I recently wrote a post about why people bother beginning the ordination process, and some of my friends who are in or recently in the ordination process have reminded me that the process of discernment is not as easy as it was laid out in the post. I have to agree, and I apologize if I made the discernment process look easy. The ordination process is very different to talk about than to go through. Each person’s journey is as unique as they are.
I about been asked a few questions about discernment of one’s call.
1. What is the role of the community in your call?
I don’t think we can ever discern our calls only by ourselves. The internal work one does is very important, but it arises out of experiences in one or several communities. In the Presbyterian tradition a person who feels the call to become ordained starts the process with the congregation they’re a member of. The idea being that the congregation walks with you through the entire process to support, uplift, and encourage you. Also during your journey you will spend time as a pastoral student at a church (most likely not the one where you are a member). That church community meets you at a different point on your journey and in a different role.
Having a supportive community is INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT. This community is not limited to your church. Your community is your entire social network. Some of my most active supporters are people who have no attachment to structured spirituality.
2. If some folks say they don’t see your call, is that the end?
Most people at some point in the ordination process will be told that their sense of call is not what someone else sees. It can be very emotional to hear that someone thinks you’re not called to a ministry you are called to. There is pressure to explain your sense of call to people who don’t know who you are, whether you’re trying to explain to another student at your seminary or a member of your care committee.
I had a friend tell me (quite forcefully) on three different occasions that I was not called to be an ordained minister. For maybe a year afterward I let my friend’s words echo in my head and breed more doubt about my call. Then, finally, I talked to a mutual friend about this problem. It just came out one day while we were talking about the call process. My second friend pointed out that the concerns the first friend had were not entirely about me but also about their own insecurity about their call to ministry. The light bulb went on. That light bulb wasn’t that my friend’s concerns about my call weren’t to be considered, but that those concerns might be a little bit projected onto me.
Granted, there are people you will meet in the process who will genuinely question your call and your understanding of your call. I’m thinking now of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry. Yes, the CPM is there to nurture people as they go through the process; but they are also there to make sure a person is actually called to ordained ministry. After all, there are people who begin the ordination process and leave it. There are issues with the Presbyterian ordination process, and true some people do leave the process out of frustration or because they feel the CPM is not listening to their evolving understanding of their call. Others leave because they discern God is calling them somewhere else.
3. When does the discernment of your sense of call end?
Never. You are constantly discerning and re-discerning. There’s a lot of pressure around re-discerning your call, particularly if you bring a redirected sense of call back to your CPM (or whatever care committee) after a year or so. When I first started the process, I was 100% certain I was going to be a youth director or youth minister. Less than two months into a church internship focused in youth ministry that was clearly not my call. At least, a full time youth position isn’t my call.
So, there we go. Some thoughts about discerning. Keep those questions coming! Tweet me @PresbyEmily or e-mail email@example.com