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In the late 1980s, when I was in the ‘process’ of discerning my call to the ordained ministry, and the Church was discerning my call as well, one of my seminal experiences of growth was while becoming a participant for three years in Education for Ministry.

Education for Ministry is a four-year spiritual formation program for adults, developed at the University of the South's School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee. Simply put, the program provides people with the education necessary to carry out the ministry to which they are called in baptism, whether lay or ordained.

EfM groups are found everywhere! They are spread throughout the United States and various countries across the globe. In recent years, EfM has united communities with the technology of participants in varied geographical locations. Study groups - think along the idea of Oxford University ‘tutorial’ groups - usually consist of 6-12 participants who follow weekly seminars for nine months of the year. They use a curriculum that covers the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Scriptures, Church History, Ethics, and Philosophy.

But even this explanation is a pale understanding of this unique and powerful program full of transformation, conversion, and spiritual growth.

So, how to best capture the EfM community? In my case, it was meeting weekly in the home of our mentor here in Columbia (whose name escapes me), but I remember she was a talented and dedicated figure skater with three children. When we gathered, we sat around a coffee table always laden with books and comfortable couches. I had some of the most enlightening “God-talks” in my life there – like the night we all did a theological reflection – the great hallmark learning in EfM – on ‘who God was’ debating fiercely on finding the perfect metaphor picture of God, and came up with God as Charlie Brown, poised to kick the football Lucy is holding, even knowing she’s going to move it, over and over. We had t-shirts printed! 

I was so delighted with the community formed by my EfM group; in three years, we witnessed together births, divorce, and cancer, but we were held together by worship, learning, and - most of all - the craft of theological reflection: how to notice, see and reflect carefully and theologically on where we saw or others found God in daily reality. I was so grateful for the foundation in Holy Scripture that in many ways prepared me to have a good basic knowledge of the Old and New Testaments. To my surprise, mentoring the current - and very updated - curriculum here at Christ Church this past year has brought so much new information and surprised me with things I never knew!

Every EfM group begins and ends its sessions with worship, initially mentor-led, and then by each participant. Just this year at CEC, we had prayers by Henri Nouwen, prayers for the Jewish tradition, carefully crafted prayers of preparation for our studies, and liturgical rituals from first-century Christianity and Native American spirituality. One of our highlights this year, studying women's role in the Hebrew Scripture, was a group who composed ‘Psalm of the Old Women’ – look for it on the bulletin board in the conference room.

The core of the EfM program is not just Bible study, worship, or snack – or not even the sharing of our spiritual journeys. It is not even the deep friendships and trust of the loving and compassionate Christian community that forms, but it is learning the craft of theological reflection. Each week, the mentor or a participant introduces a ‘slice of life’ Action Source - a piece of artwork, culture, a story from the Biblical tradition, or even a statement of conviction - and the group, working with a model of learning, generates its theological reflection ending in an Apply/Action Commitment for the following week and onwards – carrying reflection into the praxis of Christian ministry in each of our lives. Over the course of the program, this skill enables each participant to discern and grow in their personal ministry for Christ, both in the church and the world. 

A recently-developed feature of the fifty-year-old EfM program is the ‘Interlude’ – a one- or two-week period in the curriculum that introduces books/text that addresses challenging topics. This year, for example, we studied a series of essays about women’s role in the Hebrew Scriptures, explored a theology for Transgender views of a Triune God, and reviewed a book on the Black American experience of lynching and suffering in slavery and post-Civil War experience. Each of these experiences led to insightful group discussion, reflection, and a broadening of our faith journeys.

Why am I offering EfM here at Christ Church? Because I love the program! I have mentored three EfM groups in the past, both in our own Diocese and the Diocese of Easton, and I have to tell you that watching the spiritual growth of participants, and the discernment and practice of the ministries and vocations they embraced, is a like seeing living conversion and Christ’s calling in living technicolor reality. And I have grown myself, as well, and loved my inclusion in a Christian koinonia - a Christian fellowship or communion with God and with fellow believers. It’s such glorious fun, filled with laughter, and plenty of "let’s Google it" moments, as well as tears, respect, new knowledge, and insight!

As the development of the next season of EfM takes shape (which starts in September), we are welcoming new CEC participant registrations throughout the summer. We are mostly made up of in-person participants, although some of our members choose to participate on Zoom - you are welcome to do either, or a combination of both. We meet for three Sundays each month between late summer and spring, from 1:30-4:30 p.m. If you're interested or have questions, please visit our website's recent post, or feel free to speak to Mother Marcia at church. You can also email me at any time!

Mother Marcia+


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