Jeff Pack, St. Paul’s Cathedral
John Shelby Spong, the controversial, well-traveled, and now retired, Episcopal Bishop from New Jersey, once claimed his early spiritual search was simply a means to seeking security for his anxious and insecure soul. He would discover he was only partially correct, as he later wrote in his autobiography, “…I discovered not security, but the expansion of life, and the radical challenges that life brings when one is open to the depths of God who is for me the very Ground of All Being.” Those life challenges, experienced by all of us, can be better met and more fully lived with the help of EFM. The classes proved to be a wonderful tool, designed and oriented to help one discern and carry out his or her own ministry.
EFM, grounded in scripture but equally reliant on and open to critical thinking, historical scholarship, and modern theological studies, allows a student to re-experience and re-visit what the Hebrew and New Testament canons have not only ‘said’ to the Church and her followers, but more importantly, how those words have also been heard, received, shaped, and understood – in all their variety, for better and for worse. Those same words, for both the experienced student and the interested newcomer (as both are present and equally welcome in EFM), can become ideas and thoughts that are so much better analyzed and understood with the help and collective insights of this committed group and its well-trained mentors. EFM provides the necessary space for a community that longs to understand the Christian story and its impact on human lives over an extended timeframe and in distant places – to include the perspective of the Other: the Muslim, the Buddhist, or Hindu, some converted in ‘both directions,’ along with the non-believer, who all remain, in and with their differences, our neighbors.
EFM allows us to see Christianity, as one of the course authors describes, as more than “an argument, an explanation, or a solution.” But indeed, our faith can lead us to all of these facets, and to so much more. One is also led to see that Christians alone have no monopoly on God. And in learning to think theologically, students are encouraged to examine their beliefs and their relationship to our culture and the tradition of our Christian faith, making us more effective ministers in and to the world, in societies and communities increasingly described as post-Christian – yet still yearning for justice and a need to turn away from the harshness, coarseness, and incivility that many of us experience in daily and working life every day.
In practical and personal terms, EFM also helped me through a greatly changing course of life events, some involving unbounded happiness and gratitude for friends, work, and family; and others that brought dark despair, with the unexpected illness and subsequent death of my wife of 32 years, and the mother of our two adult children. My EFM classmates supported me through aspects of life that sometimes seemed so drama-filled and emotion-laden, and so lacking in any sense of control on my part, a control that I had previously come to rely upon, and assumed would always be there. But as a friend once told me: “that’s not drama, that’s life.” EFM can help us with a new way of seeing life, in both its daily and dramatic forms. After all, doesn’t the Book of Common Prayer tell us that God is equally present in both?
The increasing and enjoyable familiarity that an EFM class provides to its students never felt forced, and was always nurturing and comforting to me. EFM provided a welcome respite to a sometimes hectic and troubled world. This proved especially true in the cyclical and repeated context of having all four years of the students and their specific yearly focus together in the same setting each week, hearing in one evening’s session what you had thought you read and understood the year, or two, or three, before, but now with a new outlook and an enhanced appreciation that only another’s voice might provide. This method ensures that there are both welcome changes of perspective, along with an equally important constancy of purpose in the weekly sessions. EFM is a wonderful tool, designed and oriented to help you discern and carry out your own ministry. Revisiting Bishop Spong, I would like to think that the course helps both the anxious AND the secure, as we all hopefully find an expansion of life that accompanies true fellowship, a diversity of thought, and an emphasis on dignity of every human being.
This is the first in a series of regular updates from our Diocesan Migration Missioner, Troy Elder, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information about the Migration (formerly Border) Missioner position, please visit https://edsd.org/news/edsd-to-add-new-border-missioner. Missions, Fields, and Borders Orthodoxy and history suggest that Protestant mission involves a Christian protagonist crossing an […]
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego has been committed to loving God and our neighbors through public health policies that help ensure healthy practices within our diocese. Now that the Pfizer vaccination has been fully approved by the FDA, EDSD’s Executive Council met on Saturday, August 28, 2021, and approved a […]
Dear Friends in Christ, The world feels overwhelming right now. The heartbreaking scenes of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the refugees left behind; the devastation of another natural disaster in the suffering nation of Haiti; and the continuing COVID crisis at home and abroad leave us grief-stricken and wondering how we can help. Our help […]