Thursday, July 2, 2009

What in the World is EfM?

I have been a mentor for the Education for Ministry (EfM) program since 1984, and I write to say that it is, in my un-humble opinion, the best program of Christian spiritual formation that the church has come up with since, well, whatever you think the best thing is.
EfM is my favorite way of being a priest. A mentor is not a teacher but more of a guide and accompanist to students in a small seminar group who study together, pray together and engage in a process of theological reflection on their lives over four years.
There is a small tuition ($340 a year with scholarship aid available upon request) for which a student gets all the reading materials, thirty-six lessons a year, and the mentor a tiny honorarium.
The curriculum comes out of the Episcopal seminary of the South, Sewanee, TN. It is sophisticated material but not inaccessible. A student signs up to be in the seminar one year at a time. Most students love EfM and stay to graduate in four years. The diplomas are handsome and frameable. It is quite an achievement to graduate and grow in grace.
The Bible turns out to have much relevance to your soul; church history astounds and enlightens; theology up to today teaches you it is a verb, something you do; your own spiritual desires, quests, gifts and questions are known and loved.

EfM is ecumenical and most groups have students from a variety of faith traditions. In our groups we have had Episcopalians, Methodists, Unitarians, Roman Catholics, a Quaker or two, United Church of Christ, and even an ordained pastor who wanted a small group of prayer, learning and community outside her own parish work.
The word ministry sometimes creates anxiety. People think about ordained ministry. The premise of EfM is that all Christians are ordained to ministry at baptism and further, that every encounter or happening presents an opportunity to enhance or impede the flow of divine Love.
Over the four years we discern our gifts, inclinations and passions together. Each student comes out with a sense of what her/his ministry is, often what they are already doing. Ministry after all is what you do, with whatever you have, as who you are, wherever you are—inspired by Love.
Sometimes a student will come to the truth that her or his ministry is to herself; sometimes a ministry is the skill and pleasure of encouraging others; sometimes one desires further study, even moving toward ordination; sometimes a ministry is taking a major step in a new direction altogether. Often a student decides to take the training to become a mentor him or herself and start a group.
A seminar group offers support but not judgment, advice or problem-solving. What happens in a weekly seminar? We begin with a brief worship (prayers, poems, music, silence, meditation) each student taking a turn. Occasionally there will be a Eucharist, sometimes even a group Eucharist. We share what has amused, attracted, stunned or confused, angered us in the week’s lesson. We take a break to EAT!!! People bring amazing food to go with our spiritual food. We engage in a process of theological reflection, often amazed to discover how rich our tradition, especially biblical, is and how it sheds light on our lives and gives us wise insights we’d never thought of.

The joy students often experience is knowing themselves more deeply, appreciating their ministries, and getting comfortable with questioning their religion. We eat, pray, laugh, love and learn together.

“It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done for myself my whole life.”
“Just to learn that there were actually three popes at one time freed me!”
“I never understood the Bible just from listening to little snippets in church.”
“Wow! Really eye-opening to get to know Jesus so well. Never understood that whole thing and now I consult Jesus like a friend.”
“I can pray out loud for a group and create a little worship service without clergy help.”
“I see my school teaching as ministry and my own students in the light of grace. It helps my patience.”
“I have learned to trust my relationship with myself.”
“I’m really awake in church because I recognize stuff.”
(And one I can't resist from a disgruntled teenage son who is now forty: "Mom! It's all over the calendar! EfM, EfM, EfM.......eternal (expletive deleted) meeting!"

As a mentor I find that congregational life is enlivened by an informed laity.

EfM is nationwide and international in scope with students all over the world participating. Check the website on how to find a group or call your local Episcopal clergy or diocesan office to inquire.