Discernment for Ministry: Lay or Ordained
What am I supposed to do with my life? How does God call me to serve? These and questions like them are matters for "discernment": figuring out how to distinguish God's call among all the hunches, inclinations, and pulls in a particular direction that one might experience. If, after reviewing the information on this page, you have additional questions, please contact Denise Esposito.
About Discernment Committees
Discernment is an ongoing process. At some point, however, the Committee will come to some clarity as to the Applicant’s call to ministry. At that point, it should prepare a report of the Committee to the priest in charge of the congregation and to the Vestry or Bishop’s Committee.
Discernment Committees are groups of people within a church who help individuals discern their own particular calls to ministry. Standard practice used to be that congregations formed a Discernment Committee only when an individual stepped forward expressing a call to ordination.
The Commission on Ministry now encourages congregations to develop Discernment Committees that operate on an ongoing basis.
What does the Discernment Committee do?
These committees would meet with anyone who desires to clarify how God calls them to participate in the ministry of Christ and the Church.
The Discernment Committee also would actively seek out and solicit persons who might be called to leadership, whether lay or ordained. If the congregation has no ongoing Discernment Committee, and a person comes forward who wishes to discern a call, the member of the clergy in charge of the congregation will form a Committee to meet with that person.
Is a Discernment Committee just for those interested in being ordained?
No, these committees would meet with anyone who desires to clarify how God calls them to participate in the ministry of Christ and the Church. The committees would also actively seek out and solicit persons who might be called to leadership, whether lay or ordained.
What happens during the meetings the Discernment Committee has with someone interested in ministry?
The person meeting with a Discernment Committee is called an Applicant. A Discernment Committee and an Applicant typically meet together over the course of several months, together addressing a series of questions and issues that will help them listen to how God is working in a given individual.
The meetings might be held once a month over the course of a number of months, perhaps nine months to a year; or the group might decide to meet on a more intensive basis, perhaps every week or two, for fewer months. Groups are encouraged, however, not to hurry the process. Discernment may require for ideas and discussions to "percolate" for a while in people before the movement of the Holy Spirit can be heard, felt, or understood.
Who should be on the Discernment Committee?
The persons serving on a Discernment Committee carry an important responsibility toward the Applicant, the congregation, and the Church as a whole. They therefore should be selected with care. The clergy person in charge of the congregation is responsible for selecting and appointing the members of the Committee.
A member of a Discernment Committee should have the following characteristics:
The Committee should not include an ordained person. Ordained persons are more likely to bring a biased perspective; in addition, it is easy for the Committee as a whole to rely on the perspective and input of the ordained person. The priest in charge of the congregation, however, may attend the first meeting of the Discernment Committee in order to help it get started. Or the priest may call on the Commission on Ministry to send one of its members to help the Discernment Committee understand its task and start its work.
When is Discernment "done"? And what happens then?
Discernment is an ongoing process. At some point, however, the Committee will come to some clarity as to the Applicant’s call to ministry. At that point, the Committee should prepare and present a report to both the priest in charge of the congregation and to the Vestry or Bishop’s Committee.
One implication of the reemphasis on Baptism as the primary initiation rite into Christian ministry is that if at any point an Applicant who has expressed a desire to be ordained is encouraged instead to pursue and amplify one’s lay ministry, this shouldn't be interpreted as a rejection of oneself or of one’s ministry. The whole process of discernment, and the purpose of the Discernment Committee, is not just to “rubber-stamp” a decision that has already been made, in order to jump through the appropriate hoop for the Bishop and the Commission on Ministry. Instead, the purpose is truly to discern how God is working in a person’s life and how God is calling that person to ministry and what form that ministry should take.
If the recommendation is for lay ministries (commissioned by the local church, such as Altar Guild, Wardens, Vestry members, and Sunday School teachers) or licensed ministries (Eucharistic Minister, Eucharistic Visitor, Catechist, etc), the priest in charge will work with the applicant to get them the needed training, information, and resources.
If the recommendation is for ordained ministry, the Vestry then meets to discuss and decide whether to nominate the Applicant to the Bishop.
The Commission on Ministry (COM) is the diocesan body charged with assisting congregations help their members find the ministry to which God calls them, whether lay or ordained.
The COM's "Guidelines for Discernment of Ministry" provides information about Discernment Committees, lay and ordained ministry, and the ordination process.
The COM hosts an occasional "Discernment Day" for interested people in the Diocese, at which ministries and processes for discernment are described.
Information about Licensed Ministries can be found on the Licensed Ministries page.
For information on the ordination process to be a Deacon or a Priest, please go to the Ordination Process page.
The following are two books and a study guide: