Where Great Minds Meet: A Sabbath School and its Website


(system) #1

Every Sabbath at 10:30am individuals from all walks of life gather upstairs in a lecture room in Centennial Hall on the Loma Linda University campus. Each week they come to listen to an hour-long presentation followed by another hour of spirited dialogue with the speaker. Everyone is given the opportunity to ask a question, express a view, or offer an inspired opinion following the presentation. A timekeeper imposes a three-minute limit on class members who speak during the second hour and one minute on a related interjection into the thread of the dialogue that was just given. The class is known as Sabbath Seminars — “Where great minds meet.” The legendary class has a history reaching back 40 years.

Sound too organized? The timing rules had to be imposed (with Jan Hackleman as timekeeper) because some earnest individuals had a tendency to be long-winded, keeping others from the chance to speak. One goal is to stay on topic and remain focused on the materials presented by the speaker.

Generally the seminar centers around an interesting book the class agrees to read and discuss. A speaker is invited each week to present a chapter or group of chapters from the book. The facilitator is likely to be a member of the class selected because of expertise or background. The speaker may also be invited from outside the class, or may be an active or retired professor from Loma Linda or La Sierra University campus. On occasion the presenter might be the author of the book. A handout of the presentation is expected.

Apparently, the origin of the Sabbath Seminar Class began in the early 1970s in Professor Dalton Baldwin’s home. Baldwin (now deceased) was a member of Loma Linda's religion faculty. Over subsequent years the class migrated to different campus classrooms and came under the leadership of several other religion faculty including professors James Walters, Richard Rice and David Larson. Currently, professor James Walters, from the Ethics Department in the School of Religion and Dennis Hokama, a retired high school teacher from Los Angeles, maintain the class organization.

The class uses Internet software to schedule topics and speakers, announce events and potlucks, and maintain the archives of past presentations.

This member-only website is found at www.sabbathseminars.com. Recently, the class recognized that other like-minded individuals around the country might want to follow its activities, so it voted to open the website to others who apply.

The website supports several activities or events. The main computer platform centers around reading and discussing significant religious and intellectual ideas from a selected book in the hopes of creating an authentic religious experience for the members. The website is integrated into this activity. Participation through a blog is encouraged, and comments from a teacher are included.

The class reads in preparation for each Sabbath. For example, the class has just finished a book written by Jim Holt on Why Does the World Exist? During the next few months the class will be discussing chapter by chapter The Creationists by Ronald L. Numbers.

A book committee reviews different suggestions from the class and recommends three possible choices. After discussing the merits of each book, the class votes. The next step is to select presenters. As part of the process the class uses a section on the website to suggest a book for future discussions.

This section allows the member to summarize the book. At the bottom of the screen is a place where other members can vote. A tally is kept of class responses. Other members who are also enthusiastic or who may not favor the book can add their own comments. This proposal can continue into the next round of selection.

After a book is accepted a weekly schedule is posted on the website. Generally, the presenter prepares a handout, and after the presentation this paper is stored in the online archives of the website. Consequently, if someone misses the class one week, he or shecan retrieve the handout from the archives.

Right now, more than 200 members who have access to the activities of the website. This project started almost four years ago, so there is some history of past presentations stored on the website. A few members live in other parts of the US, or in other countries but also follow the activities of Sabbath Seminars via the website.

The class also announces upcoming potlucks on its website, with not only the time and place, but instructions on what to bring.

Another section is devoted to upcoming events or the announcement of interesting lectures in the area. Also, the software tracks birthdays and automatically issues a Happy Birthday.

Perhaps we should mention one downside in using the Internet for this purpose. Several in the class are more comfortable with computer communications that do not require entering a username and password. Navigating the screens is intuitive, but some members are just learning how to use computers, so they may get lost in the hallways of electronics. On occasion, members may forget their username or password.

The software platform that supports this website is Drupal, an open source content management platform, and the same software that Spectrum uses to support its own blog. In our case, we designed the website, then hired a website developer familiar with Drupal to obtain and merge the different functions that are discussed here.

If you want more details, or even to explore the website on your own, you may apply for membership by following the instructions on the first screen found at www.sabbathseminars.com. If you decide to enter, tell us a little about yourself in the description box so we can approve your membership.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5535