Bill Priddy was nearing retirement a few years ago and considering how he wanted to spend the next chapter of his life.
He wanted to learn more about the Bible, so he enrolled in online seminary classes through a program based in Tacoma, Wash.
However, his goal was cut short when a family issue needed his attention.
(Photo for the Mirror by Sean Steffy) Bill Priddy, a student at Sunset International Bible Institute Pennsylvania, interacts with students and professors in Lubbock, Texas, through a video teleconference system. The school, housed at Pleasant Valley Church of Christ, 514 S. Seventh St., will hold an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 26.
Then, two years ago, Priddy of Sinking Valley learned about a Bible school that was opening up at Pleasant Valley Church of Christ, 514 S. Seventh St., called Sunset International Bible Institute Pennsylvania.
For Priddy, who is retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture where he served at a research technician for agriculture on the Penn State University Park campus, the school seems to be the right fit.
When he completes his coursework, he will obtain a certificate in biblical studies from SIBI, based in Lubbock, Texas.
The intense two-year program explores the books of the Bible. Priddy attends class from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. four days a week with an hour break for lunch.
He has plenty of professors, but none are physically at the classroom in the church.
Priddy interacts with his instructors and fellow students in Lubbock through a video teleconference system that allows him to be part of every class on his schedule. He can ask questions, be called upon for comments by the professors and work with other students on assigned group presentations and projects.
"The classes are great," Priddy said. "We have some basic courses, like Old Testament survey, and we went through the gospels."
Terry Clyde, director of SIBI Pennsylvania, said almost every book in the Bible is covered.
To demonstrate how the system works and answer questions about the program, SIBI Pennsylvania will hold an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 26 at the church.
Shaun Jester, a church member and one of the organizers of the school, said by working with the Bible institute, the church was given the opportunity to have a full-scale preaching school without the faculty and the finances it would have required.
" It allows us to train students in the northeast so they stay in the northeast," he said.
Clyde said several potential students are interested in enrolling in the program, including one from Rochester, N.Y., and another from Bethlehem.
A student from Colorado enrolled in the school two years ago, but changed his area of concentration to missions and is serving in Honduras for two years as part of his curriculum requirement.
A shorter outreach project, known as a domestic or foreign ministry campaign, is required of all students and usually lasts a week or several weeks.
Clyde, a graduate of SIBI, said he came to the Northeast in 2010 to fulfill that requirement, which led to his work in helping to establish the school in Altoona.
With the recruitment of students as part of his job, Clyde has traveled throughout the Northeast speaking about the school.
One of the advantages of attending SIBI is its low cost. Clyde said the school does not charge tuition. Instead, students pay a fee of about $120 a term and buy their books and supplies.
The school is able to keep costs low because none of the professors or staff receive a salary. All raise their own support.
"Sunset realizes that if you are going to graduate and become a minister or missionary, you are not going to make six figures," Clyde said. "The school does not want to burden its graduates with a lot of bills."
Most of the professors have doctorates.
"The teachers are very knowledgeable," Priddy said. They will answer a question at length and will accept your comments."
Priddy said he attends a Bible study at his church - Grace United Church of Christ - and because of his studies, he is able to contribute to the discussion based upon sound knowledge.
"My faith has always been there," Priddy said. "but certain beliefs have been altered to more of an understanding of how Christ interacts with us and how we are saved."
Once he graduates, Priddy is not sure in what way he will use his education. But, whatever the outcome, he does know that he has the support of his wife, Tracey.
"She is 100 percent for it," he said of his pursuit of his schooling.
In addition to working for the USDA for 34 years, Priddy also served in the National Guard and then the U.S. Army Reserve for 35 years.
He would like to provide spiritual assistance to people in the military or veterans. Right now, his focus in on school.
"One never knows where the Lord will lead you," he said.