Dean Letter: EFM

This is a transcript of a conversation between the Dean and 2021 EfM graduates Wayne Blizzard and Andrew Brooks, about the University of the South’s program Education for Ministry.

Penny: Hello, St. Paul’s. On June 27, we honored the graduates of the Education for Ministry program. This is a wonderful lay reflection and education program. I’m talking today with two of the most recent graduates of the program, Wayne Blizzard and Andrew Brooks. I’d like to ask each of you to just say a word of invitation of introduction.

Wayne:            Okay, well, I’ll start I’ve been with St. Paul’s for about five and a half years. I’ve just completed the four years of EFM. I can’t think of anything else to tell you.

Penny:             How about you, Andrew?

Andrew:          I came to St. Paul’s in 1997. When I moved to San Diego, I eventually made it official and was baptized here shortly, I guess,1999. I’ve been a member of the congregation ever since. I’m the cathedral Chancellor, which is a fancy Episcopalian word for lawyer.

Penny:             Thank you. And I want to give Andrew special compliments because as the Chancellor, he comes to every Chapter meeting. There isn’t a term limit as there is for Chapter members. So I really appreciate your constant presence, Andrew, and your your wise counsel,

Andrew:          The institutional memory, such as it is.

Penny:             That’s right. So what is EFM? Should we start with Wayne?

Wayne:            I would say it’s an adventure into the foundations of our faith. We spend four years, the Old Testament a year, the New Testament – we really go deep in the Gospels. And of course, Paul, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, is deeply featured there in the New Testament. Then we go through a year of the history of the church, sort of like what happened, the Old Testament, what happened, the New Testament, and then what happened next. And then we spend a year on theology, and it’s very practical theology, and it feels like a wonderful combination. When I got to the end of it, I felt like, wow, I could start this all over again, because I got so much out of it. And yet clearly, there’s so much more to learn, as it was really a wonderful experience. Andrew, what do you think?

Andrew:          Well, the only thing I would add is year one, where you read the entire Old Testament and year three, where you read McCullough’s book, The Christianity the first 3000 years. It’s like, trying to drink from a firehose… And McCullough is a little idiosyncratic sometimes. But it’s a fascinating book, especially for Episcopalians, I think because we’re all about context, right? The books, in addition to Scripture, are also very interesting. They do a really phenomenal job of putting things in context and giving you some of the background. And I think they’re college texts that would be used at least in an undergraduate course, at least, perhaps graduate courses on the New and the Old Testament. And then yes, the New Testament is much shorter, so year two is shorter, and year four readings are shorter. So they give you some time to actually reflect on them as well.

Wayne:            Yeah, I’d say about that firehose, just to mix metaphors. It’s kind of like eating an elephant, apologies to World Wildlife Fund, but you do one bite at a time, you know, and fortunately, it is adult education. So there are no tests, and we’re not required, we’re not graded. So um, a lot of what’s important about EFM, at least as important as the readings, is the community and the fellowship, and learning from one another and supporting one another. So one of the rules that covenants that we made for EFM was please come even if you didn’t manage to read everything on your assignment, because we want you there, and you’re an important part of it and that that has helped fuse us together as a little community.

Penny:             Is there other homework besides reading? Andrew, what would you say?

Andrew:          There’s the, I wouldn’t call it homework ,but the structure we probably should comment on is it’s a four year program and all of the four years meet together. So you may not have done the intense study this year about the Old Testament but the first years do. And then the second, third and fourth years, you get exposed to that and are participating in the discussion about it. And you’ve got a community. One of the nice things that I enjoyed was, it’s almost like the foyer dinner groups, it’s my small group community, or at least has been for the last couple of years. But you also learn from each other. And I think that’s an important part of it.

Wayne:            And then the final element that I think we probably don’t want to neglect, they have theological reflection exercises, which is kind of a structured meditation on theological issues; it can be difficult to describe what that’s about. But the you know, you start with a metaphor and back off so that it’s the concept you’re dealing with, not the specific you started with, and then kind of play around with the ideas and apply the various things we’ve learned and thought about to various situations. And I’ve really come to enjoy that over the last four years.

Penny:             Before we switched on the recording, you were saying that it takes a while to figure out exactly how to do a theological reflection. And that’s important for everyone to know: that everybody comes into this with new things to learn, and you learn at your own pace, and you grow at your own pace. And Andrew, you mentioned a small group, am I right? That it’s a maximum of 12 people in the group?

Andrew: I’m not sure what the maximum is. The Thursday night group, which I was a part of, I think Wayne was Tuesdays, we had about 10 this year. And ideally, you would have a couple of people from each year so that you can learn from each other at in each year, as well as learn from others in other years, all in the same group.

Penny:             Yes, 12 is is the max.

Wayne:            It’s been fun. You know, it’s hard for people at first to understand that all four years are together every session.

Penny:             Like a one room schoolhouse.

Wayne:            And it’s really funny because reading the Hebrew Bible, it was kind of like, Whoa, I never read all that. And I come from a background. Sola Scriptura, you know, from a fundamentalist background. So I read the a lot of the Bible, but reading it in EFM, and discussing it with others, and having the textbooks which are just such excellent textbooks, just opened up a whole new world for me, and there was stuff in there I never expected. And it kind of challenged me. And a lot of what I experienced with old or New Testament is, is there many different voices in those books, that it’s not all one voice. And I learned to be comfortable. The fact that in reading it and discussing it, we’re having a conversation, not just with each other, but with the writers of those books, some of whom had differences of opinion with one another, and are difficult to harmonize. But it’s very fun hearing, when you get to the second year, hearing folks in first year and their reactions to the Hebrew Bible, and then the third year and hear people’s reactions to the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, because I found my attitudes and my perspective on them changing with the years. And I go, yeah, yeah, that’s how I felt. Yeah. I noticed where they’re covered from way to get to year three, you know, it’s so it’s, it’s kind of fun being all together, and being all together and it works.

Penny:             There are trained mentors who do the traffic cop duty.

Wayne:            Absolutely. The other thing that I found interesting was kind of like the lectionary. Unexpected parallels. And, you know, this week’s readings in the New Testament, the Old Testament and the church history segments, for example. It wasn’t always obvious when I sat down to do the reading that that would happen this week. But there were often times where it was interesting to see the parallels and the echoes back and forth and all of that.

Wayne:            What do they say about it’s kind of like what somebody said about history? It doesn’t,  repeat itself, but it rhymes.

Penny:             So I’m hearing you talk about the community; about being surprised by parallels or being surprised by what’s in the Bible that you hadn’t noticed before; being surprised by those different theologies that show up in different books in different places. There’s this really rich experience that I’m hearing now that’s part of what makes it an adventure.

Andrew:          And even the lectionary, you know, we read portions of things. And if you sit in the pew every Sunday, you’ll hear a large part of the Bible, but you won’t hear it all. And this is a program that  is designed like Wayne said, it’s adult education. So no one’s keeping track, but it’s designed  so you read the whole thing.

Wayne:            So I found that, that I pay a lot more attention to the Old Testament readings from the lectionary on Sunday now. And I’ll nudge my husband, I’ll say, this is a good one. I’ll explain it later.

Penny:             So this enriches your worship life. So what made each of you sign up for EFM? Was there a nudge that you were aware of?

Andrew:          Mark Patzman  has been nagging me for several years, and I finally succumbed. My goal in doing that was to deepen my education. And it is not just a Bible study, with the theological reflections and all of that, but that was the part that I was most interested in when I started. And so that’s why I signed up. And it is a four year program. But you know, it’s a year at a time: like eating that elephant. It’s not a four year commitment? It’s a one year commitment that hopefully you will keep with, but if you pick it up later, or have to take time off and all, that happens, and people do.

Wayne:            I forgot what the question was, what made you sign up? Okay. I wanted to, I felt like it would be really great to spend time with people who are interested in talking about the Bible, spirituality and religion, and I don’t have many of those people in my life. So it was very nice, very nice.

Penny:             Was there anything over those four years that that really jolted you, that challenged your faith?

Andrew:          I was gonna say the God is love in the New Testament. That’s not always the case in the Old.

Wayne:            Yeah, and I, I was kind of appalled at some of the bloodiness in the Old Testament, though, I must say that I finally ended up feeling some of those stories are real rip-snorters and get kind of a kick out of them. But I thought I found discovering the things in the gospels, just the different perspectives of the gospel writers. And what you really have to admit are discrepancies and how they tell their story, having to grapple with that coming from a fundamental background, because you know,  that tradition doesn’t brook any contradiction. But it was challenging, but it was also enlightening to come to realize the purpose of the Gospels, and how they differ from our concept of modern history. And how they were narratives that were meant to persuade, and particularly to persuade non believers and to also reveal deeper truths to those who’d come to faith. And I’m much more comfortable with that. And in fact, I plan to resume my studies with the textbook that we studied and the textual critical methods that we learned, to go back into the Gospels in the coming months and study them again, because you can just keep going back. There’s stuff to mine.

Penny:             That’s one of the beauties of Scripture, that there’s never an end to what you can dig out of ancient texts. How has the experience of EFM changed your relationship to God, to the church in general, and/or to St. Paul’s?

Wayne:            I think it has made me more confident, almost given me permission to have my own personal theology. EfM emphasizes that it is a journey, that we all live in many worlds, that there are different colors to different phases in our life. These are just metaphors that they used in the study guide over the years. That the degree to which we have a personal responsibility to think about what I believe and how it acts in my life, you know, how I respond to it my life, and that that’s okay. that everyone has a personal theology and it’s always provisional, as a process of discernment and maturation, and coming to understand just from your experiences, Scripture, fellowship, etc, tradition, adapting and, and moving forward. How about you, Andrew?

Andrew:          Well, I think I would echo what Wayne says. But probably something we should emphasize is EFM is not education for a ministry program. The ministry they’re speaking of, is the ministry of the laity. It is not a program designed to lead you to ordained ministry. It is the ministry of the baptized and all of us have a call to be ministers of the gospel in some way, shape, or form. But this is not a pre-seminary. Well, it may be a pre-seminary, but it is not a seminary program to teach you to become an ordained minister. Having said that, I I know that there are dioceses in the Episcopal Church that use the EFM program as the requirement for training deacons, for example, but it’s generally not designed to do that. And so it is developing that personal theology and relationship with God and the background for that within our tradition.

Penny:             Thank you. I’m going to wrap things up now. Let me just mention that this is the time of year when new students can learn more and talk to Mark Patzman about possibly joining one of the classes. I’m sure, Wayne and Andrew, you’d be happy to talk to anyone who’s curious to know more as well. As far as I know, we’re still planning to have two classes, a Tuesday evening class and a Thursday evening class. It’s a weekly program that runs over the school year, nine months a year. Yeah, you get a summer off. And I want to emphasize what I heard from Wayne about continuing the journey. I think that’s a really important part of it: that you’re not done when you graduate from EFM. But it equips you to continue your journey of faith. I’m very grateful to both of you for sharing your thoughts and your reflections. And I’ll just sign off with the cathedral congregation and those watching and say, See you on Sunday.

Your sister in Christ,
Penny

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4 thoughts on “Dean Letter: EFM”

  1. Sign me up! Looking forward to register and hope to make the cut. Thanks for this really informative and engaging presentation.

    Reply
  2. Sign me up! Looking forward to register and hope to make the cut. Thanks for this really informative and engaging presentation.

    Reply
  3. I like what each said about the contradictions in the two books and therefore developing one’s personal theology. (Penny alluded to this a few weeks ago in Genesis 1 vs. 2.) I greatly appreciate that about our church, having been raised in a strict Catholic way. In that church, one never challenges anything, except maybe now it’s changing a little with the current pope.
    I am now reading Elaine Pagel’s Revelations. Highly recommend. It’s a wonderful history of the intellectual battles in the early church, e.g., John of Patmos vs. the Pauline sect.

    Reply
  4. I thought this conversation summed EFM up well. Having just finished year one and really railing at some of the readings (Yee…yuck)reflecting on it almost makes me wonder how I got through. My mentors – Rick and Angela Hock-Brewer in OK (I am in IN) were awesome. I am looking forward to year two with them – I know these upcoming books and will be happy to discuss them.

    Reply

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