Friday, June 13, 2008
Called or Collard?
I was talking this morning with a friend who will soon be going before the Commission on Ministry for Candidacy.
He's as nervous as a long tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
And, I don't blame him.
Not that I have any doubt of his call to ordained leadership. It's quite obvious to anyone who spends more than 15 or 20 minutes with him
Which is part of the problem.
As he describes the process in his diocese - which is fairly typical - the COM breaks into five or six small groups of three or four, balanced by clergy and laity. The person coming before them has just about 15 minutes to sit before them and answer their questions.
After that person has "made the rounds" the COM gathers together and discusses the person, carefully reviewing letters of recommendation, psychological evaluations, CPE and seminary records, and then, after a moment of prayer, a vote is taken. A recommendation is then made to the bishop to (1) grant candidacy, (2) postpone it until some concerns are addressed or recommendations are completed, or (3) to deny candidacy.
It's all pretty grueling - and, unnecessary.
I don't know a priest today who didn't go through a similar situation and declare it absolute insanity. And yet, there are priests sitting on COMs who said the same thing when they were in a similar situation and they never even raise a protest, much less a concern, about the process.
As I've said before, COMs have an impossible task. Most of them are good people who work very hard and are very well intended. Most of them have had no formal education or training in terms of discernment; neither have they been given much of an orientation to the process of spiritual discernment or heard an articulation of the qualities and characteristics of ordained leadership and how to interview someone to illicit responses that would lead you to authenticate the vocation.
It's no surprise then, to me, that we have ordained lots of people, wonderful, deeply spiritual, talented people, who are not leaders. Indeed, we've ordained some perfectly wonderful laity who are clearly called to ministry - just not ordained ministry. And, without the proper tools of or experience in discernment, well, let's just say, mistakes have been made.
The other problem is a dynamic of power. Members of COMs work very hard under less than optimum conditions and a process that is, in my humble opinion, not designed to elicit the information necessary to a decision making process. They make important decisions which lead to a recommendation. Some would say, ONLY a recommendation.
This can, and has in the not-too-distant past in my diocese, a very weird dynamic of power and passive aggression that puts the heaviest portion of the burden on the candidate.
Which is why he's more than a bit nervous.
"What's the question that causes you most anxiety?" I asked him.
"Oh, that's easy," he said, "It's this one: 'Why do you feel called - or, How do you know you are called - to ordained ministry?"
I agree with him. It's a difficult question to answer - made more difficult by the fact that it's an impossible task to respond to that in the last 5 minutes of the interview, when it's most likely to be asked, to people who are total strangers.
It's a lot like a total stranger asking someone who's engaged, "How do you know you're in love?" and whether or not you're allowed to be married depends on your response and your ability to convince the committee.
I was talking with another friend, also soon going before his COM, and he reminded me of Will Campbell - Southern Baptist preacher, liberal freak, and as he describes himself: "author of rare books". He says he knows they're rare, because he cashes the royalty checks. Books like "Soul Among Lions" and "Brother to a Dragonfly".
Anyway... He was asked why he did the difficult work of ordained ministry. Why he allowed himself to become so emotionally invested in the people and the causes that moved him. His response:
"Because I'm called, you stupid son of a bitch!"
Somebody give me an Amen.
UPDATE: BOTH YOUNG MEN ARE NOW CANDIDATES FOR HOLY ORDERS!! Thanks to all who offered prayers. Oh, and can I just say: WOO HOO!!