminate fear,” Allen said, “so that when we are in crisis we know where to go—to the Lord. … I think Scripture prepares us for our life right now and for the future.”
The new ministry builds on the Bible study for women she began in the late 1990s at the cathedral and that has grown over more than 15 years to include an estimated 200 women in its sessions.
After using available materials, Allen began writing her own.
“When I began doing the cathedral’s women’s Bible study there was almost nothing available,” Allen said. “I did everything I could find, and that’s when I felt called to start writing my own. I wrote them as a life application study and included the Catechism (of the Catholic Church) because I wanted to be able to teach what the Catholic Church teaches.”
“I found that once the women start applying Scripture in their lives, they want to serve,” she said. “Once they really understand who they are in Christ, they begin to develop that personal relationship with him. They want to serve him.”
Allen said that she uses her personal relationship with God in a lot of her studies for two reasons,
“One, I want the women to know that they can and most likely do have a personal relationship,” she said, “but it’s more than that. I believe Christ wants us to have an intimate relationship with him. Secondly, we have non-Catholics come to Bible study and I like to use the study to help clear up misconceptions about what Catholics believe.”
‘It changes you to live God’s word’
Carol Yadlosky, a non-Catholic who is married to a Catholic, said being active in the cathedral women’s Bible study for about nine years has deepened her faith.
“I’ve been in a lot of Bible studies and never seen it lived liked this before,” Yadlosky said. “Here the focus was so strong on life application that the level of my faith has grown tremendously with God.”
“I’ve been so impressed with the faith of the women, the way they relate, and how they really show Christ in their families, to friends, and strangers,” she said.
Ann Heroman, a member of Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Atlanta, who has participated in the cathedral Bible study since 2002, said, “The best thing about this Bible study is applying God’s teaching and truth in your daily life. It changes you to live God’s word, to incorporate his word into your life.”
“We all come to Bible study for the same reason; we want to have a closer relationship with Jesus. I really feel that bond,” said Alice Johnson, of Our Lady of the Assumption Church.
Proclaim My Word began this past summer with a five-week study of the Book of Ruth, entitled “Who Are You Following?” Allen wrote and presented the study and over 90 women attended at Holy Spirit Church.
Ellen Cocks, a member of Holy Spirit, who attended the study on Ruth, said, “This book teaches you people can touch our lives, and we all need that support and encouragement from faith-filled people in our lives. I felt personally we all could learn from Ruth, that other people can show us paths to God.”
“Keri’s commentaries make the books of the Bible come alive,” said Debra Hinds, of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur, and a facilitator for the Book of Ruth session.
“It helps me focus on what really matters in my relationship with God. As a facilitator you serve as a guide leading the discussions and through that discussion of the word we, the facilitator and the group, enrich each other,” Hinds said.
After the presentations, women break up into small groups and discuss the Scripture that was read that week. They talk about how the Scripture has influenced them personally. Allen said community is built there.
“We realize by being in these small groups that we’re not alone, that we are all in this together to help each other go through life’s trials, loss of loved ones or illnesses. It’s the knowing that you have people there praying for you, supporting you through these difficult times. It makes you realize that you are part of a larger family,” Allen said.
“They make lifelong friends, and they’re there for each other during difficult times in their lives, to cry with them, to laugh with them, to share experiences and stories,” she said.
Pope gives away New Testaments
Bob Allen, Keri’s husband, who is assisting with aspects of the ministry, said change in one person’s life impacts others.
“It raises questions of those around you. Why? What’s behind this? That opens other people up to the truth of the Good News more so than what you’re trying to tell them or trying to preach to them. To me, the result really is the spreading of the Good News through the change in your life and those immediately around you and in your community,” he said.
Allen has built the website for Proclaim My Word and is involved in technical aspects of the ministry. He is also on the board of directors, along with Father Tim Hepburn, Richard Farnsworth, Carmen Allen (no relation), and Frank Pintozzi. Msgr. Richard Lopez is the spiritual director.
There is also an advisory board of about 12 women who have been actively involved with the cathedral Bible study “and who believe in the mission of Proclaim My Word,” Keri Allen said.
She is also looking for more volunteers.
Part of her vision is for the Bible study to be aired on radio and television and eventually to develop a Bible institute where workshops and panel discussions can be held and where Catholics and non-Catholics can learn from each other.
Someday she would like to see Bibles in all the pews in all the parishes of the archdiocese.
“I recently heard about Pope Francis, in one of his noon audiences, asked how many of the people in St. Peter’s Square ever read the Bible on a regular basis. So few raised their hands,” Allen said. “They said he was very discouraged. The next Sunday, in the audience, he passed out New Testaments to everybody.”
“I thought, how wonderful if we could have Bibles in all of our pews. This would say that the Bible is important to us, that we are Bible Christians,” she continued. “The whole Mass comes from Scripture, and that is what so many people don’t understand. Also, if someone wants to visit the church outside of Mass and wants to read the Scripture, or if they’re praying and are being led to a psalm or Scripture passage, it’s great to have it right there.”
Marcia Abernathy, of the Cathedral of Christ the King, has been a Bible study leader there for five years.
“I really believe God put Keri on this earth to do Bible study,” she said. “I find her inspirational, funny and knowledgeable. She listens to the Holy Spirit. She is infused with the Holy Spirit. I think she’s gifted and on earth to evangelize and spread his message, to convert people to study the Bible.”
“I’ve learned so much more about my Catholic faith. When I attend Mass I’m more attuned to it. The Bible study changed my life on so many levels. I’m a better Catholic now. My prayer is that everybody will be led by the Holy Spirit to go to a Bible study that is relevant,” Abernathy said.