Education for Ministry is a program designed for laity to provide theological study and reflection rooted in the Scriptures and traditions of the Church. The EfM website, (http://www.sewanee.edu), brochure, and prospectus provide a wealth of information on the program, its mission, and an outline of the course of study for all four years.
EfM Online provides people who cannot attend a weekly face-to-face group an opportunity to participate in this course of study. Following is an overview of how the EfM Online program works and each person’s responsibilities.
Participant fees provide for the conduct of the course and a set of materials to support the work for the year in which each student is enrolled. Textbooks come in the form of a three-ring binder for the year in which the student is enrolled with a tab for each of the 34 weekly sessions of the course. Each week’s chapter gives an introduction to the material to be covered, some background and insights into the subject at hand, questions to consider, exercises which may be completed, and assignments for reading the Bible or other documents. The textbook also discusses important information relating to the week’s readings.
In addition to the textbook, students will be provided a book of Common Lessons and Supporting Materials (CLSM). This text is issued once and is used all four years. It contains information on various types of theological reflections, spiritual autobiographies, planning your ministry, the conduct of a seminar group, and prayer and liturgy. Group lessons come from the CLSM several times each year.
Since this is an online course, each student will need a computer and access to the Internet. A dial up modem is sufficient, but DSL or cable is more desirable. Students should expect to spend two and one half to five hours per week on the Internet as a result of time in the weekly meeting and time in other parts of the course.
The course site for the weekly meetings and the discussion board is accessed through a website provided by The University of the South in Sewanee, TN. Each student will be assigned a user id and password to allow access to the site.
THE COURSE OF STUDY
The course consists of three kinds of activities: individual reading and study, participation in the weekly seminar, and work in the discussion board. Each type of activity is discussed below.
READING AND STUDY
Each week during the year is tabbed in the course materials. It includes a summary, learning objectives, assignments to deepen understanding, and preparing for the seminar. Biblical reading assignments are also made in the course materials for Year 1 and Year 2. There is typically a section that discusses the readings, many times broken into chapter and verse, and offers insights, interpretations, historical background, and other information on the readings. The mentor will post a question on the discussion board about each week’s work.
Each group decides on the time and day of the week to meet online. Students try to log in about 15 minutes early to make sure the connection works and to let the others know who will be in the session.
A group sets its own agenda including worship, sharing of where life is for everyone at that moment, and theological reflection (TR). For those not familiar with theological reflection, it will be covered in one of the very early sessions. Most of the session is dedicated to TR. It is the heart of EfM.
The mentor will archive the entire session. That archive is available in its entirety at the website. If students miss a session, lose the connection, or are interrupted in some unavoidable way, they can still keep track of what happened during any particular weekly seminar. All posted course content and archives are confidential and can only be accessed by those enrolled in the particular online group.
The discussion board is a bulletin board where members of the group discuss and reflect on their readings. Students post their thoughts on the board and read the posts of other students. It is an important adjunct to the readings and the live chat. Students may access the discussion board via the same website used for the weekly seminar. It is available any time day or night
When the discussion board is opened, the latest items will be displayed at the top and the previous week’s work listed below. Students are free to comment on, take exception to, and make other comments as they see fit on any entry into the discussion board.
Groups also discuss books, movies, etc. from time to time. As the group moves through the nine months' work, all 34 weeks of questions and comments will be displayed so that students may go back and review any of them.
A common question is, “How much time will this take?” The traditional group meets for two and a half to three hours per week. Online groups meet for an hour and a half. Students are expected to spend the additional time needed to keep up with the discussion board. Reading the textbook, the Bible and other works, doing the exercises, etc. will take more time. The first year is the most demanding with the Old Testament readings sometimes being quite long. What each student takes away from EfM depends on how much time and energy are devoted to the course.
The course is facilitated by a mentor or a pair of co-mentors. Mentors are trained and accredited by The School of Theology in Sewanee, TN, and are retrained every year. The mentor’s job is just to be a mentor. They are not the experts, not the teachers, and not the disciplinarians. Mentors do participate in the discussions just like the other members of the class.
This is an adult education forum. There are no tests, no grades, and no college credits. There are continuing education credits available upon completion of each academic cycle.
The mentor may also be an EfM student. The mentor is not an expert. Mentors are trained to lead a discussion which will ideally bring each student to an insight and appreciation of the subject being discussed.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Keep in mind there are no “right” answers. Be ready to disagree, be challenged by other students, and to challenge others. Groups must keep the disagreements to the subject at hand without involving personalities in the comments. In one of the first sessions, a set of norms will be established by the group members that will guide the group in its discussions. Confidentiality is always one of the norms of an EfM group.
Be prepared for a wide range of beliefs, traditions, interpretations, and opinions on the various subjects discussed. There may be some very conservative and some very liberal thinking members of the class (if we are lucky). The best discussions include a wide range of opinions. Listen to classmates, think about what they say, compare it with what you believe, and think about why you believe what you do. The object is not to change anyone’s basic beliefs but to appreciate the fact that there is diversity in opinions on the material we study and to try to gain a perspective of how others think about these subjects.
Some online groups conduct retreats during the year. These retreats are a welcome opportunity to meet the other group members and mentors for worship, discussion, problem solving, and to complete some of the requirements of the CLSM. Retreats are not a requirement. Whether a particular group has retreats or not will depend on the location of the students.
Some seminars are conducted about nine months (September to May) out of each year with summers off and a break for the Christmas Holidays. Other groups run year round.
The participant fee for a year’s study including the materials discussed above is $350.00. Each online group is also charged an additional $100.00 annual fee which may be divided among the group members. Some dioceses and parishes have scholarship money available to support EfM students.
The maximum size of an online group is eight students in addition to the mentor or mentors. A list is maintained at the Programs Center in Sewanee, TN, of those who express an interest in EfM Online. The list is made available to online mentors so they can recruit students. Prospective students are also welcome to contact online mentors directly. Click on the "Online Mentor Contacts" at the top of this page for a list of mentors and their group meeting schedules. For more information contact:
Coordinator, EfM Online