Back in mid February when the weather was cold and I was still in culture shock from the move I started a programme at church called EDEV (Extending Discipleship Exploring Vocation). Having tried to use Google as my friend I have found out that there is relatively little information about EDEV on line that I could link you to. The best I can find are the following: this article (page two) of the WSC Newsheet, this rather incomplete official looking website (pot luck as to whether the internal links will give you any info or not) and this rather interesting article found on the main Methodist website. What you might have noticed from these articles is this is apparently not a course and trying to pin down what exactly it is seems to be like nailing a jellyfish to the wall of a bouncy castle.
At the end of the month the “programme” comes to the end with a celebration service. Now it is nearing it’s end I thought I would share abit of a reflection on my experience of it. It is part of a package that has quite literally changed my view of God and shifted my world a degree or two. As I begin this you have to remember that when I started, whilst I would personally not choose to use either term in relation to myself or my faith, I was a post or recovering evangelical. I had hung on in with church by the fingertips at times over the last few years and was to be honest, spiritually, like a teenager worn out by the frustration in many ways. I began EDEV around the same time I did a much shorter membership course largely to find out more about Methodism basically….oh and try to make some sense of what on earth I was doing with my life. So I guess that the end result has to be taken in terms of EDEV has been just one strand within the thread of the last year that has been my move into Methodism.
Upon arriving we were given our “Ground Rules” for the sessions. These were like a breath of fresh air for me…they were a set of guidelines that stated through their content, although nowhere specifically, this is a safe space. I was not used to having this explicitly set out in Christian settings, yes confidentiality and respect were often mentioned but this actually had other stuff in there. It was the first indication I had that this might not be just another packaged course.
As the weeks went on I discovered that EDEV was more about facilitating and equipping you with tools and information to do your own exploring and journeying with God. There was an emphasis on reflection and discernment and thinking stuff through with God using the bible. For me a session we did looking at approaches to theological reflection was unbelievably useful. That was the session where I first encountered the Methodist Quadrilateral and the idea that you use scripture, reason, tradition and experience, with experience having an emphasis on the importance of our own experience of God’s grace working in our own lives. I have to say I think that if I had to identify any moment in the last year when God had released grace or healing into my life that would be it. Suddenly my experience was something that was not to be seen as something uncomfortable and a cause of dissonance and the root of my dis-ease with church. Rather it was something which could be reflected upon, with the other parts of the quadrilateral. Suddenly I found I didn’t have to view my experience as oppositional to scripture and tradition, and have reason as the referee in the middle trying to keep me sane when I found I couldn’t square the circle. Rather I could reflect using all four elements and it was ok to believe that God has made me who I am totally and that my experiences of him might just be as legitimate as other peoples. This section also validated the decision to do the research and gave me a new confidence that I might not be insane, rather I really might have been taken on this mad journey by God. A key part of the reflection also involved looking at our gifts and skills (and being honest about what they were). It actually gave us ways to do this rather than just saying “identify them”.
Moving on we delved deeper into the bible, looking at how God spoke to people within the scriptures. This got me back to some stories I had too often ignored. The more I looked the more I saw that not only did most of these people say, “me God, no God, can’t do that God” they were all rather human and messed up people. They had infirmities, they had pasts and they all had labels. This was important because it bought me to a point where I came before God with my list of “excuses” as to why I wasn’t a good enough Christian to do x,y or z within any church community. As I looked at my excuses within the light of scripture I found that if the reasons I were giving were legitimate nothing would ever have happened for Gods people. Being a queer, mouthy, single mum who has a habit of making mistakes actually meant I was exactly the type of person God sometimes uses. Eeek….that was another turning point, I couldn’t use the labels or not being good enough as an excuse anymore.
The course took a bit of a turning point after that. We moved on to look at Methodism and what its principles and history were. I love this stuff, aswell as finding it really interesting I also think it is something that we need to learn more. The “low church” denominations came out of the last big period of social change, (the industrial revolution), and as such I think they have alot to teach those of us living in late modernity about how to look at the society around you and find new ways of doing God in a rapidly changing, unstable time. They also have loads to teach about taking risks.
After a summer break we have been learning more about different ministries that people are involved in. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to some truly inspirational people talking about their work.
We’ve also been encouraged to find / do placements to go and find out a bit more about what God might be calling us to. I did a holiday club with our local families and youth worker and went off to spend a couple of days with Never Conforming looking at the work she is involved in. These were really valuable for me in seeing what I do / don’t feel myself likely to do in the future.
The other important element of the course has been having an accompanist or mentor to chat things through regularly with. We have been encouraged to voice the mad things going through our heads to be challenged, supported, encouraged and directed to think again. This was vital for me as it gave me the first chance to voice one specific mad thing going my head…and scarily be told I might not be mad.
The upshot of all this is being challenged to a more grown up faith and involvement with the church, as I have mentioned in other posts. It has seen me going through the process of “going on note” to start learning how to be a local preacher.
Basically it has given me confidence through its emphasis on the way God works differently with differently people, but there are tools we can all use to work out whether God is really involved in something and whether it is the right direction for us to be taking. It has also given me confidence in sharing “mad” stuff with other people to get their thoughts, questions and challenges. It has also given me a new passion for my faith through hearing other peoples stories and sharing bits of their journeys.
So I’d say a couple of things to finish:
(i) if you are a post/ recovering evangelical trying to keep faith in institutional church but wanting space to explore your place within that think about doing EDEV. It doesn’t have right and wrong answers….it gives you tools to help with discernment and discipleship.
(ii) If you are still an evangelical or were never one in the first place and are ever given the chance to do EDEV go for it aswell. Whilst it can be engaged in whatever your spiritual experience, length of time as a Christian it is something which has fresh and relevant material for mature Christians and actually will push you to realistically think about how God might be wanting to move you forward, sideways or whatever.