Ask a YCW: Discerning a Call Edition


Post Author: Askie


Dear Askie,

I think God is calling me to ministry! I never realized what a long and involved process it’s going to be to become a pastor. And did you know that even with a seminary degree, ordination isn’t guaranteed??? I was shocked to find out there are so many things I have to do! And so many people I have to impress and convince that they should ordain me! Do you have any advice for me?

Thanks,
Ordination Discerner

 

Dear Discerner,

Congratulations! Discernment is a wonderful thing. Everyone, everywhere should do it more often. Indeed the world would be a better place if we all endeavored to more fully align our will with God’s Dream for our lives on a regular basis. Blessings to you as you seek to explore God’s call to ordained ministry in your denomination. I hope this journey will be enriching and lead to a place of joy and fulfillment, whether that is serving God and the Church through ordination or as a baptized Christian. I have a number of years of experience working with people in ordination process (+ the additional years of my own process). Out of those experiences, I would like to offer some practical advice. I have noticed that sometimes people make missteps in the process, and I would like to assume that is most often due to a lack of education about process and expectations. Therefore, here is some friendly advice, with the caveat that this is just one person’s perspective and is neither an exhaustive list, nor one that will work or apply in all contexts and situations. Nonetheless, hopefully it will be helpful.

Do your homework

When you are making an initial inquiry, make the effort to learn who you should be talking to about an interest in ordination. Talk to your local clergy person. Often times they can be your best resource and advocate. If you chose (or need) to make your own, independent inquiry of someone in charge of the process (staff person, judicatory leader, etc), please do your research before writing them. Google them. Find their professional biography and contact information. Then write an email that shows that you have done this. If the person is ordained, address them as Rev. If they have a particular title connected to their job, such as Dean, Canon, Pastor, Director, etc., use one of those titles. In many cases it may be just fine to address them by their first name, and if you are unsure of title, a first name might be better than saying something incorrect. Generally speaking, don’t use “Mr.” or “Ms.” Most people working in the Church have other titles (that they have spent years earning) or would prefer to be called by their given name.

Be yourself. Be authentic.

Not in the sense that you are yourself with your spouse or your therapist. Don’t say everything that comes into your head in a meeting with the COM (Commission on Ministry or other board that has oversight). Do be true to your own values and keep your integrity intact. The ordination process is a bit like dating. The COM is looking for someone who is a good match with the needs of the Church. If you try to be someone you are not, things will not work out well.

Be Polite and Respectful

The people in charge of this process (congregational leaders, denominational leaders, seminary deans, professors, etc.) do have a great deal of authority over you. It may feel, at times, like they have too much. They may not always exercise their power in ways that feel fair or just. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they have good reasons for their requirements. If you are frustrated by something you have been asked to do, take a deep breath. Talk with a friend or mentor. Maybe even go see your therapist. (Yes, everyone in an ordination process should have a therapist.) Before you send that email, make that phone call or a demand an in person meeting, you need to figure out what in this has to do with your own baggage and what might be a legitimate complaint or question.

Beware the Social Medias

Social Media is a wonderful invention. It is a gift to ministry and the Church in many ways. It keeps us connected and enables information sharing in lots of ways. And it has a shadow side. You should assume that everything you put on social media is public. You should assume that everyone involved in your ordination process can read whatever you post (even if you are not friends with them or following them). You do not want a screenshot of a post venting your frustration to be the end of your ordination process. You should also check with the policies of your own process as to whether or not it is okay to use social media as a tool for communication. Generally speaking, phone and email are best.

Boundaries

Having and maintaining good boundaries is essential to healthy, vital ministry. The ordination process is a good time to begin to try on what it means to be ordained (or “under orders”). This means you should start keeping good boundaries now, or maintain them, assuming you already do! This means that you take your vacations, your days off and you prioritize family time over work obligations. It means you do not always reply to emails at 3 am nor do you expect other people to reply instantly to emails you send. It also means that if you are in possession of the cell phone number of someone who has authority over the process, you are very thoughtful about when and how often you text or call that number, particularly if it is outside of regular working hours.

It means that if you have a dual role (e.g. you regularly volunteer at the same soup kitchen) with someone who has authority in your process that you are transparent and honest about the awkwardness of this reality. Check in regularly about that fact with the other person to be sure everyone is on the same page. It might feel silly to preface conversations with “Hi, today I am in the role of  _____,” and it may still be worth it to avoid confusion or frustration on both sides.

Contact

As far too many newspaper headlines will attest, ministers can get in a whole lot of trouble if an act of physical touch is unwanted. Sexual abuse and misconduct are the worst of these, obviously. The reality is that those news headlines mean that we ministers need to be very thoughtful and careful about how we do physical contact with people with whom we have professional relationships. Showing an awareness of this challenge while you are in the ordination process is a good thing. Best to assume that everyone prefers a hand shake at the peace in worship or when greeting. Don’t assume that because you have just had a deep, heartfelt conversation means that it is okay to hug someone. It is always best to start with a hand shake and see if they do something to indicate they would be okay with a hug. Or just ask. It is always okay to ask.

Along these same lines, do not assume a level of intimacy in written communication. Don’t use nicknames. Don’t sign your emails “Love & Blessings.” Be very cautious how you use emojis. Don’t try to make a joke in an email or a text. It is always better to err on the side of formality and let the authority figure invite you to be more informal.

I think that’s it for now. Blessings on your journey and your ongoing discernment,
Askie


Image by: Marten Bjork
Used with permission
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *