Education for Ministry: Nurturing Stewardship in Community

By Kevin Cummings

Ask Education for Ministry (EfM) graduates how their experience had an impact on their understanding of stewardship, even though it is not directly included in the curriculum, and you find they have a lot to say. Karen Meridith, executive director of EfM, however, is not surprised. “In EfM we learn to reflect on, be shaped by, and become articulate about our relationships with God and our neighbor. As we explore those relationships through the four years of the program, we begin to feel deeper connections to the members of our seminar group, our parish, and the wider communities in which we minister.”

Case in point: when Joseph Lutz decided to run for city council in 2011 in Lewisburg, W.V., he was a candidate who felt his four years of EfM study had strengthened his stewardship skills.

“EfM changed my life; I say that unequivocally. It altered the way I looked at every aspect of my life,” said Lutz, who is now in his second term on the council. As a steward of the resources and finances of the town of about 4,000 people in the Greenbrier Valley, he said his experience with the program has helped him to be a better public servant.

“One of the biggest things EfM helped me understand is how damaging dualism can be in every facet of our lives. If you live in ‘either-or’ there’s no room for discussion,” he said. “EfM also prepared me to be a good steward in general with my time, my resources, my finances, etc. After going through the program, you are also more willing to share and more grateful for what other people share.”

EfM is a four-year curriculum headquartered at the Beecken Center at the School of Theology, that provides spiritual development and training and discernment for lay ministry. Since its inception in 1975, more than 80,000 people have been associated with the program as a participant, graduate, mentor, trainer, and/or coordinator.

The EfM experience for Dan and Nancy Ries was influential in their work with young people. The couple, both former EfM group mentors, hail from Virginia Beach, Va. The Rieses worked as mentors for Journey to Adulthood, a spiritual formation program for middle and high school students.

“I believe that our experiences in EfM, with those of our co-mentors, equipped us to guide these young people on their journeys with a sense of God’s love, an awareness that God continues to be active in our lives and in the world, and a deep commitment to strive to be the people that God has called us to be,” Nancy said. “That, after all, is the stewardship of our lives. And there is no doubt that EfM helped to equip us for the journey.”

The Rieses started their EfM journey in the Diocese of Hawaii, when Dan was in the Navy and stationed at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

“It occurred to me that my commitment to a prayerful and generous response to the gifts and blessings that have been abundantly showered upon me was cultivated long before I even heard about EfM,” Nancy noted. “In fact, as my stewardship journey picked up speed, I became aware that it was really my spiritual journey, and I began to feel a nagging to know more, learn more, question more about this loving and generous God of ours.”

Dan said EfM prepared him to help youth by providing a firm foundation to approach issues and problems with theological reflection. “The four-source model and reflection on “What have I learned?” and “What will I do differently?” not only has helped me personally address the challenges of life but also assisted the young people entrusted to me in dealing with their issues as they explored their own theology,” he said. “It has been a great joy in my life to see these young people enter the workforce, go to college, get married, become responsible adults.”

Jeannie Johnson, an EfM mentor and trainer, is also the EfM diocesan coordinator for the Diocese of West Tennessee. As part of an ongoing training partnership with the Kaleidoscope Institute, Meridith required all trainers to attend the Kaleidoscope Institute’s Multicultural Diversity and Gracious Leadership Training with Dr. Eric Law. Following that training, Johnson’s definition of stewardship changed significantly.

“I used to think of stewardship primarily as having to do with the currency of money,” Johnson said. “As a matter of fact, I thought that currency referred only to money.
However, reading Eric Law’s book Holy Currencies changed my perspective on that. I now understand that money is only one currency. There are so many more—the currencies of relationship, truth, wellness, time and place, and gracious leadership.”

“In order for a faith community, a traditional church, an EfM group, and even myself to be healthy, all of these currencies need to flow,” Johnson added. “It is exciting to consider how we might begin to use this language and pattern in our stewardship of time, talent, and treasure.”

Johnson mentors two EfM groups, one in Memphis, Tenn., that meets at the Church of the Holy Communion, and one group of bishops’ spouses that meet online. Johnson is also the wife of the Rt. Rev. Don E. Johnson, bishop of the Diocese of West Tennessee.

The diocesan coordinators for EfM—those who organize mentor trainings and assist EfM groups in the diocese—are prime examples of good stewards, said Cynthia Hargis, EfM diocesan relations coordinator and online coordinator. Hargis oversees 110 EfM diocesan coordinators that she calls stewards of the program itself.

“Coordinators represent EfM, the Beecken Center, the School of Theology, the University of the South, and their respective sponsoring Episcopal Church dioceses, parishes, and other agencies to the community, church, and world,” Hargis said. She noted that the coordinators care for and protect the program’s students, mentors, graduates, and mentor trainers in addition to bringing in new members for the “invaluable, transformational, life-giving Christian education that EfM provides.”

Shelley Kappauf, an EfM diocesan coordinator in the Diocese of North Carolina shares, “I can tell you that mentors are providing important stewardship in the giving of their time to be mentors in the program. They get paid a small honoraria, which is a token compared to the time put into facilitating a group.”

A coordinator is essentially a non-paid volunteer leader. “EfM coordinators are some of the program’s very best stewards because they use their talents, gifts, and skills to do so much for so many with what they have available,” Hargis said. “They do a great many little things with great love.”

Another of those resourceful coordinators and mentors, Lucy Wagner of the Diocese of Texas, who is also a mentor, shared her views on the program’s influence on stewardship. “I see the program as one of discernment,” Wagner said. “As all of us are called to ministry and most of us are called to ministry as lay persons. My biggest joy as an EfM mentor is watching students find their connection with the Creator as they progress through the program.” 

Meridith sums it up, “What is stewardship if not our response to that sense of deep connection to God and all of God’s creation?”

—This article was included in the Fall 2015 issue of From the Mountain.

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