Friday, May 29, 2009

Discernment and the Vocations Conference

Over 3 days in Mid May, I helped to facilitate the Diocesan Vocations Conference; this was part of my duties as a member of the Diocesan Commission on Ministry. The Commission on Ministry is tasked with continuing wider (larger community) discernment of individuals for whom their local parish discernment groups have affirmed a call to ordained ministry. For many aspirants this is the first time they will have met the Commission and will be able to put a name with a face other than, their postulancy interview. The conference was held on the grounds of the Marianist Retreat Center in Eureka. The center is a lovely facility, perched on wooded lands, bordered by the Meramec River. We were visited in the early mornings by a variety of deer and various birds of Missouri’s woodlands. It was a very peaceful setting, in order to contemplate the call that God gives to everyone. Everyone is called to ministry; the act of discerning comes about to figure out what that call is. What was important about this conference, is that this year we left a lot of free time for the aspirants (those discerning God’s call), interspersed with worship, and presentations on what to expect from the discernment process within the Diocese of Missouri. This year’s conference was unique in that we wanted to include a presentation on what a discerned call to lay leadership looks like.

Too often discernment is perceived to always be a call to the ordained orders. But in reality, the largest order of ministry within our church is the Lay Order. We deacons often joke that when you read about the orders of ministry in the back of the Book of Common Prayer in the catechism, the rank goes: Deacon, Priest, Bishop and Lay. So Deacons actually through their ordination go from the #1 spot to #4. There are so many opportunities that the lay order can tackle in ministry, that can just be freely done, and without approval. For ordained persons, the vow of obedience requires us to ask permission first.

What is interesting to me is the preconceived notions that many aspirants who come to the conference. Many believe that they are called to be ordained, and while that may be true, and a good part of the conference is dedicated to instructing persons in the process of discernment to the ordained orders. The Commission on Ministry has begun a process of training local parish discernment groups, and we are contemplating encouraging a model that was created by the Washington University Campus Ministry group, called Circle Discernment. Where the entire group is discerning their call, this turns the normal process of discerning on its head. And in truth, the majority of persons going through discernment are NOT discerned to the ordained orders. The persons coming to the Commission for wider discernment to the ordained life is the minority. In his book “A Hidden Wholeness” Parker Palmer describes “circles of trust” which really describe the Campus Ministry model for discernment.

I think it is time for members of Christ Church Cathedral to start circle discernment and to break out of this time of waiting (i.e. waiting for our Provost to come), and to take action, and form some circles of trust to discern what it is that God is calling each of us to. For a very few, it might be ordination to the Diaconate, or the Priesthood, but to the majority it maybe some new amazing ministry that we haven’t thought of yet. The excitement surrounding the cathedral is so real that you can actually feel it. The spirit is moving in and around us, and I believe she truly desires to work using the gifts that each of us bring to our ministries. We just have to be clear and honest with ourselves about what those are. It will take some work, but I believe that we will be a much tighter and healthier body of Christ once we do this work.

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