Learning Our Story and Ministering the EfM Way

Contributed by: Sam Wilson, Jr., EfM Group Mentor, Church of the Advent

Several members of the Church of the Advent, Cape May, EfM group meet during one of its weekly Wednesday night sessions in the “pre-pandemic” fall of 2019.

In steadfast pursuit to “to know the Christian story and to live it boldly,” Episcopal Church of the Advent in Cape May completed hosting its third successive curriculum year of the four-year Education for Ministry (EfM) program on June 1, wrapping up 36 weeks of Wednesday evening online sessions. Participants included six local parishioners and one from the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut

EfM, a 47-year-old program developed by Sewanee Theological Seminary was designed primarily to train lay people to identify and develop their vocations as lay ministers by virtue of God’s call in the sacrament and vows of baptism. The program underscores that ministry lies at the nexus where “one’s deepest passion and the world’s hunger meet.”

The program’s formation and skill development of participants enriches the performance of important ministries both within and beyond church doors in families, neighborhoods, community organizations, and workplaces—wherever the “good news” is to be reflected and witnessed to. More than 100,000 people worldwide have completed the program.

Each EfM group is facilitated by a program mentor. As Church of the Advent EfM’s current mentor, I was one of the original EfM participants, enrolling in 1975. Participants range from the newly baptized to ordained priests.

Church of the Advent began hosting its program in the fall of 2019 with six participants. It originally met face-to-face in the parish hall, but moved online 2020 due to COVID restrictions, and has remained online. It holds Wednesday evening two-hour sessions at 7 p.m. from September until June. At the time of its inception, it was one of five EfM groups in the Diocese.

In the 2020–2021 curriculum year, the Advent EfM group grew to eleven participants, one under the maximum allowed for a single group. During that year, participants from five different dioceses enrolled, including the Dioceses of Georgia, West Tennessee, Bethlehem (PA), Connecticut, and New Jersey.

Enrollees have included two priests, a medical doctor, a chiropractor, a psychologist, a physical therapist, a retired educator, a retired nurse, a graphic artist, a software entrepreneur, a cathedral verger, a cathedral catechist, a small business owner, and a retired army officer. Two of the group’s members are also pursuing part-time theological coursework at Yale Divinity School and the San Francisco Theological Seminary, respectively. The group also has included participants from other denominations.

Active individual ministries that have been or are currently being supported by the Church of the Advent EfM group include: municipal environmental efforts; Christian formation; pastoral care; church communications; parish outreach; altar guild; ushering and lay reading; lay worship leadership; eucharistic ministry; cathedral catechist; cathedral verger; vestry leadership; social action; Episcopal Church Women service; local ecumenical ministerium leadership; Coast Guard auxiliary chaplaincy; youth group ministry; and grand-parenting “under special circumstances.”

In 2021, two people in the Advent-hosted EfM “graduated,” one in the Diocese of West Tennessee and one in the Diocese of Bethlehem. In 2023, five more people will have completed four years of certified training—four from Advent parish and one from the Diocese of Connecticut. They will be ready to “tell their stories boldly” with a boost from the training and formation of the EfM program.

EfM participants join a group at the beginning of a school year, but groups consist of people at any stage of the program studying and working together.

The EfM curriculum consists of reading, study, and discussions in Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, and Theology/Ethics/Interfaith matters in 144 weekly lessons, normally organized into four, 36-week or nine-month curriculum terms or “school years.” In addition to content, the skill of “theological reflection” is heavily emphasized and practiced with the aim of developing “reflexive” and practical theological applications for life and circumstances that form the context for each person’s everyday ministry.

Close relationships can and do develop among EfM participants as they learn, pray, and share together.

Administered by professionally trained staff at the Beecken Center for Faith, Learning, and Ministry on the Sewanee-campus, EfM curriculum Reading and Reflection Guides (RRGs) are published and updated for each of the four yearly content areas.

Administered by staff at the Beecken Center for Faith, Learning, and Ministry on the Sewanee-campus, EfM curriculum Reading and Reflection Guides (RRGs) are published and updated for each of the four yearly content areas. RRGs are supplemented by primary and “interlude” texts written by renowned scholars and theologians. The curriculum is specifically designed for individual study, which culminates in routinely scheduled common sessions online moderated by a trained-mentor. Mentors, in turn, are selected, recruited, and trained by the EfM program. They are deployed upon completion of initial certification; however, mentor re-certification is mandatory every 18 months.

Tuition cost is $450 annually, plus textbooks. Fortunately, participating dioceses, such as the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey, qualify its congregants for a personal tuition break of $100, reducing individual tuition to $350 per year. Additionally, Advent parish, as part of its hosting commitment, offers scholarships to any parishioner who needs assistance with the costs of participating in the program.

Church of the Advent welcomes anyone with an interest in exploring and developing a call to lay ministry in a positive, small group study and reflection setting. Space currently is available for its online group for the upcoming 2022–2023 curriculum year. For further information please email the Church of the Advent parish office or call 609-884-3065 email me directly.