Monday, August 21, 2006

I'm back, everybody!

Wow, don't I miss having no care in the world except blogging. I was thinking that I'd rather endure a month of finals weeks than move. Because although the mental/emotional drain is similar, at least with finals every joint and bone in your body doesn't ache.

I took a particularly nasty spill on the concrete, carrying stuff, and twisted my ankle and wrist. But it was my knee, which I'd scraped up, that hurt later, and is still tender several days later. The weirdest was that a few hours later my middle finger on my left hand, which I don't even remember jamming, turned dark purple and swelled up hugely. It's still a bit discolored and typing doesn't feel great, so I better not talk too long.

But I have to tell you about my first discernment meeting yesterday. A very important thing to process with my online community!

Overall, I can't really say how it went. I honestly have no idea. I couldn't tell if these people liked me even. Their faces were so blank - I know they are taking it very seriously, which is good, but I'm used to a touch more feedback. Maybe I should say so. I felt very ambiguous afterwards and didn't know whether to be pleased or not. I didn't feel good, that's for sure. But mostly because I was disappointed that I couldn't tell how it went. I tell you, it is SO hard to do this with strangers! I mean, they are great people, but they don't know me at all. My first committee was all people who really knew me well. I think they'd have been better.

But this group is obviously picked very carefully. I have a woman who went to Fuller, doing PhD work studying my generation (X). I have people from the world of higher ed, a real estate lawyer, and spiritual director. I have one man married with kids, a single (I think) lady, and three partnered gay/lesbian people (God bless the Episcopal church!). One person has a child with developmental disabilities. One is a baby Christian (4 years), others are former Presbys, Methodists, and Catholics (like LA, nobody is born into the Epis church anymore). I mean, the diversity is truly awesome (oh, except ethnically, but that's more b/c our church isn't that diverse in that area). So I appreciate that. And I have a lot in common with them. And I know I could learn a lot from them.

But they scare me.

After I told my story, they asked questions, and it started feeling very much like a job interview. I don't know if that's normal or not. The questions they were asking (What are the advantages of being a priest for what you want to do?) were not things I knew how to answer (Well, I want to be a priest, so being a priest would be an advantage). They were already testing me, it seemed, to see if I "qualified." I felt very much like I had to prove myself. So then I went into prove myself mode, and I think that's why I started worrying about seeing some reaction from them.

I really sputtered on these questions. I don't know how to prove to them that I'm gifted. All I know is that people keep telling me I'm a priest and I need to go get ordained. They see the gifts, they see why I'm supposed to do it. I know I need to articulate it because these new people don't know me. But it's hard. I want them to ask me about me, about my life and what I love and am passionate about. And then from that, you extrapolate my qualifications for ministry. Not by me saying, "Well I've done X number of counseling sessions and I've evangelized X number of people" and so on. It's not like that. It's who you are, not what you do.

Now some of this is my own nature, desiring to please and be well regarded. But I am concerned. Is this going to be like a 7-9 month job interview? I don't think I can handle that.

I thought the point was for them to learn more about me where I'm at right now, not how I already qualify for priesthood (something which I'm not even sure I completely understand). So I need to find a way to talk to them about this but I'm not sure how to go about it. Any advice is appreciated.

They seemed not pleased but troubled by my passion for the liturgy. As if that somehow sets me back as a potential priest. Probably because it seems impractical to them. I mean, most people (even liturgical theologians) consider worship a waste of time. But it is the source of everything! I had to explain how even in a small urban parish, a liturgically-minded priest would be an asset (not only b/c we are formed into God's people by worship, but also because hello, urban people can like liturgy too! it's almost racist to assume our liturgy only works with white rich people). But what if I am assigned to a place where the music is terrible? Well, they are probably doing the wrong kind of music for their culture. Very rarely do you find a group of 50 people in which nobody is a good musician. You just have to find the right musical inculturation of the gospel.

But you see, all of this is stuff J told me I should have said. His response to what I actually said (which I will not repeat here because I'm embarrassed) was, "Oh, no! You're going to completely screw this up!" Thanks, honey. You really know how to support me.

Yeah, I think that's why I feel the worst. J believes in me so strongly that he's frustrated that they didn't sign off on me on day one. I try to explain that's not how it works, but his doubts creep into my head and I start worrying that I said all the wrong things. I could say all the right things now, and maybe I should, since my committee will probably find this blog eventually.

I just wish I could have done better. Or I wish it would have been a situation in which I wouldn't have had to "do" well. I just want to be me and I want them to see that. I don't want to have to make the connections for them.

Anyway, feelin' frustrated here. Tell me about your process, you priests/seminarians. Were you as confused as me? Did you want to run from the room several times during the meeting? Did you cry? I did. I couldn't find words. Imagine that.

If only we could meet online.

16 comments:

Chris T. said...

But it is the source of everything!

Yes! Please do not forget this, no matter what hoops they make you jump through.

TEC's discernment process always saddens me when friends or acquaintences go through it. Most Episcopal priests I know are great priests, but I can't for the life of me figure out how the process produced them. (And I know many, many wonderful priests who didn't make the cut and had to fulfill their vocations elsewhere.)

Anyhow, discernment for me was wonderful with the Independent Catholics, and I'm a priest now. Because our processes are pretty organic (mostly -- depends on the jurisdiction) it is not usually like a job interview. The bishops usually trust the parish and priest who are working with you that you're qualified, they're just looking for how you fit into the church best.

I can't say my experience with the ELCA's discernment process was positive, though. The mainline really seems to screw this up.

Anyhow, I'll keep you in my prayers and will remember you at Mass tomorrow. If God is calling you to the priesthood, God will find a way for you to live out that vocation. I hope TEC takes advantage of it and sees your vocation for what it is!

Rachel said...

I don't know how to prove to them that I'm gifted. All I know is that people keep telling me I'm a priest and I need to go get ordained. They see the gifts, they see why I'm supposed to do it. I know I need to articulate it because these new people don't know me. But it's hard.

Man, oh, man -- my heart is in my throat, reading this! I can relate to this in some pretty deep ways; everyone who knows me agrees that I need to be a rabbi, but sometimes I still face strong anxiety over whether I'll be able to help the people in charge of ordination see that in me! I'm still pretty early in my seminary journey, though, so most of the time I'm able to shelve the fears and try to enjoy the journey instead of worrying already about its endpoint. *g* It's hard, though. So what you're saying resonates for me a lot.

For what it's worth, your passion for ministry and for worship and for the church and for God are entirely visible to me, from across the country and through a computer screen and despite our denominational differences. So here's hoping that your discernment committee will be able to see you as I do, and as so many others do, and will celebrate your calling and help you into this role!

bls said...

I find that really sad, what you said about liturgy. I totally agree with you that worship is at the heart of everything; in fact, I wouldn't be involved in the Church at all if it weren't for that.

Why would I be? Why would anybody be? We can do social justice and good works through hundreds of secular organizations! The Church is about worship, and it's pretty scary that you're not getting any support in that.

At least you should know that a lot of us laypeople feel the same way; we desperately need priests with a "passion for liturgy." Go to it, I say.

Anyway, just happened by and thought I'd respond. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I've not had to go through an interview at a parish, being a Roman priest where we get assigned a parish. If your process is anything like CPE or applying to be a chaplain (which I've had to do 3 times), I see your difficulty.

In my experience, the more detailed a committee talks about specific "skill sets" and it becomes more like a job interview, the more the committee wants to be able to control you. They perceive that they have a square shaped hole in which they are going to fit a square peg. They are looking to mold you, whereas in a healthy ministry both minister and people are molded by their mutual inaction and ministry. Are you sure that this particular parish is for you? Seems to me that a place that makes liturgy last in their priorities would be a bad fit for you.

My take on parishes/congregations is that priests/ministers have to be jacks-of-all-trades. Natural strengths will come out in the minister: preaching, liturgy, youth ministry and to the sick, community activism, et al, but the best in the business are all-around people. That's why your report of the interview is strange to me: they didn't take any time to meet The Feminarian as a person.

My 2 cents.

FrMichael

Edette said...

First off I would suggest finding some folks that have been through this process to talk with, that could let you know what to expect etc. I can't imagine the dioces couldn't set that up for you. On a personal note: Wow! And I was pondering the process! This is good insight, I do not come from a world that even ordains so this formal process just boggles my mind. Good to know what I might be gretting into.

Emily said...

Ah, the ordination process. . .

I don't know why any of us ever think it's going to be easy. . .we're dealing with things of the divine--what seems like obnoxious hoops may in fact be genuine testing that we don't understand. . .

They're still obnoxious hoops, however.

FWIW--it took me 8 years from the day I first joined a discernment group at my local parish. Then the diocese I was resident in declared a moratorium on people entering the ordination process. Then it was extended indefinitely. So I went to seminary. And had to start over in a different diocese. Which is always fun. But in the end I realize it was exactly what it needed to be for me to learn to trust my sense of call and advocate for it. And to grow up.

What guidance does your committee have from the diocese? Is there a list of questions they're working from? I would find whatever literature your diocese offers on what it is looking for in postulants for the priesthood and know it backwards and forwards. . .also the ministry canons and the ordination vows. If you can point to those things in your discussion with your committee, you may feel on more solid ground.

J. Brent Bates said...
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J. Brent Bates said...
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J. Brent Bates said...

Jennifer told me I needed to respond. My experience with my Parish Committee on Ministry (over here on the east coast...) last year was similiar in some ways. I couldn't read anyone in the beginning. And it felt a lot like a job interview. I came home and dissected every little word that came out of my mouth and how they responded. And several times I felt like I blew it. I mean, how do you answer a question like, what is the one reason you want to be a priest?, or, why can't you fulfill your vocation in an unordained ministry?, or, aren't you a little young for the ordained ministry? However, in the end the group became very supportive after they got to know me. And overall, I'm happy, because one of the reasons I became an Episcopalian was because I appreciate a denomination with an actual system for evaluating such important decisions. It may not be the most personal process, but at least it is a process. My call to ministry doesn't just depend on my own persona and charisma.

Your diocese may have similar helpful documents online, but in case they don't, the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey has some helpful guidelines for things they're looking for here.

I think these "priestly" qualities will come out to the committee if you're as honest as you can be in your answers. If you talk about what you're passionate about in ways that are natural for you. I think these committees start out feeling like job inverviews, because that is their only secular model. But hopefully, the tone of the meetings will change as they get to know you and you feel less inhibited.

[p.s. sorry about the two deleted comments... couldn't seem to get the hyperlinks right]

Chris T. said...

I don't know why any of us ever think it's going to be easy. . .we're dealing with things of the divine--what seems like obnoxious hoops may in fact be genuine testing that we don't understand. . .

I have found this is very, very rarely the case. There are no criteria that indicate "aptitude" for the priesthood — that is, the mediating of God's grace in the world. We are very wrapped up in a professional paradigm where clergy are counselers and administrators, but that has little to do with the essence of priesthood.

In my opinion, if a discernment committee is not truly walking together with a candidate and understand whether or not she practices spiritual disciplines that help her model Christ in the world and bring the Eucharist into the world, they're not discerning anything but her ability to fit a professional mold.

I hate to be so vituperative about this. But I know so many people TEC diocese have made jump through asinine hoops (including second MDivs, because the first one wasn't from the right school!) that I get upset about the whole thing. People feel pressured to justify the process at any cost, and I don't see much willingness to look at it critically. But it's pretty damaging for some people who don't fit the mold, and it's especially tragic when those people just quit trying to fulfill their God-given vocation, because they couldn't jump through a committee's hoops.

Marshall said...

Beloved, I know this is difficult. I can talk about my process, but I don't know that it would help: that was long ago in a diocese far, far away, and those differences make a difference.

So, let me offer some reflection. First, sure it feels something like a job interview. Sooner or later you were going to run into people you didn't know; and, not knowing you, they have to begin at least with some canned questions. And while priesthood is not just another job, there are certain functions expected of us in the profession.

I find the questions about the value of ordination for you more important than most realize. All of us have a vocation, a call from God. Not all those vocations require, or are even much supported by, ordination. So, what are you called for? That does include some sense of function. How would being ordained help a person called to be a psychotherapist? A person called to be a professor in graduate school - even in a seminary? Clarify that you are called to orders, and not seeking them for self-validation or a sense of power. (And it you'll think about it, you've encountered folks who had that confusion.)

The questions about the liturgy may have a similar import. Folks who feel thrilled to stand up and pontificate and perform, and can't put that in the context of a more full sense of vocation, don't have anything like an adequate sense of priesthood. I'll admit, it can be a rush. I have a pentecostal streak myself, not too wide but very deep, cutting all the way through me. After all these years I still shiver at the Words of Institution. However, a candidate who came (and I'm not speaking of you now) saying only, "I so want to be up there leading worship," again hasn't articulated a full understanding of priesthood or of vocation to it.

Remember, too, that ordination the Episcopal Church has a lot to do with fitting into community - the community of the clergy, both locally and nationally, and the community of parishes in that diocese. In the old days we used to talk about "Anglican ethos" (back when Anglican was not a controversial term). We were clear that part of the reason for denominational seminaries is acculturation, orientation to a particular set of professional relationships - between one cleric and another, between the cleric and the bishop, and between the cleric and the parishioner. We saw this as part of "the faith as this Church has received it." While these days that may be harder to talk about, I bet it's a functioning dynamic as much or more than ever.

Don't panic and don't despair. Pray hard, and trust that the people who want to help you find your proper vocation are also praying hard. (Okay, "help you find your vocation" may give them more benefit of doubt than you feel like right now. I still think that's what discernment should really be about.) It is true that diocesan discernment processes are not perfect, and sometimes poor candidates get passed, and sometimes good candidates get lost. Don't let that be your concern, lest it drive you mad. Concern yourself with your vocation, the ministry to which God is calling you, and persevere. I do believe that God will help you get there.

The Feminarian said...

Thanks all.

I am waiting for the big stack of papers from the diocese about the process. Somehow like half my committee members got them in advance and the rest of us didn't know such a doc existed. So I'm playing a bit of catchup there.

I had actually read through the ordination service and the questions put to priests. J actually read them to me and I could heartily respond to each in the affirmative. I have no idea how "suited" I am to priesthood or whether it's necessary for me to be ordained, but I can tell you that I get super excited to think of having the privilege of doing those things listed out in the ordination service.

I go back and forth on the "hoops." I do believe it's important that they see I can lead a group of people towards a goal, and dealing with bureaucratic stuff is part of learning to navigate a diocese. I get that. And yet I really feel what Chris T. is saying too. It is so true that we should be looked at as a disciple, not in a potential-priest-mold. What I mean is that what will really matter to anyone I minister too, I think, is that I have a solid relationship with God on which I feed love beyond measure that overflows to those around me. If I have that, how can I not be a minister?

But of course, that doesn't require ordination. Jesus wasn't ordained anyway. So I'm not all that concerned. I really don't have an agenda and I'm not going to be devastated if I'm not put through to the "next round." I'll at least have something to tell the myriads asking me why I'm not being ordained - I can blame it on other people! :)

But I honestly really don't care. If the church wants me as a priest, great. If not, then I'll do my work without that title. Big whoop. I think the church would be missing out, not me, if I may be so bold.

I just don't want to screw up the process by misrepresenting myself. I need to remain completely honest and be me, and then I have no reason to worry that they won't make the decision God's leading to. I can only mess up by being not real.

So pray I can keep it real. Fools. Peace out.
:)

Mrs. M said...

Absolutely it's daunting-- I'm not as far as you are yet, still applying for postulancy. But meeting with the Commission on Ministry, meeting with the bishop, etc-- scary. It feels tricky in my diocese, where I'm the youngest in any diocesan meeting (by at least 20 years). We want younger priests... but why don't you have 30 years on vestry?!

Betsy said...

I haven't been through a denominational process, but I want to say: Oh, I am praying for you! That God hold you close during this seemingly impossible - though temporary - though lifechanging! process!

"I have no idea how "suited" I am to priesthood or whether it's necessary for me to be ordained, but I can tell you that I get super excited to think of having the privilege of doing those things listed out in the ordination service."
Hang onto this.

janinsanfran said...

It is called "discernment." If She wants you as a priest, She'll let you know. If She wants you as a priest, She'll let them know too.

Meanwhile, you'll afflict each but very likely take something as yet unknown away from that interaction.

But what do I know -- I'm just a lay person who has watched quite a few members of my parish stumble through this.

psal625 said...

It is probably a bit late to be weighing in on this (and I have not been properly introduced to the community), but here we are. I'm a Fuller SoP clinical student and longtime Episcopalian. I identify with so much of this because I too have experienced aspects of our church's ordination process as more obstacles than aids.

I'm one of those people who have had intimations and leanings towards ordained ministry since I was a teen. I still have not figured out exactly what I am supposed to do with all that, which is okay, but I keep it in mind and periodically try to make sure that the path I'm on is one that leaves that option open.

Early in my SoP program, I visited my local priest (who admittedly had only known of me for maybe a year) and asked about the ordination process. My goals were simply to know what it was, what was needed, and how to tie a Fuller education into those requirements. My intention was not to immediately jump into a discernment process! I was thinking in more pragmatic terms--like if the diocese wants me to take this or that, then I should take this or that even if I don't need to for my official program. Anyway.

One of the first questions I got from him is like what your committee asked you--why ordained ministry? Since I had by no means decided to pursue ordained ministry, the question really threw me. There followed a conversation I don't remember well, due to my very high level of discomfort with the conversation. There was something in there involving my priest's musings over what the needs are for priests nowadays (seemed quite theoretical to me) and what people want from a priest, personal qualities, etc. It then wrapped up with his injunction to me to be dilligent in saying my prayers, and to see where they took me, and that perhaps my ministry was with the choir.

That one floored me too--it felt in the moment like the church version of being "mommy-tracked," (even though I was in the choir, and not a mommy). It felt like I was being steered towards "a woman's place," not towards *my* place. I'm not sure what my place is, but I choral ministry (beyond singing parts on Sunday) is not likely to be it. I'm better at theology than I am at singing.

I then got to watch a friend start her discernment process, with the considerable advantages afforded by having already completed her non-ordination-related education, and being several decades older than I am, with the attendant understanding of the church, its politics, and how groups like this tend to function in general.

Responding specifically to the question of "why ordination," I think that a lot of the tension over that question is not about any given person seeking ordination. Instead, it's an expression of all the tensions the church is living with, in terms of what ECUSA thinks ordination is about. I don't think ECUSA is at all sure about that, nor is there really a consensus (except perhaps about sacramental matters--but that's up for debate too!). I think to some extent, there is this unconscious hope that the ordinand is going to know how to answer that question even though the church itself as a whole really doesn't.

The other sticky wicket I think comes from peoples expectations, hopes, and disappointments with regard to clergy. Clergy themselves have a lot of these types of feelings too--which I think was why I had such a weird conversation with my priest. It was as though he were discussing every personal quality he wished he had or thought he had or that other people wanted him to have. There is the individual's sense of his/her call, and then there is the community's unfulfilled wishes and expectations, formed by previous experiences. The point of tension for me is that I think sometimes an individual is truly called to XYZ, and the community thinks it wants ABC. The individual has to have a chance to make her case to the community about that, which (if all goes well) is what the discernment committee should be (in part) about.

I think too the question welcomes a pragmatic answer. Non-priests are not part of the conversation in ECUSA in the same way that the ordinaed people are. That's true, regardless of whether we think it should be. Non-priests don't administer the sacraments (without a lot of hoopla and priestly assistance, anyway). Non-priests don't give sermons (most of the time--again, rquries priestly hoopla). Non-priests don't provide spiritual leadership to churches in the same way that priests do. I think maybe the "spiritual leadership" thing may be a peg on which to hang your liturgical hat. It seems like part of what you are talking about is, through liturgy, telling the people of God about who they are and who they are called to be and who this God is who calls us to worship. That is a tremendously priestly function. Theologicans can do it too, but the direct address to the congregation with authority is from a priest. I'm not saying that it has to be, or trying to make a carefully reasoned theological argument here--I'm just saying that in reality, this is how it is. If you want to do that, you want to be ordained. It isn't just about whether you are good at house calls!