Fertile Ground to Grow Your Faith
“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” (Book of Common Prayer, p 304)
Every baptized Christian is called to ministry. What is yours? Education for Ministry is a lay education program of the School of Theology at the University of the South, Sewanee, that provides the foundational education in the tenets of our faith to assist you in discerning and carrying out your ministry. Like the mustard seed (Luke 13:18-19), we need fertile soil to grow. EfM is that fertile soil and we are the mustard seeds. Learning scriptures, church history, and theology is the light shining on the soil, warming and nourishing it so the seed will sprout.
EfM develops an informed and knowledgeable laity through a series of four, one-year seminars. A small group seminar (maximum of 12 participants and two mentors) is the nucleus of the EfM program. Likened to the original house churches of the first century, groups conduct all four years concurrently in the same seminar. In year one participants study the Hebrew scriptures, year two, the New Testament, year three, church history, and year four wraps it all together with theology. Additionally, there are several interlude periods when all four years will study from the material linked to that year’s theme. Themes from past years include: living into the journey with God, living faithfully in your world, living faithfully in a multicultural world. Next year’s theme will be living as spiritually mature Christians. Generally, groups start sometime in mid-September and meet weekly through late May to mid-June for fellowship, to discuss the week’s studies, and to practice theological reflection. Participants will spend on average between two to four hours weekly preparing for the seminars.
Seminar groups work under the leadership of mentors who serve as enablers and administrators. Mentors are not teachers who impart information to a class in the traditional sense. Instead they manage the group dynamics, guide the discussion of lessons and theological reflections, and administer logistics with Sewanee. The role of the teacher is primarily born by individual participants, supported by the seminar group, as well as being engineered into the program materials. Bringing the light of what we learn to share in an intimate group setting each week allows for insights and growth — new affirmations and understandings — that can sustain and support us in our lives as Christians living day-to-day in the world while simultaneously teaching us to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance for our personal ministries.
EfM is not a program for ordination, but rather a series of lay education seminars conducted among a small, tight-knit community. Neither is EfM a Bible study. While the academic studies during the first two years are centered on the Bible, equally important is the development of theological reflection skills. In learning to think theologically, we examine our beliefs and their relationship to our culture and the tradition of our Christian faith, making us more effective ministers in the world.
Finally, EfM is not for everybody. While it may be easier to think of EfM as four one-year units rather than a continuous four-year program, it is nevertheless a significant commitment. It is important that potential participants seriously consider whether they will have the time to devote to the program. As previously noted participants need to be able to commit to regular attendance and active participation, which will include several hours weekly of preparation. The group relies on each member for it to achieve its full potential. Absences diminish that potential. Participants must also commit to developing and maintaining a healthy group dynamic that values a diversity of opinions while respecting the dignity of every human being.
For the interested or just curious, visit the EfM web site: www.efm.sewanee.edu. There you’ll find lots of information, including sample lessons. You’re also welcome to contact the diocesan EfM coordinator, Mark Patzman, for more information on the program or a referral to a program running near you.
We thank Christine Spalding, past EfM coordinator, for years of faithful and excellent ministry. We also thank all EfM mentors throughout our diocese, and all studetns who give themselves to this fruitful adult formation program in our diocese.