Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Right Stuff and Holy Orders

The Right Stuff and Holy Orders
Fr. Dale Matson
“The Right Stuff” is the title of a nineteen seventy nine book by Tom Wolfe about the original seven Project Mercury astronauts selected for the U.S. space mission. The characteristic of all of the astronauts was their willingness to risk their lives to accomplish a mission in outer space for their country. Their prior track record, many who were test pilots, demonstrated that they had the prerequisite skills and aptitudes to become astronauts. It was then a matter of providing the training (added value) that would prepare them for space flight. If they didn’t have the right stuff, no amount of training would turn them into astronauts.
As a program director selecting students for graduate training in a School Psychology preparation program, it was evident to me that to be a school psychologist one also had to have the right stuff. Prospects needed a track record also. Did they have a heart to serve others as a part of a team in a school setting? Did they have the prerequisite aptitude to interpret data and make sound judgments? Were they ethical, compassionate and dependable? Perhaps the most important factor for me was, were they unflappable?
As vocations officer for the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, I am also involved in a selection process. Our commission on ministry meets monthly and it also generally involves face to face meetings with prospective aspirants. I believe aspirants need a track record of service in the parish. A sponsoring parish serves an important role in discernment and formation. An important consideration in the discernment process, is the call of God to the individual and the confirmation of this within the parish. How a person acts on this perceived call as they interact and serve with the brethren in the parish is a better measure of the mature Christian life than an interview by COM. Someone called by God is compelled to serve just as the unbaptized convert senses the need to be baptized. Although this call from God may vary with individuals, it seems to occur in early life and can only be resisted at the peril of those called by God. As someone serving God for years as a plumber and a professor, I found there to be no rest until I became a Deacon and then a Priest yet I am reminded by my sister that I had told her that God had called me to serve His church early in life.
Why do I focus so heavily on the call of God? It is because it is an important part of the right stuff for those seeking Holy Orders. It means that they are listening to God and they will follow Him. The service they provide and the love they demonstrate in their church should prove the other qualities; indicate someone with a teachable heart and someone growing in grace. I learned early on as a program director that school psychologists can come in all shapes and sizes as long as they have the prerequisites. In taking on the added value of their training they also took on the mantle of the profession, the identity of the school psychologist. The same is true of clergy. I’ve been told by more than one person that I am not the same person who was told by COM to come back in two years, ten years ago. I needed to downsize.
A second component in the right stuff is being ordinary. This may come as a surprise to some but if we examine the great heroes of our faith we see Moses who mumbled, David who was small of stature, Peter who was impulsive and Paul who had sharp elbows, to name a few. This is so God can demonstrate that it is His power working in us. Send us more ordinary people filled with Your Spirit Lord!
The final component of the right stuff is the same as the right stuff for astronauts. It is a willingness to die for the mission. For some this may mean a willingness to die a literal death. There are some who know in their heart that they will be martyrs. For most of us it means dying to self. It means that Christ is not just the heart of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God in person. It means that for us our prime directive is to lead a Christ like life seeking the face of God, to lead others to a saving knowledge of Christ and equip them for their ministry. Amen

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