by David Boyce, a member of St. Margaret’s in Annapolis and a member of the Diocese’s Standing Committee.
Education for Ministry is a four-year program that I would dub “seminary lite”. It is targeted at lay people who want to deepen their understanding of scripture, church history, philosophy and theology. EFM is offered by many parishes, and I graduated from the program about 10 years ago at St. Margaret’s.
Like many, I had been a devoted church member for decades — worshiping, serving, and taking on leadership roles over the years. But also like many, my understanding of Christianity’s history and development was somewhat shallow. I wanted to change that and explore my faith in depth. If you harbor that same yearning, EFM may be for you!
EFM’s first year focuses on the Old Testament; the New Testament fills the second year, church history the third, and philosophy and theology the fourth. And the program is not for the faint-hearted. There is lots of reading and some writing, but no tests! Participants follow a proscribed curriculum, typically meet weekly as a group, and are led by trained mentors.
And when you study the Old and New Testaments, you don’t just read scripture. You will learn who wrote what, their various sources, and about the scholarly debates over the meaning of our scriptures (Yes, committees decided things way back then even as they do now.). You will learn new techniques for discerning what passages may mean. All of this will deepen your faith some days, and profoundly challenge it on others.
My knowledge of church history was the weakest before taking EFM, and that year was most revealing. Oh my, the tussles the church lived through, the evil it spawned in some cases, the hypocrisy. But somehow the heart of our faith – love — survived. My background in philosophy was pretty strong upon entering EFM, so I could help my fellow students with Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, Hume, Spinoza, etc. But my background in theology was weak, and my fellow students helped me. Therein lies the value in participating in a group.
You also will be asked to write a spiritual biography. This task had great meaning for me, as I was forced to reflect on how my faith had developed, its twists and turns, the events and people who shaped me. And one of the core elements of EFM is the development of skills for theological reflection. Participants learn to think theologically by examining their own beliefs, the relationship of those beliefs to our culture, scripture and the traditions of our faith.
Your experience in EFM will be determined by how seriously you take the work, the skill of your mentors, and the chemistry with your fellow students. But I heartily recommend the program to all who want to get more serious about their faith and explore their calling as a light for Christ.