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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Aspiring, Discerning, Deciding.

The Eucharist - He Qi
Ah, June! What a lovely month, n'est pas?

I've never been to Paris in April but I'm willing to bet that even Parisians are envious of the Delmarva Peninsula in June.

June is the month of weddings and ordinations. Ask any clergy person what they are doing on any given Saturday in June and they will tell you they either have a wedding to officiate or an ordination to attend.

It's also the month when I get the most questions about ordination. Not marriage, interestingly enough. Ordination.

Sometimes, I get questions from people from people who have been so inspired by the ordination ceremony that they want to know more - about the training and education and spiritual preparation that goes into the power of the day.

For others, the ceremony kindles something that has been a wee spark in their soul. They begin to wonder if that still small voice they have been hearing is calling them to a life of ordained ministry.

For others, it's about a realization that says, "Hey, I love the church, and I spend so much of my time giving to the church. Maybe I should get ordained, too. That would be cool."

I find myself going back to something Louie Crew wrote in 1998. He called it "Quean Lutibelle's Advice to Lesbigay Aspirants for Ordination in the Episcopal Church".

It's so good - such sound, wise advice from someone who knows the Church well and loves her still - that, with a little bit of translation, it still holds solid for non-Queer folk.

So, I'm going to reprint it here. You can always click on the title of his piece above (or, here) and find it. Please note that the material is copyrighted.

I offer this one note to help you with your 'translation' to 'Queer Talk'.

When Louie writes about 'coming out', think about whatever it is about you that you keep secret or hidden. Bring that out into the light - to yourself and God and your community of faith. Whatever it is, it will be discovered anyway. Indeed, it may be the very thing God wants to use to be able to witness to the truth and the transformative power of the Gospel.

So, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest these words. And, may God, who has given you the will to do these things, also give you the grace to perform them.

I'll hush now, and let the master speak:
I receive quite a few requests for advice from lesbigay persons regarding ordination to ministry in the Episcopal Church. To help in that discernment process, I offer these suggestions.

1. Be sure about your call.
If you are not already doing ministry as a lay person, you should seriously doubt that you have been called. No Commission on Ministry (COM) should take you seriously unless they have clear evidence that you have taken God's call seriously. You don't need a collar to do ministry: much ministry cannot be done nearly as well if you do have a collar. Take very seriously the priesthood you already have as a baptized person--sacred priesthood after the order of Melchisedec.

Do not limit evidence of your current ministry to in-house church matters. Include those, yes, but all ministers, lay and clergy, are called to bring Christ into the world--to the uttermost parts of it. How are you doing that now? Most especially to whom "among the least of these" your sisters and brothers are you ministering? I did not set this criterion: Jesus did. All disciples will be held accountable to it on the 'Great Gettin Up Morning.'

Spend much time in prayer and the reading of scriptures. Give God a chance. She has much that She wants to say to you. You'll have to hush to hear her.

Do not mistake an earnest desire to be good or respectable as a call to priesthood. The Good News is not about Respectability. Jesus said all that needs to be said about Respectability at Calvary. Those who would follow Christ must be willing to give up their Respectability, not seek to enhance it. The church is ill served by those who limit footwashing to a photo-op once a year. Jesus was a friend of sinners, not their scold. If you minister as Jesus did, you should have most of your problems from those who think they are righteous. If that is not true now, a Commission on Ministry would be foolish to think that it will be true after you go through the ordination process.

Test your call. Try running away from it for several years, fleeing ordination and doing as much ministry as possible without it. Wait till persons start asking you on the basis of your service, "Have you thought about ordained ministry?" Don't start asking yourself first and then jumping to the conclusion that God made you ask.
2. Come out -- to yourself, to God, and to your religious community.
Do it for your personal integrity. Don't set yourself up to live as a divided person. You will abuse both your spirituality and your sexuality: God intends for us to integrate all our parts. You can be neither hale nor holy if you are not whole. In Old English, all three were one word, hal. The three still are one.

The Church does not need any more closeted priests. All disciples need to live without dissembling. The church does not need to be put on hold while you go off to be another self.

Come out now, not later. "But let me get in the process first" or "Let me get my degree first" or "Let me get ordained first" or "Let me get a rectorship first" or "Let me bury my father and mother first...." Let the dead bury the dead. If you want to be Jesus's disciple, come without delay.

Come out for God, not for the camera. We are not supposed to be the center of our own ministry. Some will think that you have catapulted yourself into the center of yours when you surprise them by coming out. You must never buy into their misperceptions, lest you lose the importance of your disclosure in the first place: it is to free you up to be yourself in service to others, not to be caught in a tiresome spectacle of trying to discover who others say you are. Resist the limelight. You can do that most easily if you serve others, especially those whom no one else is noticing, the despised, the rejected. They will bring you face to face with Jesus, who has never successfully been trapped in glorious stained glass.

Connect to lesbigay community. Connect to all of it, not just the parts that seem respectable. Find the most broken lesbigay person you can find and become that person's friend. Nurture that person's talents in ways that person has long forgotten to do. Forgive that person's trespasses against you and others even before they happen. Set no conditions upon your love for that person. You will see Jesus.

Join lesbigay organizations, and give generously of your time and your substance. You would not even be able to think about being ordained had they not been working for those possibilities for a quarter of a century. Make sure that three generations from now all this natter will seem as vague and confusing as do the battles over whether you have to be cut or uncut if you want to be a Christian. Don't struggle alone.
3. What to do if the call persists
Alert those in your local congregation. Ideally they have first approached you, not you them. In either case, give them an ample opportunity to know you, not just in your identity at church. Bring folks from the parish with you into your ministry in the world, and into your life in the world. Break bread together with them in your home. Visit them. Share books. Share ideas. Go to the theatre together. Go to the Ghetto together. Take them to the Lesbigay Scenes, not just the nice ones, but to those where need most glares. There they will also see Jesus. Enter extensive email correspondence with one or more of them. Include the rector, but not the rector only. Do none of this with strings attached, none of this as a means to win their approval. Assume that some may not be able to take that reality; but trust God to move their hearts. You are seeking their discernment with you, not their seal of approval. You are not writing a resume, you are being a disciple.

Inform yourself of every detail of the ordination process in your diocese. Don't count on your rector or your parish discernment committee to do this work for you. In many parishes you may be the only person to be considered for ordination in many years, and perhaps the only one about whom the persons on your committee have had to make a decision. Very early, write to the chair of your Commission on Ministry and request any guidelines your diocese might have for aspirants, postulants, and candidates. You may find the addresses of all dioceses at . You may find the addresses of all diocesan bishops at

Get your finances in order. You will have three years of graduate education to pay for. You will have marginal employment for your first assignments after ordination. You cannot possibly anticipate the expenses, nor likely have all the money upfront. God will provide: Help Her.
4. Understand whence the call comes and to whom it comes.
God calls. Persons think we hear. God calls other persons to test our perception.

Respect the ministry of those whom you ask to test your call. Do not put yourself into an adversarial relationship with those who oversee the ordination process in your diocese. They are called to a special ministry, and their call has been tested by processes that led to their holding the diocese's trust. Everyone who comes before them feels she or he has heard God's call to do so. Their task is to discern whether God is calling their diocese to hear a call to ordain this person.

Do not dissemble. Give them every opportunity to know you, and take some time to know and value them, not just as your reviewers, but as your sister/brother ministers. All who are on a Commission on Ministry or a Standing Committee are there because they have been doing, and still are doing, other ministry. Bond with one another out of that common service
5. If knowing you, they would not ordain you, then don't seek ordination in that place.
Ordination is no one's by right. One has to earn that privilege. No one, straight or gay, is "eligible for any position." All should be eligible only to be considered. From that point on, one should be judged solely on one's qualifications for the leadership role under consideration.

As a member of the Standing Committee of my diocese, I do not approve of candidates for priesthood based on their sexual orientation. Lesbigay folks have as big a share of people who shouldn't be priests as do straights. We have many fine lesbigay priests, and we have some .... Well, you know. Straights have those too.

As chair of the University Senate and member of the Board of Governors, I do not determine the merits of proposals based on the sexual orientation of the proposers. Lesbigay colleagues can come up with as much foolishness as can straight colleagues.
There's some other really good advice like, "What to do if your diocese will not ordain Queer People", and "How to find a supportive bishop".

I'll let you go to Louie's site to get that information. Just click here.

The advice is also helpful to women who are still judged by a different, higher standard in many places - consciously or unconsciously - if they are not ever-so politely yet ever-so painfully excluded from the Ordination process. 

Okay, so you are inspired by an ordination service, but you do not feel called to ordained ministry, but you seek discernment and/or clarification about the direction of your ministry.  What do you do?

Actually, I think all of the above applies to you, as well. You're just going to have to be even pushier about getting what you need from bishops and clergy and people in your community of faith, despite all the "church-talk" you'll hear from the pulpit about "priesthood of all believers".

As Louie writes: "You don't need a collar to do ministry: much ministry cannot be done nearly as well if you do have a collar. Take very seriously the priesthood you already have as a baptized person--sacred priesthood after the order of Melchisedec."

We have come to think of ministry only in terms of ordination or service directly relating to the church. Don't believe that for a second. It is a lie some people in the institutional church perpetuate in order to tend to the institution. 

This is about serving God through your faith and love in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Find a spiritual director/anamcara/soul friend with some training and experience in discernment. Talk with your rector. Form your own discernment committee in your community of faith.

Write to me, if you like. I'm happy to help you work through your initial questions and concerns. Better yet, write me and we'll exchange telephone numbers and either talk on the phone or Skype. It's not the same as face to face, but we'll get a much better sense of each other than through email.

I also have an outline of issues and questions for those seeking to discern or clarify a vocation to ministry in 'real life' that I use in spiritual direction and pastoral care. That is much better done with someone in person than all by yourself.

Theologian Frederick Buechner has written that ‘Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need’.  There is something Jesus needs done in the world that only you can do. Seek that first - seek the Realm of God first - and all these things shall be added unto you. Alleluia!

I hope these words of wisdom from Quean Lutibelle/Louie Crew will touch you or someone you know, and provide at least a modicum of guidance and be of some assistance to you in your journey.

If you didn't already know it, Louie's words are what 'truth spoken in love' looks like.

As Louie himself says, "Joy to you in your journey. May your ministry bring news genuinely good to absolutely everybody!"


susankay said...

Back in the day (WAYY back in the day) I wanted to be a priest. But it was 1966 and it was indicated that I would be welcomed at EDS as a student who could be a Sunday School head. A most imprtant thing that was denied me was the discernment process. It is as valuable to find out that you should NOT be an ordained priest as that you SHOULD.

And since I wasn't allowed to find out that I should NOT I wandered away for many years

the cajun said...

I haven't read this in ages, but it reminds me of the power of the laity and what Jack Spong told me so long ago. "You can do so much more ministry without a colllar than with one".

May God continue to bless Queen Lutibelle and sanctify her wisdom.