Monday, August 01, 2005

Another Step on the Journey

As you may recall, I'm in the midst of the discernment process for the Episcopal priesthood. It's a long, muli-step process, and most of the time I'm patient with it and see the value of it.

I made it past another threshold today, so I'm doing the happy dance. I had completed the psych and marital evaluations, and the physical, and had written my spiritual/personal autobiography. This was my first meeting with my representative from the Commission on Ministry. This was two hours and challenging but loving questions. At the end of it, she aprroved the move to the next step, which is for my rector to form a parish discernment committee to meet with me and further discuss my call to help me find out if this is real. Once they give me the seal of approval, it will go to our vestry, then I get to meet with the full Commission on Ministry (gulp) and the Bishop. Funny, I'm more nervous about the COM than I am about the Bishop.

Anyway, I'm glad to have survived this mid-way step in the process. Thanks, Lord.

11 comments:

Songbird said...

Mibi, I like the sound of this process. There is a conscious effort to discern that is so important before taking further steps. In the UCC it begins with the local church, but sometimes I think it would be helpful to have those other evaluations first. I sit on our Church and Ministry Committee (like your COM) and often feel it's hard to say no when a church is bringing a candidate, but sometimes that means we will simply be saying no later, after all the evaluations are complete.
Bless you as you continue this part of the process.

Songbird said...

By the way, I hope you found the Blogger instructions at the RevGalBlogPals page (http://revgalblogpals.blogspot.com).

Kathryn said...

Congratulations on another hurdle...

OK...please talk me through how the whole discernment thing works in ECUSA, because it feels as if more attention is paid there than here.
Here we see a vocations advisor within the diocese, first of all, and then get to talk to another couple of bishop's advisors here, followed by the Diocesan Director of Ordinands...All being well, you then get to see the bishop. If he's happy, your home church council is asked to approve your going forward, and finally you have a hideous experience called a Bishops Advisors Selection Conference...3 days in a retreat house somewhere in the country, with interviews, group exercises, written exercises, - with people from across the C of E (each diocese nominates 2 or 3 people to serve) none of whom will know anything about you beyond 3 references and a fairly comprehensive form you'll have sent in advance. They deliberate after you've gone home and about 2 weeks later you hear from your bishop whether or not you have been recommended for training. Or not.
I've had both in my time...
I'd really really be interested to know how it works in the US...Thanks

Friday Mom said...

Congratulations! We have a lengthy evaluation process in the PCUSA, but not nearly the structure for mutual discernment that the Episcopal Church has. As much as hurdles and hoops bug me, I really find the discernment piece of it appealing. It seems like such a meaningful and helpful process.

mibi52 said...

Ah, friends, your presence and support warms my soul (my body doesn't need warming as it is 95 and humid here).

OK, here's how ECUSA/Diocese of Virginia does discernment. There's a 50 page manual describing the process (I just sent it to my sister in law who is working in the Department of ordered Ministry in the Swedish Covenant Church - their discernment process is - did you graduate from seminary? See if someone will hire you.)

You meet with your rector (in discernment-speak, your presenting priest). If he or she thinks your call is real and warrants further study, you fill out a four page application with everything from job history, church history, marital history, family stuff, educational background, bra size (just kidding), and financial status (are you broke yet?). Then a mysterious person (supposedly the Bishop, but I doubt that) reads it, says whether or not you can go to the next step (step I.a.2.b) which is to get a boatload of evaluations - psych (2 hours and $300), marital (another 2 hours, another $300), background check (four page form, $80 check, stress about whether your boss is going to find out you may be leaving in 18 months), physical exam (the horror of stepping on the scale and discovering how much your weight has crept up in the past few months), copies of college and grad school transcripts (did you really get a D in Logic when you were a sophomore?), and writing a multi-page spiritual/personal autobiography answering many questions about life/faith journey/why you think you have a call/ why ECUSA should think you're worthy/ etc/etc). BTW, this piece of writing has to be done before the psych and marital evaluations, so they know exactly how neurotic you are before you even start. Not fair!!!

If all the evals come back with a "go" - and I know you can get stopped at this point because a friend who was going through the process flunked marital - her husband wasn't deemed truly supportive of her call- you meet again with the presenting priest, who says whether you should go to step I.b.3 (or 4 or 5 or whatever), which is sending the package in to the Bishop or mystery person, who will then...

Assign a representative from the diocesan Commission on Ministry who is first a gate-keeper, then a shepherd and advocate in the process. You and your presenting priest meet with the COM rep (the meeting I had yesterday) and talk through a number of questions, derived, I suspect, from the stuff in the package (all the aforementioned stuff). It gives you a clue as to what the challenging issues will be when you have the interview with the full COM (more on that later).

If your COM and your presenting priest think you're good to go, the presenting priest puts together a Parish Discernment Committee, which is supposed to help you discern the validity of your call, or if perhaps the call is to some other sort of service. It's at least 6 people (2 vestry, 4 not vestry) and they meet 9 times, 7 with the aspirant. If they OK you at the last meeting, they write up a formal recommendation to the vestry and the COM, and the vestry then votes on whether to endorse you.

Assuming it's a yes, that goes to the Bishop. You do your interview with the full COM (probably in March) and if they OK you, you meet with the Bishop. If the Bishop says you're good to go, you apply for seminary.

I am being a bit flip about the process, but in truth I see the value of it, although it is daunting. I have already evolved in my thinking about my call in the several months I've been in process - of course my spiritual director has helped tremendously -and I've gotten a lot calmer about the whole thing.

The sister in law I alluded to earlier was talking about how, in their denomination, the process is back-loaded, which means some folks go through seminary and then are told they are not candidates for ordination. Not a happy prospect. With the ECUSA approach, if you get into seminary, you have to mess up pretty badly to not get ordained, and most of the really troubled folks whose sense of call is flawed or misguided get screened out early.

I'm valuing the process even though I'm frustrated at times by it (one of those folks who when she decides on something wants to do it NOW).

I am glad, though, that I have been working with my spiritual director. The thing I most feared going into a very meticulous process was that I would become so focused on the process that I would lose my ability to have a conversation with God. Since my SD is a retired Methodist, I have a fresh (and safe-feeling) perspective from him. He also turned me on to Real Live Preacher (how I eventually found you) so I'm doubly blessed!

Oh-update on the pregnant teenage lovebirds who are living in our basement- they've decided they want my husband to marry them. He'll have to talk with them, and I don't know how much premarital counseling he'll want to do with them, and whether they'll accept that, but I'm glad they want to make a tangible commitment before the baby arrives.

Meanwhile DS21 is in his 2nd day of his outpatient alcohol rehab program. He's a very angry boy that we're making him do this. I'm hoping his heart will be opened a bit and he can take it as an opportunity.

Joe said...

Just don't conver to Muslim. This sounds scary enough as it is.

mibi52 said...

Joe, it's only slightly scary. Mostly, it's just looooonnnnnggggg...

mibi52 said...

Actually, thinking about it, I suspect the 50 page manual has something to do with the fact that we have a disproportionate number of government lawyers in our diocese.

Emily said...

Every diocese has a different process--I've never heard of a 50 page manual before, but I imagine Virginia has so many Episcopalians, they have to be VERY organized.

Welcome to both rings and blessings on your journey!

Kathryn said...

Dear HEAVEN!!!!!
I'm completely exhausted reading about how it works for you....and boggled by the fact that the dioceses all do things differently.
and then, assuming all works happily and you make it to seminary, does your sponsoring diocese guarantee your first job? that, thanks be to God, is very much part of the process here...they also cover your college costs...Similar?? totally different????

Megan said...

my husband is going through the process in the dio of East Carolina right now. Ours goes a littled different. We have the rector, parish committee, bishop, then all the test, and finally the COM (in an overnight). I had never heard of meeting with people from the dio before completing the parish part. Interesting. My husband has finished the parish committee but the Vestry still has to vote. I completely understand your fear of the COM more than the Bishop. We both feel the same way!