|Letters from the week of 23-29 May 2016
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Meeting in person online
I have been a part of a program called Education for Ministry (EfM) from the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. I did the full 4-year course of study online and have mentored online since 2009. It was and is a great experience where there is always something new to be learned, no matter if a person is a first-year or has been mentoring for many years.
It makes theological study for lay people available for those who don't have a face-to-face group in their immediate area. It also works for those who for reasons of health or other complication of life cannot get to a group, or those who travel a lot. People of all ages and from varied parts of the country (and the world) meet in small groups to talk, learn, and form communities with people they may never meet in person.
Online learning has enabled me to be part of a learning experience I wouldn't otherwise have had the opportunity to have. I have made friends with people from many walks of life and in many places. I've had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of people, learning to do theological reflections, have difficult conversations, and gain an understanding of other faiths and beliefs. The best part is that I can do this from my home and, even if I miss a live session, I can listen to the recorded session and not miss anything.
All in all, online education is a great thing. It brings not only theology but a number of subjects to people who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to study them. And you can do your learning in your pajamas!
Episcopal Church of the Nativity, N. Scottsdale, AZ USA
Avondale, AZ USA
23 May 2016
I mentor two online Education for Ministry groups. Over the year of study and discussion we become amazingly close to one another. Best practices include letting people know your state of being each session—what is going on in your life that might affect your participation. There is no body language—we mainly use the chat and voice functions for communicating live, so feelings are not always apparent. Have to let each other know if one is being funny or serious —hurt or affirmed. People are in the group from all over the United States and, in some years, other countries (furthest was Bahrain).
We meet "live" for an hour and half—the rest of our discussion happens on a Discussion Board. It is great for those who have kids or travel— participants can log in anytime and add thoughts. The live discussion is the same time every week and set by what works for the group and their time zones. I think people share more deeply online than in person and it flattens difference that might be a block (clothing, appearance, class clues, etc)
St Catherine of Alexandria, Nehalem
Cannon Beach, Oregon, USA
23 May 2016
Our parish is blessed to have a rector who takes the time to teach a 'traditional' Bible study (our parish has perhaps 2,000 parishioners.) There were perhaps twenty to thirty parishioners who took part and it was very good.
There is also a similar sized group of men who meet weekly and take turns 'leading' the class.
I have also been involved in a much smaller, inter-denominational Bible study at our YMCA in which usually three members of the Y took part. Based on my experiences in this regard, I find the smaller group is more productive. One of the members of this smaller group really knew his Bible and was able to tell us verses that were appropriate. This more knowledgable member moved to Palm Beach Florida to start an Outback ministry (not the restaurant) there. The other member's office moved across town. Unable to attract new members to our class (it was held at 7 on a Tuesday morning) we disbanded. In retrospect, I think if we had called it a prayer group we might have attracted more members, but then, of course, it wouldn't have been a "Bible study".
All of this is to say, small groups, for me, are better.
St. Pauls Episcopal Church
Mobile, Alabama, USA
27 May 2016
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