Do we do a good job in discerning priestly vocations?

Our item on why people don't go to church is eliciting some heartfelt comments. This one from Ben Miller speaks to what he sees as problems in the way in which we discern priestly vocations. Miller writes:


I attended a recent ordination of someone to the diaconate. The priest, visiting to the Cathederal from the home parish of the postulant was the homilist. I sat totally absorbed in what he preceded to say. He explained that we do, in fact, live, in a post modern/post Christian world. He went on to state that being Christian is now no longer the norm and that the wearing of a clerical collar no longer commands the social status and respect it once did. In essence, he said that to be Christian today is countercultural. He then went on to state in more or less words how convoluted and excruciating the TEC's process for discernment and recommendation for the ordained ministry was and how he thought perhaps it was more complicated than it should be.

As I sat there and listened along with everyone else, including the bishop of the diocese, I thought to myself how true. How very, very true.

Christianity started out as a countercultural movement and here it is again in our postmodern world in the same state it started out in.

Ignorance fuels the rejection of Christ's Good News. Bureaucracy stalls the intimacy, and at times, blocks the love of God to others. Many good and worthy people have been turned away, not only from taking Holy Orders, but at the very doors of parishes and shunned at typical "coffee hour" following the average Episcopal mass. Why is this?

When one discerns for the ordained ministry in TEC, the entirety of one's life is picked apart, analyzed and judged as being worthy of recommendation to the bishop for ordination. Is it any wonder that those who pass the strictures of said processes often act if they are somehow superior to those not "in the club"? Likewise, those who are rejected are often broken and many even leave the church, permanently. I'm not advocating a doing away with discernment processes etc, etc, as they do have a purpose. I am advocating a return to the simple message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Jesus passed a fishing boat one day, He said to the men working, "Come. Follow me." He didn't say endure the Spanish Inquisition and then maybe I'll think about letting you follow me.

I say all this because when I recently asked someone in a position of power on one of these committees where, aside from the empirical evidence gathered, what spiritual means of discernment were being employed for the selection of candidates. The answer I received was at best ambiguous.

It appears to me that many in the TEC are what one would call the bourgeois of society. Typically, well to do, highly educated, with a nice space of insulation from the broader more real oppression, suffering, hunger and injustice facing our world. Not everyone in TEC, but many.

If you don't fit the profile, your ignored. The instances of snobbery and cliquishness I have encountered in a number of parishes in TEC is enough for the average Joe to start running for the nearest exit.

Often in the Christian church its like the parents eating its own offspring.

After centuries of harm done in the name of God its time for the healing and reconciling work of Christ to begin. It is by the grace of God, that many faithful remain, putting up with political and religious clichés, feigned spirituality from the church's ministers and general lack of real meaningful interaction and dialogue between the congregation and clergy.

Is it any wonder people aren't beating down our doors to join the church?

Jump through hoops and then maybe we'll consider you is not the message of Jesus Christ. The message that I know is come to me ALL who are heavy burdened and I will refresh you.

Is it any wonder there is such a decline in "mainline" denominations?

I adjure you remain, you prophets, you who aren't afraid to be countercultural, you who would stand up in the face of hypocrisy and legalism. God is calling us All to be His body. It is up to us to answer that call.
Amen.

What do you think? My own sense is that we frequently ordain people who are clearly individuals of integrity on a deep spiritual journey, but who do not excel in enough of the things that a parish priest must do to actually help the church to thrive. Yet they are willing to serve, and that counts for a great deal.

How would you revise the ways in which we nourish and discern vocations?

Comments (63)

"... but who do not excel in enough of the things that a parish priest must to to actually help the church to thrive."

I was ordained ten years ago. I had been trained to preach, to teach, to offer pastoral care. I had studied our sacred texts, church history, and theology...

Arriving in a parish I discovered that I also needed to be able to read and understand a budget, to hire and cultivate staff, to find creative ways to engage the community, and to work with the elected leadership of the parish.

Ten years later I am being called to recognize the paradigm shifts in our culture, society and church and to present the Gospel, develop ministries, and offer programs in a way that is relevant in the 21st century.

Over the last ten years I have often said, "I must have missed that class in seminary..."

Ben Miller asks where the spirit enters into the discernment of vocations. Jim Naughton asks how should we nourish those vocations. I would ask a third question; how do we train those who are selected so that they can help the church to thrive? And how do we engage our clergy and lay leaders in a process that continues to nourish and train them?

It's been my experience that we have spent the last 30+ years ordaining people as a personal affirmation of their spiritual gifts rather than based upon what that person brings to the church to make it thrive.

We have a significant number of unemployed and underemployed clergy throughout TEC already (some diocese have more than others). If we keep ordaining at the rate we have been, every Episcopalian will have their own private chaplain in a few years!

I believe we need to get more clear about the matrix of leadership, administrative and pastoral skills a parish priest needs to empower the whole people of God to spread the Gospel. And we need to get over the idea that just because someone is deeply spiritual, they need to be wearing a collar.

As a person who has experienced, and is experiencing, The Process in a particular diocese and is among those who are experiencing The Process, I find that there is a very narrow description of what The Episcopal Church considers a suitable vocational call. TEC seems to believe that the only valid vocation for which ordination is required is that of Parish Priest. For those of us who find ourselves called to various chaplaincies and other ministries where there is the need of a sacramental presence there is no room in The Process for our vocations to be recognized and affirmed. Yes, there are many under or unemployed priests. I believe it is because we ordain for one particular ministry and if a few others squeeze through, oh, well, at least they can be Parish Priests when whatever other ministry they think is necessary doesn't work out. We as a church need to stop being so concerned about whether or not we are laying hands on management in the name of God and start looking for who needs that something extra in order to best serve the people of God wherever they are found.

Machelle Christiansen

I'm not sure that affirming that someone is "on a deep spiritual journey" is the same thing as affirming that someone is spiritually mature or is spiritually grounded. Indeed, I'd hope that candidates for ordination in the Episcopal Church would be grounded in Anglican spirituality, but that seems to be less and less the case.

I find myself agreeing with both Derek and Anjel, but would perhaps say that we ordain people based not on their spiritual gifts as on a mere interest in spirituality and religion. It's become sort of a capstone project in self-affirmation, it sometimes seems. And as our membership numbers decline, do we really need to make it easier to get ordained? It's Episcopalians we're suffering a dearth of, not Episcopal priests.

In my trek through the ordination process in the last few years, I was struck by how the process was supposed to elicit my "call" but did so with almost no reference to the needs of the church.

One of the trends in the church that most concerns me is that we have a steadily dropping number of people in church each Sunday but are ordaining more or less the same number of people per year that we did in the 1960s. (There's some fluctuation in the numbers but I'm pretty sure that trend is accurate.)

As a good Protestant, I'm all for the priesthood of all believers, but I don't want a church where every believer is a priest.

-Jesse

Also, my hope was that the conversation about the future of the General Ordination Exams in the run-up to Convention this summer would spark larger conversations about these questions. Unfortunately, to the best of my understanding, Convention did not approve the creation of a special committee (Res. A148) to study exactly these questions.

I started reflecting on some of these ordination questions after Convention, which sparked a nice little conversation then. It begins here.

-Jesse

The Episcopal Church is very good at discerning independently wealthy burnouts or well-connected hausfraus/scions who can shell out the cash necessary to complete the process and who had the money, time, and connections beforehand to attend all the right camps, conventions and goings on around the diocese.

Ok, that was kinda mean, some of the finest people I've known are Episcopal clergy of whatever order, but I've seen hordes of the above described be enthusiastically embraced and moved through the process at lightning speed, thinking to myself "What a pasty boring wallflower priest this person would make, yikes."

I completely agree with Derek: "I'm all for the priesthood of all believers, but I don't want a church where every believer is a priest."

I think this post confuses being a follower of Jesus with being an educated teacher about Jesus who leads congregations to more spiritual growth in the Christian faith.

Yes, anyone can follow Christ, without exception, but to teach about Jesus and conduct yourself as a leader of a parish requires more of a person. If we water-down the process for ordination to anyone and everyone then we ruin what the whole point of being a priest is for. We will not gain members, we will lose them.

Eric

Correction: I meant Jesse Zink, not Derek.

Eric

That's ok, Eric--I agree with Jesse on that point too!

Ergo--I think we need to have a lot more discussion about what a committed layperson looks like and much more emphasis on discipleship.

I once met a woman who had been turned down by Commissions on Ministry twice, in two different dioceses. She felt a calling to ordained ministry but it wasn't being affirmed.

The thing was, she was super involved in her church: on vestry, youth group, choir, food pantry, acolyted the odd Sunday, etc. She told me that all her life she had only looked for jobs that would pay the bills and leave her as much free time to spend in church as possible.

Wouldn't it be great if there was some kind of compensated lay vocation this woman could fill in the church? The trouble is, in the Episcopal Church at least, we treat lay people pretty poorly—don't pay them as much and until recently didn't give them the same benefits (and in some cases still don't). The church struggled to find a way to respond to this woman's obvious commitment and deep faith. And I found that pretty sad.

Re: the focus on discipleship, with which I wholeheartedly agree: I think we've reached a point in the church where we're so desperate for new members, we're anxious and eager not to require anything of anyone (viz. open communion conversation) so no one leaves. In a context like this, discipleship pretty quickly falls by the wayside.

-Jesse

Precisely, Jesse--and this is another way that I believe the misguided push for Communion without baptism hurts us. We'd do far better to speak about a sacramental path to discipleship: the sacraments are interconnected means of grace that help us cleave to God and enact his reconciling love to the world.

I find that there is a very narrow description of what The Episcopal Church considers a suitable vocational call. TEC seems to believe that the only valid vocation for which ordination is required is that of Parish Priest.

I completely concur with Machelle Christiansen—and I have seen people with great spiritual gifts turned away from the process because:

1. They weren't willing to uproot their families to go do an *additional,* obscenely expensive theology degree at the seminary preferred by their bishop. (I know of several people who already had M.Div's but were told they would have to repeat the degree.)

2. They were committed to work other than parish ministry (e.g., working with drug users or people living with HIV/AIDS). The ability to celebrate Eucharist or to grant absolution to the people in their care would have been a great blessing to everyone--but apparently was not considered to be so by their dioceses.

3. Members of their Commission on Ministry were petty tyrants who thought they WERE God. I have heard from friends who have been through the process that it was the most violating thing they had ever experienced. In more than one case I have heard it compared to rape.

What difference does it make how many people are ordained? Why the gate-keeping? (At least beyond the minimum requirements: passing a criminal background check, undergoing psychiatric testing, and showing a specified level of theological knowledge?)

I don't like the idea of a group of people being given the power to pronounce that someone's "call" is "real." I find that much more troubling than the notion that we will ordain too many people. And I think the process is spiritually destructive to far too many people. Based on my discussions about this issue with a number of people who have been through the grinder, I am coming to believe that the current ordination process is built for narcissists and masochists and others need not apply.

I keep asking what a priest is FOR--and I never really get an answer, even from priests themselves. Maybe if we stopped gate-keeping and gave those at work in the "regular world" the opportunity to bring their spiritual gifts to people outside the church walls, we wouldn't be constantly wringing our hands and wondering why the only new blood we seem to get is from "sheep stealing."

Oh, I don't know about that, Clint. I certainly wasn't one of the "favored ones." I was the product of a small ango-catholic parish which at that time was rather disconnected from the diocese. Although I was very involved at my parish I had never served on a committee or commission at the diocesan level because I was busy working full-time and trying to finish college at the same time. I was a middle-aged lesbian with working class roots. No one who "mattered" knew my name. My Process was complicated, but I knew others of higher church pedigree, and I didn't feel like they were being shepherded through any more easily than I was. In seminary I met others like me, some of whom were single moms or dads raising kids. Maybe it's different in other places, but I never felt neglected or ignored even though some parts of The Process was frustrating.

In reference to the article, I have to say that I mostly come down where Derek and Jesse are. Having served on a diocesan COM, it's become abundantly clear to me that we as a church don't really have any idea how to effectively honor and hold up the ministries of the laity, so we end up ordaining people whose vocation clearly points to remaining in the lay order because it seemed like a next step in church involvement. That's a much harder problem to solve, and if we don't start having some serious conversation about the real importance of lay ministries and do something about this issue, I'm afraid that more devoted church people will be disappointed and people whose vocation isn't really to the ordained ministry will continue to have hands laid upon them by a bishop.

I think it would be a good idea if, instead of having yet another discussion centered around ordination, the church started to talk about why the "lay vocation" is so little valued that it's not even brought up as part of the discussion....

I could not agree more with Barbara. The priesthood is only as strong and healthy as the lay ministry it is meant to nourish with sacrament, leadership, and prayer. All ordination arises from the calling of baptism!

And I will continue to ask: why is it a bad thing to have MORE people who can administer the sacraments to a hurting world?

What is the priesthood for, Paige? For giving away the priesthood.

I wonder if this is a place we have something to learn from the wider Anglican world, which in my experience does a better job of upholding lay ministry in orders like lay reader, lay minister, etc.? In the deanery in the Church of England I live in now, lay and ordained ministers go to deanery chapter meetings, which (rightly) puts consecrated lay ministry on par with ordained ministry.

But I continue to think, as I've written, that priests need to go to seminary.

Lois, I would love to hear more. What does that mean to you?

What I notice here is that the original comment was a response to an ordination to the diaconate, yet this conversation, like most, is centered on the priesthood. Like Barbara and others I agree we need to develop our ideas of lay ministry--and diaconal ministry.

Trisha Thorme

Jesse,

My only concern about the approach you cite (which I appreciate) is that we not lose site of the ministry of the baptized beyond the church walls and far removed from the realm of formal church liturgy. Lay participation in the liturgy is critical, but it must be understood as reflecting the ministry that happens "out there" during the rest of the week. But here, now, I stumble into the insights deacons are meant to bring us!

What if every parish was a Total Ministry parish, where a team of leaders from within the parish was discerned, raised up, trained and commissioned/ordained together to do all the work of sustaining a worshiping community, including the sacramental aspect? In my diocese the number of Total Ministry parishes is growing, but mostly in churches that can no longer afford paid clergy. Yet Total Ministry is based on the fundamental assumption that the ministry of the church is the ministry of the baptized. What if we took the baptized seriously? Really seriously? What if every church started from scratch and discerned its own leadership? (I am a paid cleric with seminary training. But I don't believe the model of ministry I represent is the only way -- probably not even the best way -- to offer the ministry of the church.)

The latest from CPG says retirements are running ahead of ordinations by 43%

https://www.cpg.org/linkservid/DC3EE5A8-F95C-2278-107475F87BFDB2AA/showMeta/0/?label=State%20of%20the%20Clergy%202012

Paige and Kit,

But why do so many feel that they're not fully participating if they're not ordained or doing sacramental things? This is simply clericalism--the idea that the only important people are the clergy and therefore we need to figure out a way to make everyone a priest... No! What's wrong with the baptized embracing the ministry of the baptized starting with the fundamentals? What seems criminal to me is the number of folks who come into seminary who have no idea of the very basic fundamentals of the faith. As a result we end up having to do quite a bit of remedial catechesis.

How about starting with basic Christian Proficiency (a la Thornton's classic work) instead of shunting everyone who seems interested in a deeper commitment towards ordination?

Richard: excellent point, and I should have noted in that comment that many of these lay ministers have quasi-diaconal positions. One woman works with prison populations, for instance. (This could be because the diocese doesn't really "do" vocational deacons, which is a problem.)

On Kit's point, this is a conversation the Church in Wales is having right now. Their mega-mondo-church-structure-review report from this summer spent a lot of time on the need to create more clergy-lay partnerships in expanded "Ministry Areas." Hate to keep linking to myself, but that thread is here (and it's better than re-typing it all).

-Jesse

Yes --this was a discussion about ordination to the diaconate --but please note the title.

Also --I think expecting a priest to have a strong educational gift, a strong liturgical gift, a strong pastoral gift, a strong administrative gift, a strong grow the church gift and a strong singing voice, a strong vision of the present and future, and a deep understanding of cultural matters, and an elementary understanding of plumbing and electrical work as well as being able to read a financial spread sheet and know when and how to file all the proper paperwork for non-profits etc... well, quite frankly, I think it is unrealistic... --and furthermore, a sign, perhaps, of what's wrong.

I have always stated that we need to separate the CEO functions from the priestly functions.

Would it be so bad to have a CEO for a church, or several small churches together --pay a lay person to do that work --and then the priestly function becomes far more clear --teaching and preaching (as the bearers of the stories), offering at the altar the sacrifices and burdens of our broken lives for redemption, being the mouthpiece (for lack of a better word) of the people's prayers and joys and sorrows, and sharing liberally --radically in the work of loving creation, --being the sign of this among the people and calling others to join in sharing that love --etc...

It is time to liberate our priests --and our deacons --and our bishops.

Margaret Watson

Here's a Catholic paper (a "Post-Synodal Aposotlic Exhortation"!) on "the lay vocation" Christifideles Laici - "On the vocation and mission of the lay faithful in the church and in the world". "In the world" is a rather important aspect of this, from my point of view.

Couldn't find any Episcopal Church discussions of the topic....

But why do so many feel that they're not fully participating if they're not ordained or doing sacramental things? This is simply clericalism--the idea that the only important people are the clergy and therefore we need to figure out a way to make everyone a priest... No! What's wrong with the baptized embracing the ministry of the baptized starting with the fundamentals?

Funny--your response sounds to me a lot more like "Let's keep the priesthood to just a few!" That seems a lot more like "clericalism" to me.

For better or worse, we are a tradition where one has to be a priest to celebrate the Eucharist or grant absolution. The laity cannot do those things. Deacons cannot do those things.

I've already laid out situations where the ability to do those things in a non-parish setting would be a blessing to the world. So what is the rationale for fighting so hard to keep people out of the priesthood?

Jesses, Iread your link about seminary. I have NOT found an anti-intellectual streak in the Episcopal Church. I am an Episcopalian-by-the-Grace-of-God (not by birth) for that very reason. I have been in United Methodist, Southern Baptist, Free Will Baptist, Free Methodist, Church of Christ, and nondenominational churches for a vast chunk of my childhood, and I think I know anti-intellectualism when I see it in the pews and especially in the pulpit. However, I cannot abandon my husband and children for three years to move to Sewanee.

The answer to the dramatic title question is "Yes, we do."

And I'd add to Margaret (several comments up) that the structure HAS a CEO in the senior warden of the vestry or bishop's committee, and these groups are at their best when they compliment the skills of the priest.

Posts like Ben Miller's rile me up, and I wish there was a brief biographical sketch about him; I like to know who I'm responding to. I hope and presume that he's been notified that his comments have been drawn out into a separate thread, and while I'm disagreeing with his ideas, I want to be clear that I'm not angry at or dismissive of him.

Ben Miller wrote a concern about too many hoops. Let's be clear what the hoops are to offering your life to Christ's Body the Church: they're the promises you're asked to make at baptism. They're water and the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. That's it. You're invited. Come and bring your gifts. Listen alongside us for the will of God. A good discernment process WILL ask if what God is calling you to is within the life of the laity: not because they're trying to "bounce" people, but because MOST vocations ARE, and because discernment is the activity that all the faithful should always be engaged in to some level: "What is God asking me to do with my life and gifts now?"

The "hoops" to ordination are greater in number, and that's appropriate. The outward and visible sign is pointing to something more specific. It's pointing to (and this is way too abbreviated) stewardship of the worship and traditions of the Episcopal Church. Are there people who have lived those for decades and could stand up tomorrow and be their custodian? Sure. But the sacrament is also a sign that the church has received your God-called desire to enter into that stewardship. Someone could arrive at KU and announce that he loves basketball. Nobody would bat an eye if the couch asked him to practice, and if the fundamentals were there, to learn the team's plays and strategies, before putting him on the court. It's not inhospitable: it's the formation and development of the inward grace that the outward sign points to.

Anyway, plenty more to say about this, but given the forum, I'll wait and see how this strikes people.

Barbara said what I was trying to say, but more succinctly.

I also like Margaret's idea of having a CEO working in partnership with the clergy. We have that in place now with the concept of Senior Warden, but in practice the SW is a volunteer position, and often this person works full-time and has family responsibilities, which ends up kicking everything back to the clergy on staff anyway.

"I keep asking what a priest is FOR--and I never really get an answer, even from priests themselves."

At the risk of stating the obvious, it seems to me that if we want a description of the role of the priest, a good resource would be the Ordinal, especially the Examination on pages 531-2 and that portion of the Prayer of Consecration on page 534.

The first thing that we might pick up from the Ordinal is that the difference between priest and layperson is not simply that one can preside at the Eucharist and absolve the penitent and the other cannot - the role of clergy is not to be simply dispensers of the Sacraments. The role of priest also includes that of pastor, teacher, and preacher. At least, that's what the Church says when it ordains.

Do all priests perform all these duties equally well? No, no more than all high school teachers perform the range of duties expected of them equally well. But they still seem to be part of the job description.

I'm not saying that I think the parish priesthood is the end-all and be-all of priestly ministry. I do think that exercising that ministry in places other than parishes is best done by priests as priests, and not people who see their primary role as something else and would like the sacramental authority of the priesthood because it would be convenient.

Before we can start reforming The Process we need to think about the end towards which this discernment is aimed.

What is the role of a priest? Some are priest-in-charge either in a multi-priest situation or (more commonly) in a single-priest situation, others serve as assistants in multi-priest parishes, others serve as chaplains of one sort or another (how are we doing at filling our military chaplain slots, by the by?), others (generally retired) work as spiritual directors or as supply clergy to give other priests a chance to get away once in while. I think seminary profs, leaders of church-affiliated non-profits, and spiritual retreat leaders are often priests, but they don't have to be necessarily. Are there others?

What sorts of competencies do these roles require? I see those roles demanding a liturgical expert (someone capable of planning and leading the various rites of the church), a spiritual-life/spirituality expert, a history/theology teacher, a public speaker, and/or an administrator/manager (albeit mostly only if the priest is a priest-in-charge or sometimes an assistant in a multi-priest setting). I can see that seminary prepares a person to be more or less adequate as a liturgical expert, a history/theology teacher, and a public speaker (assuming the seminarian applies themselves), but I don't see that management skills addressed much at all, and spirituality often seems to have devolved into an intellectual pastime (rather like philosophy) with all the faults that go along with disconnecting spirituality from daily living.

Now, I can see church-goers and those who might consider going to church looking for priests to be liturgical experts and decent public speakers (see the post here from yesterday or earlier today about seekers looking for a spiritual experience), and knowledgeable history/theology teachers and spiritual guides, but is administration really core to priestly work, or is that a historical accident? What would happen if we, as a church, moved administrative functions to the diocesan level, making parish priests employees of the diocese? After all, the companies in the secular world that seem to be coping best at the moment appear to be the big, centralized ones.

Actually, if the CoM's really worked through what priests are for and what sort of opportunities are available in each sort of work that would probably improve the situation right there. We'd still need to deal with the business-structure of the church, but that's not a question The Process has any role in answering.

The big question that remains is what does a call look like. My own experience with The Process is that it tends to be sort of adversarial and subjective. The subjectivity would be helped by looking for competencies and developing competencies, but that still leaves the first two years of The Process and the adversarialness. Any ideas what we should be looking for in potential priests before we can intelligently ask how well they might do one of the priestly jobs? One response I've seen that seems problematic to me is the assumption that there isn't any element of choice in vocation, even though, in the secular world, very few people have a clear and reasonable idea of what they want to do even by the end of college. Honestly, if the desire to serve in the face of the job-market realities isn't enough to approve folk for seminary what about requiring folks to live in an intentional community for demanding than most parishes? At least that would give folks a chance to see how they handle being in church every day, and it would give the diocese a chance to assess and work on the candidate's spiritual maturity.

Regarding the "adversarialness" of The Process, I can't help but think of my partner's experience when she was in training to be a nurse practitioner. As a nurse for nearly a decade, she was never required to go on rounds with the residents and attending physicians, and she was grateful because "rounds" are by nature an adversarial process. So as part of her training for her new role she was required to go on rounds during her clinical rotation, and sometimes she came home in tears because she had been professionally beaten up by the attending for giving the wrong answer or not answering quickly or succinctly enough. Now that she is employed as an NP on a cardiac unit she is required to round every morning, and her attitude towards the process has changed. She admits that the pushback has made her a better nurse because it has prepared her in new and unique ways in dealing with dysfunctional family members and other extremely stressful situations where a cool head and quick thinking are required.

I share this story because sometimes pushback is not a bad thing. Although my experience with The Process as an aspirant/postulant/candidate was more challenging than adversarial, those parts of The Process that left me feeling a little bruised sometimes were part of my formation process as much as seminary studies. As a parish priest, I deal with the full range of human emotions, not all of them pleasant or comfortable. As a member of a diocesan COM, I would like to think that our role was not gatekeeping, but insistence on accountability, clarity, and responsibility was part of the formation experience we provided to the nominees. After all, if someone who has entered the ordination process can't deal with a fairly lengthy process of mutual discernment with all its inherent frustrations, what will happen when they are ordained and face their first pastoral crisis in which they are often seen as solely responsible for the outcome?

I do think that exercising that ministry in places other than parishes is best done by priests as priests, and not people who see their primary role as something else and would like the sacramental authority of the priesthood because it would be convenient.

Convenient for WHOM, Bill Dillworth? For the addicts and people who are struggling with life-threatening illnesses?

Which end of this lens are you looking through?

The data are not looking good for people who want to be full-time priests in a parish. As the exodus from organized Christianity grows--and it WILL continue to grow--we had better stop thinking about the priesthood as some glorified brotherhood into which only the lucky few are given entrance. If the sacraments are to mean anything, we had better start looking at finding some way to get them out to people in the world--outside the walls of our little religious enclaves.

Or maybe we just need to follow the example of the Diocese of Sydney and start advocating for lay presidency?

"Convenient for WHOM, Bill Dillworth? For the addicts and people who are struggling with life-threatening illnesses?"

Yeah, Paige, that's it - I just wanna keep the addicts and the ill away from the sacraments.

You asked what a priest is for, and complained that no one would tell you. I pointed out that according to what the Church tells ordinands (and God) when we ordain them that they are something more than mere sacrament distribution machines, but are also by nature of their ordination (and not by the vagaries of job placement) called to be pastors and teachers and proclaimers of God's Word. It's a package deal. I'm sorry if you don't like how clergy are described in the ordination services, but at least you finally got an answer.

If there are people who are called to the priesthood who are also called to work outside parish ministry, then let's ordain them. But let's not make the priesthood just one more thing to add to someone's skill set.

The idea of expanding beyond mainstream parish ministry is hardly an earth-shaking novelty, though - Anglican clergy used to work outside comfy suburban parishes all the time. Chaplains, Anglo-Catholic slum priests, evangelists like Sam Shoemaker, members of religious orders, missionaries - it's not as if the only thing that Anglican priests have done is preside at the 10:00 Sunday service, run a Confirmation class, and lead the Tuesday Bible study until now.


Clint touches on a good point, which is that one of the great challenges facing TEC is our antiquated system of seminary education. On the one hand, we expect candidates to spend $60K or more to qualify for ordination. On the other hand, pay stinks, jobs are few, and church politics are enough to drive even the most resilient batty. Im short, we do everything possible to skew the result and create stress for our clergy following ordination.

A better approach would be to consolidate the seminaries and provide free tuition for those who qualify. By doing so, we would alleviate financial pressure on our newly ordained clergy, while being able in good conscience to be very selective.

After all, as things stand now, how much can one argue with someone who's prepared to spend $60K plus for the opportunity to serve, particularly when many parishes face flat revenues and other resource constraints?

Eric Bonetti

I got mangled by The Process in one diocese, eventually being told by a bishop, "You are too spiritual and too gifted for the ordained ministry. You should consider being a shaman." I'm not kidding. I have witnesses.

I was ordained in another diocese, to which I moved NOT seeking a route to ordination but to continue my call as a lay chaplain. Once arrived there, I was identified by a person in diocesan leadership as one who should be ordained for my calling as a chaplain and potentially for parish ministry. An alternative route of preparation, which did not include three years of resident seminary work, was provided.

As a parish priest today, I consider which of my gifts are most helpful to the church I serve in revitalizing and growing a small, previously declining, country parish. My entrepreneurship (I owned my own successful business for 17 years) is among them, as well as leadership skills honed in business and the community long before I was ordained. Being familiar with, and comfortable with, marketing is a huge plus that is almost entirely ignored by our traditional methods of clergy preparation.

It is all too true that we ordain a lot of people who are seeking a deeper commitment to God -- and who have tremendous spiritual gifts -- but who have no route to meaningful ministry in the church because they are not ordained.... UNLESS we, the ordained, give them those routes.

I agree with whoever said above that priests should be giving away the priesthood. There are very few things a layperson cannot do in our church, if provided proper training and guidance. Our little parish has raised up five licensed lay preachers in my five years here, two of whom conduct services and preach in out-of-the-way, small parishes, one of whom serves as an adjunct chapain at a local hospital. We also have four trained spiritual directors who teach in the parish and provide their gifts of guidance and spiritual friendship.

If we want to have a vital chuch, we, the ordained, need to get out of the way of the gifts of the laity. No, actually we need to look for, support, and nurture them, and give them space in which to exercise them. And we need not to be threatened by them.

I'd bet money that the decline in the public praying of the Daily Office - which laypeople can and should be tapped to lead, and which clergy can and should attend by simply sitting in the choir - is directly responsible for the "everybody needs to get ordained" assumption we're now stuck with.

The Daily Office is, in fact, one-half of the beating heart of Anglicanism - but you'd never know it....

Karen,

In nursing there are objective standards, there are right answers and wrong answers, and answering wrong, especially on a cardiac unit, can kill people. In the first two years of The Process what objective standard are you pushing folks against? What are the right answers you're looking for candidates to give, seeing as they haven't been required to get any training at that point? As far as I can tell, the only rational questions to ask at that phase are looking for clarity, and you can't get clarity if the candidate themselves hasn't come to clarity. Further, the best way to increase clarity is probably giving the seeker a chance to see what the work is actually like, rather than to talk about it.

By the end of The Process, when they've had CPE and seminary training, they'd certainly better be able to answer push back intelligently, and be prepared to deal with pastoral emergencies, but at that point they've been given tools with which to respond. But at the beginning, how do you keep the push back from devolving to abuse? What objective standard shows the limits beyond which you are forbidden to push?

Eric: I agree the financing of seminary is a tricky issue. But I'm not sure about the $60,000 figure, at least not in terms of debt. To my knowledge, no data on seminarian debt has been collected (perhaps it's in the new CPG report that is linked in another item here) though everyone acts like it's some giant crisis. My experience of seminary indicated it's a lot more complicated than it seems. Yes, seminarians take on debt (or, more worryingly, sell assets to finance the degree) but I'm not convinced it's an insurmountable problem. At the very least, it's something we need to more about (and more systematically, than anecdotally) if we're going to think seriously about the future of seminary education.

Connie Clark hits the nail on the head for me. As we are thinking about renewing the Episcopal Church, lay leadership is a critical piece of the puzzle. It's one area that I think the church discourages, through neglect more than intention, I think.

I've been operating as my parish's CEO for the last three years in my role as senior warden. This included the entirety of an exceptionally lengthy clergy transition and the first few months of our new rector coming on board. But my term is now near its end and it's not clear what's ahead for me. I'm not all that concerned for myself, since our new rector is totally on board with cultivating lay leaders, but I think we as a a church have a systematic cultural problem. And it goes two ways...some lay leaders with real gifts are ignored, or perhaps inappropriately encouraged to get into The Process; and some would-be lay leaders never step up because we've outsourced our Christian responsibilities to paid clergy.

Benedict Varnum brings up an interesting point, writing "A good discernment process WILL ask if what God is calling you to is within the life of the laity: not because they're trying to "bounce" people, but because MOST vocations ARE, and because discernment is the activity that all the faithful should always be engaged in to some level: "What is God asking me to do with my life and gifts now?""

I participated a couple of years ago on the discernment committee for a candidate for the vocational diaconate. I thought the process was powerful, but also thought it was being misapplied, in that for the committee, the end goal was to arrive at the answer to a yes/no question. In this respect we turn the initial stages of the process, which does seem well-tuned to pick up the Holy Spirit, into a system whose final vocabulary is as limited as a Magic 8 Ball.

The last thing this church needs is another Process, and I don't know if we really want a plague of discernment committees. I don't even know if we need to have that much imagination about lay leadership, because models exist, whether in Connie's parish, or in evangelical churches who routinely entrust spiritual care of small groups to laypeople. Of course top-down support is helpful, and in a great many cases it's there. But in cases where it isn't, we should be bold in hearing and seizing our calling. Connie is right that this works best when clergy give us those routes (and I'm thankful that I feel that's happening for me), but if they don't, there are worse things than a little holy troublemaking from the lay order.

Brendan O. Hale

How ironic that making the eucharist the Sunday norm in the 1979 Prayer Book indirectly encourages clericalism! Given that much of what priests do can be done by lay people, why does the denomination need as many priests? As for the diaconate, few seem to agree about what it is supposed to be about. The daily office at least encouraged lay people to learn how to do things.

Seminary education is expensive and may not prepare candidates for a postmodern world. The denomination probably should pay for its seminarians to attend, but there would need to be cost controls. Otherwise, seminaries would be encouraged to charge more. As in medicine, subsidies can easily lead to much higher costs. Seminarians should be allowed to choose from more schools and not just the ones their bishops recommend. Seminaries should have to compete with each other on quality as well as cost.


Gary Paul Gilbert

"How ironic that making the eucharist the Sunday norm in the 1979 Prayer Book indirectly encourages clericalism! "

I don't see how this is the case at all. You might as well say that the existence of priests encourages clericalism.

"The denomination probably should pay for its seminarians to attend, but there would need to be cost controls."

This sounds like it might be a great idea, but where would the money come from? ECUSA couldn't even find money for the no-brainer category of "youth work." And before the Church started footing the bill for seminary education, I can't see any choice but for the discernment process to get even more restrictive, and judging from comments on this thread that wouldn't be a popular option.

I wrote answering Paige, "What is the priesthood for, Paige? For giving away the priesthood." Paige wrote back asking more about what I mean by that.

Giving away the priesthood is taking the equality of lay persons to priests seriously. I take seriously the proclamation in the baptismal service that the baptized share in Christ's royal priesthood.

While the institution reserves for the ordered, those called to be priests or bishops, the ministry of the sacraments and of blessing, we are not more special in this than a lay person. So, in giving away the priesthood, I have, for instance, only one marriage sermon. I read a short description of David of Wales tramping from farm to farm in regular clothes, coming into the kitchen, sitting at the table with bread from the oven and wine from the cellar, celebrating the eucharist at the same table at which the family will eat their meals.

I tell the happy couple that from this day forward they will be presiders at their table, and their meals together or with guests will be eucharistic feasts.

In the parish I currently serve I discovered a dormant Pastoral Care Team. We reconvened. I found they had been trained well and that their ministry of visitation had been accepted by the congregation as equivalent to that of the clergy - seriously. Therefore, my predecessor did what a priest is for - giving away the priesthood. However, it is not solely about lay persons and their parish.

Through a group called Practicing Prayer, started because people were asking me how to pray the right way, after encouraging them to let go of "right way" and see themselves praying in all ways, these participants have become comfortable sharing their faith with others outside the church and are adept at listening to the faith stories of others.

This is not an exhaustive description of giving away the priesthood. And my experience has been I don't recognize it is happening until it is well under way.

By the way, I like what Margaret Watson wrote: hire a lay person as administrator/building person whatever and let the priest be teacher, spiritual leader, rabbi. Budgets and buildings and fundraising are not essential to the priesthood. They got added on as expectations after the church adopted the capitalistic corporation model of church as a business with a CEO and board. The things people bewail not having been taught in seminary are the work of the people of the congregation. It's good to know something about them in order to be sure it is being done well and to know when some training or outside leadership might be a good thing. For me, I believe the only job description we need is our ordination vows.

Sorry to come back late to a conversation that has probably already wound down, but I do want to answer the questions that Jonathan asked me.

I think it's important that those who come to congregational discernment groups and COM's be able to articulate some very basic ideas, like how they came to the point where they believed that God was calling them into priestly or diaconal ministry, to speak coherently about their current relationship to God in Christ, and to be able to explain why, after years of faithful lay ministry they were seeking a different path. There were some who were unable to engage in these conversations, and when it was gently suggested that these issues were important first steps to a continuing mutual discernment, accusations of "gatekeeping"came up. This is what I meant when I used the word "pushback;" not in a sense of grilling someone, but in making clear that there were important issues that needed ongoing discernment and conversation. Will this conversation change as the nominee/postulant experiences CPE, seminary or local ministry training? Of course. But a conversation that begins with an inability to articulate a call beyond having run out of things to do at the parish, or spiritual journey autobiographies which don't mention a faith component, needed to be addressed without accusation, and the nominee needed to be able to converse about our concerns with a minimum of defensiveness.

When I started my own Process my bishop told me that because Christianity was a faith based in community, discernment of gifts was a communal activity. I had come to him with a sense of call, and it was his job and that of the COM to help me to understand what that call was. We would walk this road together. Perhaps it would lead to priesthood, but maybe I was truly called to remain in the lay order. I never got the sense from him that gates would be somehow shut if the community to which I belonged did not agree with what I thought my call was. Perhaps if more people came into The Process with a sense of "I don't know. Please help me figure it out" rather than with minds firmly fixed, the sense of disappointment if a call to ordination is not affirmed would be less crushing. I don't have those answers, but what I do know is that accusations of gatekeeping and abuse may happen sometimes, but perhaps these accusations are also the product of disappointment?

This thread is probably done, but ... as a layperson, I echo what Barbara Snyder wrote above: "The Daily Office is, in fact, one-half of the beating heart of Anglicanism - but you'd never know it...."

And I tip my hat to Derek Olson for the "Haligweorc" he is doing to keep that heart beating.

Bigthunder -- I accidentally deleted your comment - please post again if you wish.

Wyoming and other "mutual ministry" dioceses are providing leadership - ordained and lay to congregations that do not have large financial bases. There are standards and competencies to be met. Education provided through EfM and Iona and other online sources. Regular formation experiences in face to face settings and using distance learning. The church is well served by these leaders - whom I would put up against any others in TEC. The reality in Wyoming is that people can't just choose from a bunch of Episcopal Churches - like in the city. Distance learning, non-stipe leadership and teamwork provide for good solid churches that are points of God's presence in their communities. Of course if you only go to church to be entertained by the music or the preacher or if it is all about your needs - you probably won't like it.

Karen,

I have some rather disparate thoughts in response to your answer.

1) I can see why people feel raped by The Process if a bunch of strangers are asking about such an intimate topic as their relationship to God in Christ Jesus.

2) Why does it take two years and multiple committees to redirect those who haven't adequately considered other options or are glaringly poorly suited to serving as a priest? If it's because of a desire to be nice, I feel I should point out that it very much not nice to take two years to get to no if only one or two meetings were required to come to that decision.

3) The way you describe The Process and the person going through The Process makes it sound rather as if the youngest people in the process are something like 40 or 50 years old. Assumptions, especially about how much work the candidate has done in the church and how eloquently they can describe their spiritual life, that work well for older candidates can be entirely inappropriate for significantly younger candidates, especially since folks in their 20's often haven't had enough life experience and time to reflect to really develop themselves as a person enough to have a solid answer about their spiritual life.

4) In the career advice sector of the secular world, there are two major theories about how to find the right job. The first is to follow one's heart. The second is to ask oneself what sort of lifestyle one would like and then choose a career from the multiple available options to which one feels drawn that will enable one to live that way. The latter is increasingly being recognized as more grounded in reality, especially the bit about most people being equally drawn (or not drawn, more often) to several mutually exclusive options. Humans being humans even in the church, this seems to me to undermine questions about how one came to know that God is calling one to a specific ministry or type of ministry like priesthood.

5) As Brendan noted, The Process is rarely a case of sitting down together and figuring out one's vocation. Additionally, when I've seen it attempted, it generally ends in frustration on all sides with the answer "We know you're called to something, but we can't tell what." Which is pretty much the result you'd expect if you listen to professional job seeker consultants. They are quite clear that if you don't know where you want to go (or at least successfully pretend to know where you want to go) you'll almost certainly go no where.

In Mutual Ministry processes - the community discerns who would be best suited for the various leadership areas - after a couple years of supervision and testing out of roles. Appropriate education is then given for preachers, pastoral care leaders, priests, deacons, etc

Jonathan, your latest post is very surprising.

The use of the word rape (which is probably an offensive choice to the survivor community) stands out particularly. I'm shocked to hear the idea that being asked, by Christians, about one's relationship to the divine, particularly after declaring that perhaps God has issued a call to give up one's whole life to serve the church, would be compared to being "raped by strangers."

To your second point, many processes "redirect" before two years -- and the current canonical minimum is 18 months. That said, I'd be shocked if anyone could go from "0 to formed" in 18 months; the agility of that timing is put in place to recognize that some folks will have done significant formation work before entering formal discernment.

Similarly, if someone in their 20s doesn't have "a solid answer about their spiritual life," on what basis would we say they are equipped to offer leadership to others who are struggling to claim their own? Following one's heart is well-and-good, and God and our church communities and colleagues certainly do some of the equipping we need "on the road," as it were.

I also think the choice of a job-seeker metaphor isn't quite appropriate. To be Christian is, in a sense, to desire to have God find US, not the other way around. Having a passion for the church can be fully lived out in baptized life (and I'd be unclear as to what, exactly, an aspirant to Holy Orders would be trying to do with his/her life if they started by saying that baptism ISN'T full inclusion into Christian life . . . do they believe they will eventually shepherd all the faithful into ordination?).

Being called to ordination is something that requires a different commitment to working with and for the community of Christians who make up Christ's Body the Church; I'm not sure how this could happen WITHOUT talking to other parts of that Body. Surely no one is arguing that the committees responsible for ensuring the formation of the priests and deacons of the church should simply have a "rubber-stamping" task? I find the commitment to really getting to know the aspirants to be an extremely important part of the discernment process.

Finally, I think that describing it as "The Process" leaves out the central (pardon the pun) word: It's "the DISCERNMENT process." I frankly would hate for a priestly ministry to begin by saying, "Yes, yes, the church should be a place of discernment for God's call to each member, but I'm pretty sure of mine, so if I can just side-step that discernment so I can get started right away, I'll be sure to take care of it from now on!" If we're (and I've recently finished my own 5-year discernment process) offering our lives to the work and life of the church, why is it a problem that the first thing it asks of us is to talk with one another about the fullness of that offer?

"I can see why people feel raped by The Process if a bunch of strangers are asking about such an intimate topic as their relationship to God in Christ Jesus."

You're kidding, right? These people want to be ordained, but their relationship to God in Christ Jesus is too intimate of a thing to mention in a private Church meeting? (And the "rape" reference is over the top. Rape is rape; being asked to give an account of the hope that is in you is not.)

Ben and Bill, if you don't like the rape comparison complain to Paige Baker, she's the one who reported up stream that some people feel so violated by The Process that they compare it to being raped. Although it might behoove you to consider how appropriate it is for you to pooh-pooh the emotional response of others. Now, their response isn't my response, but I think I can see why they might feel that way. If the candidate is at all devout, their relationship with God in Christ Jesus is part of the very core of their being. Then folks like you tell them they need to be open in the process and share about that relationship so they do, at least if they're at all serious about giving themselves to the church, with the result that they bring out the very core of their being for the committee. Committees being what they are, this means that the very core of a person's being gets spread out on the table and picked to pieces, and often the committee don't (or at least don't seem to) appreciate what a treasure they've been handed when they were given the candidate's heart and soul. That's why it isn't really appropriate to pry into a candidates spiritual life. If the committee feels like they must know something about the candidate's spiritual life, the committee needs to be absolutely clear that they're looking for the press release version of the candidate's spiritual life. Better yet, ask for something that's more like evangelizing the committee since we need to do evangelism better in TEC.

From my own encounters with The Process, I'd describe it as grossly incompetent, especially if it's supposed to be for discernment. The big problem is that it sort of suffers from multiple personalities. On the one hand the ordination process is a species of vocational preparation. Good vocational preparation 1) helps the enquirer understand what the work is like and what the employment prospects are, and asks if the enquirer will commit to the work for the foreseeable future, and 2) trains the enquirer to do the work and confirms that they are able to do the work competently. Although the ordination process fails to give parochial clergy the managerial skills they need at this time and has a hard time dealing with non-parochial types of work, that part of the process is a mostly functioning example of vocational preparation. Its time frame is more or less appropriate given the amount of preparation required. On the other hand, there is a Parker Palmer-esque "looking for where one's great passion and the world's great need meet" type discernment process. The more I look at The Process, the harder it is for me to see that this part has any grounding in reality. First, it has been found that the postulated great passion only comes into existence by consistent commitment over time, so those just graduating college or who are recent graduates often don't have a great passion to find and pursue, although older candidates probably will and will frequently express it more eloquently. Second, it virtually never seems to take into account what the realistic options are and what the costs and benefits are for each option. Third CoMs are generally much to large to do discernment well, and the role of the various discernment committees in deciding whether or not a person advances militates against their ability to aid discernment. The early phases of the process also seem to take much longer than required to do the preliminary discernment and vocational prep work required for seminary.

Vocation: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
― Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC

"Ben and Bill, if you don't like the rape comparison complain to Paige Baker, she's the one who reported up stream that some people feel so violated by."

Paige reported; you affirmed. At any rate, the rape comparison is way over the top.

"Although it might behoove you to consider how appropriate it is for you to pooh-pooh the emotional response of others."

I object to the comparison ("pooh-pooh" is your own minimizing characterization) partly from my own emotional response. If everything one feels is true and to be accepted without objection by the world at large, I'm not sure where that leaves us.

"That's why it isn't really appropriate to pry into a candidates spiritual life."

It might be inappropriate prying if the person sought to be an accountant, or a doctor, or a bus driver. As it is, these are people who want (because in the absence of any verification of their call that's what it amounts to) to exercise the role of pastor, teacher, priest - in short, to exercise a certain amount of authority and power over other people's spiritual lives. Inquiring into their own spiritual life isn't prying, but the Church exercising due diligence in the persons of CoM members.

Is it always done with tact and sensitivity? Undoubtedly not, human beings being involved. But that's not a call for abolition so much as reform.

Thanks for the citation Ann, I'm glad to know that my faulty memory didn't lead me to make things up entirely even though I did connect the thought with the wrong name.

Bill, how can one process an emotional response without first recognizing and admitting what the emotional response is, without admitting that the emotion is real regardless of how well or poorly it is grounded in reality? The "should" questions and/or statements belong in the middle of the process not the beginning.

As for assessing a candidate's spiritual life and their competence as a spiritual director, why would anyone in their right mind try to do any of that by committee? If one wants to know that a candidate has a spiritual life it would be more efficient to ask their spiritual director and/or seminary professors for a report. If one wants to know if a candidate understands the basics of the spiritual life well enough to teach others and provide basic spiritual and pastoral care, both should be covered in seminary between the class work and CPE with the candidate's competency assessed as part of the training. Both of these are end-of-seminary questions not you've-expressed-an-interest questions by the by. Before seminary there isn't much to ask beyond "Do you pray? Tell me about that. Pretend I'm just a friendly stranger."

Really the only things the committee is better at is providing a check on the bishop to ensure that s/he is neither turning down good candidates without reason nor ordaining incompetent priests, and providing a chance for a few more people in the diocese to get to know the candidates.

Jonathan Galliher

Jonathan, I'm not clear whether you've been through a discernment process or not, but the process already includes the steps you're describing: the first step is 6-12 months' conversation with a known priest, who determines whether to undertake sponsorship of the candidate. In fact, many dioceses are encouraging their priests to identify the nominees, rather than have the nominees self-announce.

The process also calls for reports from seminary deans/professors, CPE supervisors, and often a psychological evaluator. None of these steps are done by committee. When the nominee has a standing relationship with a spiritual director, I'd be shocked if the diocese would not accept a letter from that person if it were offered. Many processes advise that the nominee have a relationship with a spiritual director or clinical therapist throughout, precisely because ordination is something that calls for bringing all of oneself to the table, which can require encountering, confronting, and sometimes changing our own imperfect parts. CPE is a strong part of this as well.

So, if the question is "Does the process have space in it for smaller conversations and relationships to weigh in?" the answer is, "Yes, that's already there, and in abundance." If the question is, "Should the process include Christian testimony and the ability to address theological topics in a way that is both personal and academic before a gathered group of members of the church?" my answer is, "Yes, that should also be there." Many people actually find speaking to the committee to be an easier task than, say, completing seminary or the General Ordination Exams.

There seems to be pretty solid evidence in the life of the early church that proclaiming your relationship with God is fundamental not only to ordained ministry, but to Christian life (1 Peter 3:15 comes to mind immediately, together with much of the book of Acts).

I can also say that my process has been a gift to me, and not merely because it confirmed the outcome I had wondered about. Through the process I learned more about myself than I have anywhere else. I found my closest moments of relationship with God. I received a great deal of emotional care and grace from the commission on ministry in my sponsoring diocese, as well as the listeners who attended my postulancy interview retreat, the diocesan staff, the bishop, my sponsoring rector, and my parish discernment committee. I learned a good deal about hospitality and care from the examples they offered me.

Firstly, let me say I am honored that my editorial was featured in the fourth quarter highlights.

I am also pleased that my comments sparked such a lovely debate.

In regard to getting people "riled" up if that's one reaction you are most entitled to your opinion.

I would like to address comments by Benedict Varnum specifically. Let me say that your use of the term "bounce" was written by you and not me. I can understand that the term "hoops" may elicit the game of basketball, but that was not my intent. Also, my editorial comments, to give everyone a better context, was a response to discernment and why people don't go to church.

Yes, every Christian has a commission to ministry by their baptismal covenants, that much is true.

Also, there are most definitely ordained and non ordained ministries for every Christian. In fact, every interaction with another individual is an opportunity for ministry.

Again, some of the facetious comments made by some missed the mark on this totally.

I reiterate that discernment processes have an intended purpose, with obvious reasons.

I propose that said processes are not perfect, should be open to correction themselves, and perhaps reformed to incorporate more spiritual versus empirical practices to conduct them.

Also, who gives the COM the authority to say who's called and who's not, as one writer questioned?

The one writer who stated that his bishop suggest he be a shaman is reprehensible. Do we want priests of spiritual caliber or CEO of major corporations?

I agree with others, separation of priestly duties from those likened to a CEO of a church is an excellent idea. This might even actually allow a priest to be a priest, instead of some entrepreneurial salesman trying to sell somebody something.

How many of our clergy are atheists and how many ordained are merely posers enjoying the merriment of a social club and the role associated therewith?

There were so many good points to most of the replies. It was very interesting.~Ben Miller

Ben Varnum, since we already have all those other bits, what's the point of the Commission on Ministry? What benefits do they add that are neither profoundly dependent on having high quality people nor redundant or of poorer quality than could be achieved by some other means?

As for myself, I was in the ordination process from around 2002-2004. It didn't go well and I never made it past the parish discernment committee. There were plenty of faults on both sides. Since then I've experienced both the monastic discernment process, and the informal discernment help that is on offer for those not in the ordination process. While the monastic process deserves quite high marks, what we offer lay folks is much worse even compared to what's on offer for potential clergy.

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