Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Right Stuff and Holy Orders: Problems and Suggestions For The Future

Fr. Dale Matson

As the vocations officer for the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, I wrote an article in 2010 called “The Right Stuff and Holy Orders”

In the article, I stated, “An important consideration in the discernment process, is the call of God to the individual and the confirmation of this within the parish.” The diocesan commission on ministry is gathered by the bishop to also assist the individual in discernment. It is really a sorting process that determines what order of ministry God is calling an individual into. Are they called to remain in the lay order? Are they called to the vocational diaconate or the priesthood via the transitional diaconate? Hopefully the candidate and commission agree with what constitutes the call of God. Hopefully, if someone is not called by God to holy orders, they will self-select out sooner rather than later. Hopefully, those on the commission will be seen as advocates and not obstacles.

Of course the process can be frustrating for the aspirant/postulant/candidate and perhaps the imperfect and labor intensive process is an additional test of the genuineness of the call. It reminds me of the dementia assessments I performed at the Medical College of Wisconsin. If the person could endure the assessment process itself, it was the best indicator that they were healthy.
The discernment process is not intended as a hazing or a series of hoops and hurdles but often that is the impression of those in the discernment process. In my experiences with candidates, there have been some disappointments because of the sorting/discernment.

For example, there are individuals who have served faithfully as ministers in Protestant churches who wish to be ordained as a priest. This may be because of an elderly priest needing help in an Anglican parish or a paid position that has become available to a clergyperson with no church. I do not think either of these reasons is sufficient in and of itself to signal a call from God as a priest. What is missing even in the “Examination” (BCP 531) of a priest is a sufficient understanding of the apostolic, sacrificial and sacerdotal aspect of the priesthood. I believe Donald Cozzens The Changing Face Of The Priesthood (2,000) overemphasizes the role of “Tender of the Word” at the expense of the traditional Alter Christus aspect of the priest. If an individual is not drawn by God to the Altar, they may be a great preacher or deacon but they are not a priest. What follows are thoughts and suggestions for the future.

There is another option in the discernment process that may be considered but it requires a ‘letting go’ of traditional sorting. There are those young men who are not meant by God for the priesthood who have a call to serve. They need a profession and a vocation. They cannot be non-stipendiary vocational deacons. They must make a living for their families and need to serve God. There are many young men in this situation. They have leadership skills and a necessary faith. For those young men, another option is service in another denomination as a pastor. It is only right that we as Anglicans be willing to give them up for the good of the universal church. It is also important that we examine why the “rector” model of priest is somehow the litmus test for priest. For example, don’t we have chaplain priests? It would also be useful to reexamine the training model for priests. I question the necessity for most priests to be prepared in a brick and mortar setting. What about a mentorship/apprenticeship model that would not require the huge expenditure of resources and time, only to discern that the commission and candidate lost the degrees of freedom to decide correctly, along the way.

There is a certain irony in the selection process. Sometimes young men are only too willing to hear the voice of God in others urging them forward when their own hearts don’t have the same ears to hear. Sometimes the urging of the church is as self-serving and subjective as the self-appointed postulant that does not understand why the church is not behind his aspirations.          

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