The curriculum itself is divided into several sections: Episcopal worship, personal faith and beliefs, spiritual maturity, spiritual gifts, and mission. The series comes with a companion DVD, and each course has a high degree of flexibility around the material, which could be adapted fairly easily by the class facilitator.
The curriculum is designed to be used in any number of ways, including as adult or youth faith formation or even as a confirmation class. Each individual lesson begins with an overview and opening prayer, gives questions to think about, includes a video segment to watch on the DVD, has several questions for small group discussion, and then concludes with a wrap-up and prayer or hymn.
The section on Episcopal worship contains a good overview of Episcopal identity and a very broad understanding of the theology of ministry. An overview of the liturgical calendar and Book of Common Prayer is a useful orientation for both brand new and lifelong Episcopalians. Finally, this section concludes with an instructed Eucharist to help participants understand the specific events they’re participating in during the Eucharistic liturgy.
The section on personal faith and beliefs discusses theology in the broadest possible terms; talks about the Ten Commandments, the Great Commandment, and the Great Commission; and explores the creeds and the baptismal covenant. I love that the course begins with scripture, moves to communal faith identity, and then finally reaches the personal and individual faith life.
The spiritual maturity component begins by discussing Confirmation and ministry and then introduces the idea of a Rule of Life, particularly in the Benedictine model of prayer, study, and action. The course gives concrete examples of ways to deepen one’s own spiritual practices, and even raises the concept of stewardship.
The question of stewardship provides a nice segue into the next section, which covers spiritual gifts and individual discernment of vocation. I can’t say enough about this section being in the curriculum, as I think discernment of vocations other than ordained ministry is something that we as the church often fail to do well.
This course makes a great start of addressing that gap. It gives practical suggestions for participants to begin thinking about their own individual vocation from God, and does so by emphasizing self-awareness and using the SHAPE model of spiritual gifts assessment designed by Rick Warren.
I only wish this section were even more extensive than it is, but it wouldn’t be hard to expand the course here to provide a more in-depth look at vocation, particularly for those more familiar with (or willing to become more familiar with) Rick Warren’s model.
Finally, there is a course on mission, and while still very good, this was the one section I found lacking. The mission section definitely succeeds in getting participants to think about putting their faith into action. But its theology of mission focuses largely on evangelism and telling our faith stories. Of course these points are important, but I wish this were used as a jumping-off point for a discussion of participation in the missio dei (mission of God), rather than the end of the conversation.
There seems to be room to elaborate on the collaborative and mutual aspects of mission, in addition to this emphasis on telling our own faith stories. Still, given the adaptability and high quality of the course overall, it wouldn’t take a great deal of work for a facilitator to add these points to the discussion.
The companion DVD is well-produced and not at all dated. Though I haven’t tried this curriculum with youth, I expect that the quality is high enough that even they wouldn’t find it cheesy.
One final caveat: the price tag ($200 plus shipping) will be an obstacle for some, especially those in small parishes. However, for those who can afford it, The Discovery Series is one of the best, most malleable, and most complete courses I’ve seen for use in a parish.
I could imagine it working equally well as a confirmation class or Sunday school program, or even broken up into individual segments to give a framework for exploration of the concepts raised.
Ian Lasch (@ianlasch) is an M.Div. junior at Virginia Theological Seminary.
Editor’s Note: This resource is also available in Spanish for $150.