For a wider grasp of the impact of Debbie Reynolds' Greenwich Bible Study across town, Greenwich Citizen spoke with representatives of various religious establishments, starting with The Rev. Dr. Jim Lemler of Christ Church Greenwich where Reynolds was a member and started her first Greenwich Bible Study Group.
"Any given week we have eight bible study groups going on our premises," said Lemler. He traces their emergence to "the seeds sowed" by Debbie Reynolds and her Christ Church parishioners, along with her friend Betty Chickering from Stanwich Congregational Church.
"Debbie's contribution is of deep commitment and real zest around where she saw the power of scripture and understanding," said Lemler.
"On Friday mornings we have a men's prayer group, "Men on Fire, " with speakers where women are invited."
Lemler also cited the growth of interfaith Bible study with the neighboring Temple Sholom synagogue. "We engage with them in the study of scripture."
Rabbi Mitchell Hurvitz of Temple Sholom explained, "Rev. Lemler and I co-founded our Sholom Center for Interfaith Learning and Fellowship to help facilitate and coordinate the programmatic growth in interfaith study."
Hurvitz was aware of the Greenwich Bible Study groups. "I have heard only good reports," he said, "that they are spiritually nourishing and open to all."
At the temple, he said, "We have a weekly study group on Tuesdays at noon, "Lunch and Learn," which I started 19 years ago with three students and that now regularly draws 35 people. Most of our groups study the Torah -- the first five books of the Bible. We don't study the Bible without rabbinical commentary. On Saturday, we have an hour of Torah study before the service starts at 9."
At Stanwich Congregational Church, where Debbie is now a member, there are more than a dozen Bible study groups, says Associate Pastor Joan Osgood, "We have one probably every day of the week." Osgood's time at Stanwich stretches back 24 years to the early years of Greenwich Bible Study.
Since those earlier days, Osgood says, "Bible study groups have increased here a great deal. Most of the daytime groups are women, "but we have several men's groups,"she says. "People meet for breakfast before they get on the train. One man holds one in his office in NYC.
"These Bible study groups widen or broaden our awareness of God's working in our lives and how He has been working in our lives for thousands of years, " the pastor says.
From the first, she says, Greenwich Bible Study had "an ecumenical appeal." "It seems to draw people in from many different communities in Greenwich," she says. "Its first speakers were clergy people (including our Rev. Neely Towe), but as the groups increased, there were lay people with the gift of teaching. Debbie herself has been an inspired and efficient Bible study teacher."
"Debbie has the enthusiasm for Bible study. She had the contacts. She wanted others to share what she was excited about. She's a very charismatic person."
Osgood says, "Greenwich Bible Study became so popular that it spread out to other churches. Women would go back to their churches and say `Why don't we have these Bible study groups?' Catholic mothers were coming to Debbie's Bible study group. The younger ones wanted to start a Bible study group out of the Catholic church. Neely Towe and Debbie helped them get started with their inspiration."
Julie Ricciardi of Cos Cob is one of those whose Catholic mother goes to Debbie's Bible study group. "Everyone knew Debbie in my house," she says.
"I was going to Debbie's Greenwich Bible Study luncheons," she says. "That connected me to Debbie and the women she gathered around her. It was very nurturing. I was being fed spiritually."
But not having a Bible study group to attend at her church -- St. Mary -- she says, "started to weigh on my heart." "Debbie encouraged me to start a Catholic Bible study group." Why the Catholic Church has not traditionally offered Bible study, Ricciardi could not answer. She believed, "We haven't had a female Catholic voice."
Ricciardi soon got a green light from her church to take her "discontent and do something good with it." She was introduced to a writer of Catholic Bible studies and formed a group, which she called, "Walking With Purpose."
"I really took what GBS (Greenwich Bible Study) has done," she says. "Our mission is to enable women to know Christ through scripture. We set the table that the Holy Spirit comes to. We offer good books, good speakers."
"We have one group on Tuesday mornings and another on Thursday nights at St. Mary throughout the school year -- with 155 women." Members of her groups come from as far as Croton-on-Hudson in Westchester County. "Nationally there are now 40 "Walking with Purpose" groups," she says, serving 2,500 women.
"This fall we will have our three-part inspirational speaker luncheon series in October," says Ricciardi, "It's something I took over from Debbie five years ago. It's ecumenical as well. It connects women with Christ."
"I had courage to do all this because of Debbie," she says. "Debbie has a gift of encouragement. She is really an instrument of God's grace."