Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An End of a Chapter: EfM Graduation

It is over.

Last night, my Monday night Education for Ministry group said, "Good-bye and have a good summer," to each other.  And they also celebrated my graduation from the four-year extension course.   I am happy, and a bit sad, all at the same time.  EfM is a lot of work, but it is also a chance to have some really good and intellectually stimulating conversation about "Where's God in all this?" as we go about our day-to-day living in 21st century Tallahassee.  It is additionally hard to end this chapter as I have been the group's co-mentor for the past two years, so I feel a special bond with the Monday night crew.  I thought about the ones who had graduated from this group ahead of me and how much each of them have added to my own understanding and appreciation for God and the creation that is at hand.

My friend and neighbor, Terry, came by the house last night and I was holding my diploma.  She told me how well the auditions had gone for Mickee Faust that evening, and was sorry that I wasn't there.  And she inquired as to what was in my hand.

Terry is a devout atheist, a true believer in non-belief.  Hence, I have not explained why it is that I am "never available" on Monday nights to do projects that are related to Mickee Faust or anything else for the past four years.

My grin became wider and my eyes were probably dancing with delight as she again asked, "What is that in your hand?"  I wanted her to guess.

"Something fell off the wall?"


"Some kind of certificate?"

Grin with stifled laughter.  Her eyes darkened, and she shifted her hips to one side.

"Oh, is this some kind of church thing?" she said, in resignation.

I laughed and turned the frame around and let her read it.  And even the atheist, who thinks all religions are stupid and populated with morons, gave me a hug and a kiss and told me she was proud of me.

"So, this means you're a theologian?" she asked.

"Well... yes, in a way, I guess I am!"

That's always one of the biggest questions about the EfM program.  What exactly are we being educated to do?  Once upon a time (and, in some dioceses, it remains true for those becoming vocational deacons), EfM was a means of offering a theological education to those discerning a call to ordination outside the seminary environment.  It quickly morphed into being a program for the laity and a way for the church to respond to adult Christian Education.  It is not your typical Bible Study or a paint-by-numbers approach to teaching lay people about what it means to be a Christian.  At its very heart, what I believe EfM is about is allowing those people who are "seeking God or a deeper knowledge of God" a place to do their exploration with others while engaged in a process of figuring out, "What does it mean for me to be a Christian?  And what am I doing with the gifts and talents I have?" The coursework allows people to not only learn the roots of their tradition in the Scriptures, but to see the good, the bad and the ugly of how the Christian church evolved from its start where a man was preaching Love in First Century Palestine to anyone with ears to hear all the way to the challenges of the postmodern time that often call faith into question.   Rather than runaway from those questions, the people in EfM turn them around and around and often discover, "By golly, there isn't always a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to any of this!"   And, in my mind's eye, nothing delights the Divine more than our willingness to keep engaged in a game of "Come and Find Me."  Sometimes it's "Hide and Go Seek", but more often I think it's, "Hey You!  I'm right here!"

I posted a picture of my diploma on Facebook, and within minutes, the well wishes and more questions came pouring in:  What's your title?  Rt. Rev. Susan? (I think that might make some heads spin!)   My title remains, Susan Gage, Licensed Massage Therapist, which is a healing ministry in its own right.   Some expressed a desire to hear me preach the Gospel.  Well, I may not be in a pulpit, but I certainly strive to preach the Gospel in my own quirky, queer way here on this blog.

The question I am left with as I finish this particular chapter in my spiritual journey can be summed up in six words:

Here I am, Lord.  Now what?

I am part of a living water, a river rapid that keeps moving and pushing forward, even against the dams that have been built up to contain the likes of me.  With God, all things are possible... even if they must happen in unconventional and circuitous ways.  Given what I have learned in four years of EfM, I can safely say that God seems to find convention highly-overrated!


Phoebe McFarlin said...

Oh how I would like the church to have a Rt. Rev. Susan Gage! But I know how many 'priests' there are that have never been acknowledged by the church.. only 'ordained' by God. You are in excellent company! Continue to bless with your massage skill, your listening skill, your leadership skill, and your challenging skill!

Ann said...

Thanks - we had graduations last night and Monday in our online groups. Sad to see companions on the way leave for their next adventure but proud for their contributions and accomplishments. Btw - EfM was always intended for laity to become theologians and to discover their ministry in their lives. It got co-opted for ordination folks and is a good study program but really the heart is learning to reflect on one's life as a full time Christian.