Discernment Committee Reflections 1/15/16

I arrived at church a few minutes early to find my priest and a member of the discernment committee talking about the events of the day. It seemed to us that the death of Alan Rickman was of greater import to members of the parish than the latest pronouncement out of Canterbury. For me, of even more significance was this next step on my spiritual journey, my first discernment committee meeting.

For my friends who are not Episcopalians, a discernment committee is part of the process of becoming an ordained priest. You need your priest to support your calling and you need your local community to support it. All of this comes after many meetings with my priest, as well as meeting with the bishop and members of the commission on ministry to get the go ahead to even have a discernment committee.

It seems like in the old days, people would tell the Bishop about the career path they hoped to follow, starting as an assistant rector, becoming a rector, and over time moving to larger churches. The discernment committee would then either be a rubber stamp, or a veto of this desire.

If you got all the proper approvals, you would then go to seminary for three years and then start your career as a priest, where there would always be jobs available.

Things have changed. In my letter to the bishop, I said I didn’t know what God was calling me to, but simply that I was called to some sort of ministry beyond what I am currently doing in my day to day life. People have told me that in the old days, that would have ended the process for me right then and there, but things have changed.

So, for the next couple of months, every other week, I will gather with a small group of people, some from my church, others from beyond the church, to pray, study scripture, and talk about God’s calling to each of us, especially as it relates to what God might have in store for me. It won’t be a simple rubber stamp or a veto. It will be work for all of us. They will then pass their thoughts on to the bishop and the commission on ministry and I will move on to the next step, whatever it might be.

The discussions will be confidential, so we can all speak as freely as openly as possible, so unless someone gives me specific permission to talk about something they have said, I expect to be sharing my experiences of the meetings, what they feel like and meant to me, but not much else.

I am hoping that the meetings will be a blessing to me and to members of the discernment committee. Likewise, I hope that my reflections on this online will be a blessing to a wider audience and that I might gain additional insights from my friends online.

I realize that the process I am going through may be different than the process in other dioceses and I hope that my writing about this will help both The Episcopal Church in Connecticut and other diocese think more about how discernment and formation processes can be improved to better meet the needs of the 21st century church.

So, what was it like last night? I came from a relatively poor family with a relatively strict father. In elementary school, my classmates made fun of the clothes my mother bought me from thrift shops, and the food we ate was simple, either home grown, inexpensive, or day old. In spite of doing well academically, it often felt like I could never please anyone, not my father, not my classmates. I was never good enough. Other than the care I felt from my mother, I rarely felt particularly loved.

And here I am, exploring becoming a priest. Why? Because I finally came to believe that God really does love me, not just as some sort of nice concept that we talk about in Sunday School, “God loves you”, but a deep full love greater than we can understand, a love beyond our deserving, made accessible through the cross. In experiencing that love, I came to believe that I must go show that love to whomever God leads me to.

As I think about this, as I try to write about it, I get verklempt , a feeling I felt several times last night. I felt God’s love for me coming through the words of the members of the discernment committee as we talked. I felt God’s love for me, and all of us, in the words of the opening collect and in the discussion of parts of the liturgy that have been said by others God loves just as much for centuries.

Yet one does not have to be ordained to share God’s love. So, is God calling me to ordination? If so, why? Does it have something to do with celebrating the sacraments? With living a sacramental life? With outward and visible signs of inward and invisible grace?

And who is God leading me to serve? What sort of service is God asking of me?

These are the things I hope to discern, with the help of the members of the discernment committee as well as the help of people reading and commenting on my words online.

(Categories: )