For anyone interested in exploring their faith more deeply, read on! Education for Ministry (EfM) is a program to help laity deepen their “book learning”–in Scripture, church history, theology, and ethics–and to explore how it all relates to contemporary life through the process of theological reflection. Participants experience the program as members of small study groups following a curriculum from Sewanee-The University of the South, which is affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The full curriculum spans four academic years, but participants sign up for only one year at a time and have the flexibility to take time off and return later. The only course requirements are to read along with the program as best one can and to participate in the life of the group; there are no papers or tests. Full details about the program are available here. (Navigating the site is a bit unusual: click on the round orange button in the center of the page to get to sub-sections; repeat as needed.)
As a former participant and now a group mentor, I’ve gained new insights, had my perspective broadened, and even experienced some awe-inspiring moments thanks to EfM. It was a revelation to learn in Year 1 how much of Hebrew Scripture (the Old Testament) reflected sociocultural life of the ancient Near East. Learning in Year 2 that the different Gospels were written for different audiences showed me how important it is to make the Good News relevant to people. And, my current group is convinced that the Holy Spirit eavesdrops on us: there have been several times when the topic we discussed at a meeting came up the very next morning in the news or someone’s email.
As importantly, EfM nurtures fellowship thanks to its small-group structure. I felt this most keenly in 2020, when the pandemic was at its peak and churches were closed. The weekly rhythm of gathering with my group, even virtually, helped me stay sane and connected. My EfM friendships still hold a special place in my heart.
A typical weekly meeting usually has several components, for which group members share rotating responsibility. First is prayer, both to open and close the meeting. Second is a general discussion that provides an opportunity to reflect on the week’s readings. Theological reflection (TR) rounds out the session. Starting with a prompt–anything from a Bible verse to an image to a personal anecdote–the group considers what our faith tradition would say about it, how that differs from what society would say, and how those insights are relevant for each of us. Sometimes, we conclude by writing a collect.
The group that I mentor currently has space available for new members–might you be one? In the upcoming year, the group will meet weekly on Tuesday evenings from September through May, mostly on Zoom but occasionally in-person at The Falls Church Episcopal (the group sponsor). I can help identify an alternative group if anyone who’s interested has a standing conflict with Tuesdays or needs a fully virtual option. (If there are at least six people interested at St. Thomas, we could launch a new group here!) Please don’t hesitate to contact me to learn more about this unique and remarkable program.
— Mary Cushing, Deacon in Training