In the fall of 2022, the Beecken Center at the School of Theology will launch a new sister program to Education for Ministry (EfM), designed for participants in a Latin American context. The acronym for Educación para la Formación en el Ministerio Laical will be styled EFML.
Karen Meridith, executive director of EfM and associate director of the Beecken Center, has worked toward this launch since she first arrived in Sewanee. In 2010 when she interviewed for a position at the Beecken Center (then called the School of Theology Programs Center), she was asked about translating EfM into Spanish.
“There is a tendency to take what is working well and translate it, but translating the program wholesale would be an act of colonialism."
EfM has an Anglo cultural context. For Anglos, it’s important to recognize that we do have a culture.” Meridith worked with Eric Law at Kaleidoscope Institute to outline the process of developing a new program, rather than translating the English version of EfM into Spanish.
The Latin program needed to have its own Reading and Reflection Guide, composed by native speakers who write from their own context. Since there is not one single, monolithic Latin culture, the endeavor required input from a diverse group of developers. The new program also needed its own managing editor, its own books—and even, it turns out, its own name.
To that end, Meridith hired Eduardo Solomón Rivera as managing editor for the Latin program. Rivera, who lives in the Chicago metropolitan area, is originally from Puerto Rico. He helped identify contributors of Latin American heritage to provide appropriate texts and write for the new curriculum.
The new curriculum incorporates texts from Latinx historians and theologians such as Leonardo Boff, Orlando Espín, Elizabeth Conde-Frasier, Justo L. González., Carla Roland Guzmán, Juan Oliver, and Alicia Vargas to name just a few.
Rather than translating the Reading and Reflection Guide into Spanish, Latin writers began again from within their own context. They wrote a Reading and Reflection Guide in Spanish—then translated it to English to produce a guide for use in bilingual congregations. Since EfM now uses a collection of texts, EFML is not restricted to the same books EfM uses. The new curriculum incorporates texts from Latin historians and theologians such as Leonardo Boff, Orlando Espín, Elizabeth Conde-Frasier, Justo L. González., Carla Roland Guzmán, Juan Oliver, and Alicia Vargas to name just a few. “We are excited that EFML provides native voices from which to learn and with which to dialog, voices from our own contexts,” says Rivera.
Meridith says EFML shares the same longstanding EfM goal of nurturing an articulate and reflective laity that knows how to think theologically. “The reflective method is adaptable. The major shift is in freeing the new version from concerns unique to white U.S Americans and from Anglo cultural assumptions.”
These concerns are not new; what is new is the commitment to address them from perspectives other than that of a white U.S. American perspective.
The English program already questions those cultural assumptions. In the four-year cycle of EfM Reading and Reflection Guides, Volume B: Living Faithfully in a Multicultural World (assigned for the 2022-2023 academic year) calls on Anglo participants to challenge the idea that their own context is the reality. The first 2022–2023 Interlude book (read by all participants in all years of study) is Reading the Bible from the Margins by Miguel A. de la Torre. The second is Healing Our Broken Humanity by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill. These concerns are not new; what is new is the commitment to address them from perspectives other than that of a white U.S. American perspective.
The name of the new program reflects this commitment. Since the English “for” translates to Spanish word “por,” a straight translation of the name would lose the F in EfM. EfM as an acronym has endured across decades and cultures, even when different words are used for the acronym. For example, in the UK the program is called Exploring Faith Matters, with acronym EFM.
Participants will work through the same four-year cycle to explore personal context, multicultural context, living as a mature Christian, and finally theosis or the journey with (not to) God. It was always about formation.”
Rivera and Meridith both wanted to emphasize formation as well as education. Meridith says, “In workshops and trainings, I have often expanded the ‘for’ to formation.” In EFML, the F is for formación and is capitalized since it is not a preposition. In fact, the shorthand name of the program is Formación. Meridith says, “Participants will work through the same four-year cycle to explore personal context, multicultural context, living as a mature Christian, and finally theosis or the journey with (not to) God. It was always about formation.”
“In many ways theological reflection and various forms of conversation with the divine are woven into the everyday experience of many of us of Latin American heritage,” says Rivera, “Through our model of theological reflection, EFML provides a framework for engaging that dialog further, sharing it, and allowing it to inform our formation and ministry.
Meridith emphasizes that EFML will be a sister program to EfM, “more a parallel than a subset.” EfM already has several international groups in primarily English-speaking countries that function autonomously. They use the same Reading and Reflection Guide but may change up the interlude books. For example, there may be a book that more accurately addresses issues of racism within their culture.
The current EfM curriculum is the fifth curriculum EfM has had since 1975, and the new EFML curriculum makes a sixth. However, the premise and implementation of EfM has remained the same. Meridith says, “Everything we do in EfM is based on the conviction that baptized people are called to ministry.”
People who are not familiar with EfM may hear the name and assume it is an educational model. Indeed, the idea for EfM was born from the question, “Why can’t lay people know what seminarians learn about church history and critical approaches?”
"We live into that rule of life together, hoping we internalize the practices and take them into the world. If this stuff is not going to change my life, why am I doing it?"
Still, the aim of the curriculum is not to fill the participant with knowledge. “They are learning the language of theology,” Meridith says, “not just encountering a parade of theologians. EfM is not the reading; the emphasis is on core practices.” She says by taking on the core practices, participants immerse themselves in a rule of life as a community. “We live into that rule of life together, hoping we internalize the practices and take them into the world. If this stuff is not going to change my life, why am I doing it?”
Meridith says the core practices of EfM ground participants in spirituality, giving them strength to perform their ministries. Those practices include: committing to community life, grounding in worship and prayer, learning to think theologically, studying the Christian tradition, and discerning the call to ministry in daily life. These core practices are aided by the building blocks that have been part of every EfM curriculum from the beginning: the spiritual autobiography, the course of study, theological reflection using a four-source model, the learning spiral of action/reflection/action, and the seminar group’s mentor as facilitator not teacher.
Rivera incorporated the same principles and practices as the EFML curriculum was written. “It’s the same DNA of EfM,” says Meridith, “expressed differently in a different context.”
Meridith anticipates a number of pilot groups will begin EFML in the fall. Although the program was designed for people of Latin American heritage in the Spanish language and bilingual formats, the bilingual format is suitable for parishes with mixed groups willing to immerse themselves in the EFML program. Churches may also have one or more groups using each program.