by guest blogger and SFF summer intern Christy Stang
Deepening Roots: Becoming Grounded in Scripture
Any type of spiritual programming will inevitably teach you something. Not every program, however, gives you the experience you need to put down roots in your theological heritage and to find your place within the church’s story.
Deepening Roots provides participants with the context they need to both deepen a sense of personal connection to Scripture and to become better prepared for a life in ministry, lay or otherwise. Mary Ellen Ashcroft, the founder of Deepening Roots, shared during an interview that this preparation for ministry and a sense of curiosity about Scripture motivated her to start this program, which started out at Spirit of the Wilderness Episcopal Church in Grand Marais.
The program meets once a month for 3-4 hours to discuss Scripture and the questions that it raises. Year One of the program consists of a survey of the whole Bible, enabling participants to familiarize themselves with Biblical history and theology in a more general way. Year Two is optional, and takes the materials learned in Year One of the program and approaches them with ethical questions, some in relation to current issues.
The program encourages participants to examine questions like, “Why is this particular book in the Bible?” and to come away from the experience having learned how to be in conversation with Scripture. Conversation is the key to the power of this program, enabling participants to move beyond the stage of just reading Scripture to interacting with it. Ashcroft also noted that the program helps participants feel “more closely connected to their Jewish roots,” providing another grounding facet of their biblical experience.
The tools gained in the program enable participants to delve more deeply into Scripture and connect with it in novel ways. The experience of the program has been so transformational for some participants that one group continued on to a fourth year to deepen their relationship with Scripture even further.
Deepening Roots differs from some other Biblical education programs in that the background material is less prominent, and the focus is on how the experience of the material and the study of it can enrich participants’ spiritual lives. Through conversation, participants can experiment with how the ideas within Scripture show up in their own lives and how the principles of love and forgiveness, for example, can continue to shape the way they live.
As an instructor in the program, Ashcroft shared that she has “come to love Scripture more and more” and has loved seeing how people are impacted by the experience. The Bible “becomes everybody’s text,” Ashcroft explained, because through studying it each participant can experience how to connect it to their own life. Examining the Bible in this interactive way encourages a breakdown of previous prejudices and assumptions about Scripture. Through this, participants can explore the reality of Scripture and how to bring ideas from Scripture into their realities.
Beyond a greater sense of what’s in Scripture, Ashcroft states that participants have come out of the program with a greater sense of who God is. Scripture and experience are two important ways of encountering God, and this program combines the two.
For those who are unsure if Deepening Roots is the right program for them, Ashcroft explained that the program is best suited for someone who is serious, open-minded, and curious about studying Scripture. Deepening Roots is “about formation, not just learning,” she clarified. Beyond just taking in information, Deepening Roots encourages people to allow their knowledge to shape their growth as a Christian. It invites people to put down their roots in Scripture as a way to ground themselves in their faith. This empowers them to then go on to extend their branches in personal faith and public ministry with the tools and knowledge gained from their scriptural exploration and contemplation.
This coming fall, the program will be held at three different locations in the Western suburbs and around the Twin Cities. The $200 fee includes expenses for 8 sessions as well as a two-day retreat in May or June. Group size is limited to ten participants. To learn more about becoming part of this enriching program, visit https://schoolforformation.org/deepening-roots/ or contact Mary Ellen Ashcroft at firstname.lastname@example.org.