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Group brings men of different faiths together

I am over halfway finished with my time in Elba, and I have learned much about the community. I have been lucky to be invited to a wide array of gatherings, both formal and informal. During these visits, I have seen the way the people value spending time with each other and discussing the issues that guide life.

People find identity in a variety of groups here such as civic clubs and official meetings. One of the most valued seems to be the churches people attend on Sunday. With approximately 20 churches around the Elba area, there are many options.

With so many denominations, there are a wide array of beliefs. In some areas, this might lead to conflict or bitterness. However, I have learned they are open to sharing their ideas with each other here in Elba.

I was invited to join a Bible Study that meets every Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. by Tom Maddox, a member of the Church of Christ. This Bible study group is attended by a variety of members of the community, including factory workers and retired folks.

The most unique thing is that they come from a variety of denominations, each with unique convictions on aspects of the Bible.

"We've been at this for about 15 years now," Maddox said.  "We've added folks since the beginning, some passed away, but rarely any have left. We try to keep it about just reading and reflecting on the Bible.”

The group has been studying the Book of Acts in the past weeks. The talk proceeds formally, going from verse to verse and analyzing it. The men don't say much, but listen to the leader.  Ronnie Young lead the most recent meeting.

Afterward, I caught up with Young to hear his take on the group. "The main goal is just to let the Bible speak," Young said. "We’ve got Church of Christ, Baptist, and Methodists all coming together to teach that we're connected through the same book.”

There are some heated discussions now and then.  The various editions of the Bible give each member different perspectives.  But, at the end of the day, everyone is heard.

The men discuss their beliefs and their own ideas on matters of faith.

The conversation continues until their usual end time of 7 a.m. and sometimes a few minutes longer.  They agree to disagree and go into prayer.

The group files out afterward, off to the rest of their day, feeling spiritually fulfilled. I walk out and am reminded of a conversation I had with Mark Vaughn from an earlier week I attended.   

"It's a great way to start the day, just talking with people about the Word," Vaughn told me. "I'm retired now, but I still get up to talk to folks. We have been at it for a while, and everybody leaves happy. That's all you can ask for.”

The group is focused on the most important parts of life, their faith, and sharing it with those in their community. While they might be in different churches on Sunday, come Wednesday they don't let that get in the way of the bigger goal.

"It's been so important to have a group like this, one where you can share the Bible with those around you," Young said. "It's improved our community, and I hope the next generation can keep it alive.”

Elba is filled with rich traditions, powerful community groups, and a sense of faith that binds it all together. The Bible Study offers an insight into how Elba doesn't avoid the challenges but uses them to unite.