by Rhonda Waddell
Twenty-two years ago, retired schoolteacher Troy Bridges saw a desire from local students and parents to have Biblical theology as a course option within the school system.
Bridges took action and Spartanburg County Bible Education in School Time was born, more commonly known as SCBEST. Now in his 90s, Bridges still serves faithfully on the board of SCBEST.
SCBEST partners with Spartanburg County schools by facilitating courses designed to educate students on the Bible and to encourage students to develop a Biblical worldview, based on the Christian faith. SCBEST is fully funded by donations from churches and individuals and offers courses that cater to elementary, middle and high school-aged students. Spartanburg County District 7 first offered the program in 1997 and in the years since, Districts 2, 4 and 6 have each added programs. Other counties in South Carolina offer the course under different organizations.
Six years ago, in partnership with First Baptist Church of Woodruff, Woodruff High School began offering the SCBEST program to seniors as an elective course. Pastor Andrew Shull has coordinated this class since inception. He teams up with both churches and individuals within Woodruff to fund every need of the classroom, with the largest amount of funding being provided by individuals. Donors purchase textbooks for the course along with any necessary supplies. Donors also make it possible to provide Bibles as gifts to each student. First Baptist provides the facilities for the class, along with the transportation for the students to the church each day. The SCBEST County Office provides for any needs that First Baptist Woodruff is not able to cover.
The class flourished greatly in its first five years and recently Pastor Shull saw an opportunity to expand their reach. Pastor Andy Watson of Emma Gray Memorial United Methodist Church was a committed guest speaker for the class since Pastor Shull first contacted him in 2013. In the 2018-2019 school year, Pastor Shull approached Pastor Watson about the possibility of stepping in as a second lead teacher in order that they may accommodate more students. In the Fall of 2019, Pastor Watson joined Pastor Shull in the classroom. Together, they have doubled the number of student spaces offered in SCBEST this year.
Classes are held during second and third periods, and each period is 40 minutes long. SCBEST rules require students to be transported by bus to a class location that is off the school campus. Once in the classroom, class operates exactly as one would expect a classroom within the walls of Woodruff High School to operate. Students have “lockers” to place their materials, tables and chairs arranged in a circle to facilitate learning, and Pastors Shull and Watson take turns leading the instruction each day. Students earn grades and take tests and exams, just as is required in every high school course.
The pastors currently spend eight hours each week with the students and will have a record number of 40 students total in the spring 2020 classes. Amazingly, this is done solely on a volunteer basis. They enjoy the interaction with the students of Woodruff and the connection the class forms between their churches and the school.
Pastor Watson particularly enjoys his role because “it’s neat to form relationships [with the students]” and “to see the lesson click with whatever they’re dealing with in their lives at the time.” He expressed that it has filled a desire for him to “have a consistent way of relating” to the student population.
The curriculum consists of assigned reading from various texts, including the Bible. Guest speakers are an integral part of the presentation, particularly from the student’s home churches. According to Pastor Shull, one of several important reasons for that is so “[students] can see that the body of Christ isn’t as fragmented as it may appear at first glance. We really do agree on most things.”
The composition of the class is not as straightforward as one would think. While students with a strong background in Christianity do comprise a large portion, the class does not consist solely of committed, church-attending Christians seeking to strengthen their faith with knowledge. According to Jessica Rider, countywide Director of SCBEST, on average 40 percent of the students in the class each year do not consider themselves to have a church home.
The pastors expressed that the class attracts many different types of students, from those searching for answers to their personal questions to those who may not have any religious affiliation at all, to those students already strong in their beliefs because of prior teachings in the church setting.
“The class has opened my eyes to Christianity and its uniqueness in our world,” said Logan Ranzone. “I’ve learned just how dynamic and vast the religion is. The knowledge I have gained has definitely affected me, and I’m glad to have this newly found point of view on the world.”
Fellow student Elizabeth Marks added “the class prepares you for life in your walk with Christ as well as prepares you for the tough questions you may be asked by a believer of a different worldview or even an unbeliever in Jesus Christ or any said god.”
For whichever reason brought them there, the class is filled to capacity this year with students eager to increase their understanding of the Bible and learn how this knowledge translates to their lives.