Explore A Call: An Interview with Laura Sheridan-Campbell
A call to holy orders must be heard not only by the individual, but also by the gathered body of Christ where one’s Christian identity has been nourished, challenged and sustained. A formal discernment process guides those who are discerning a call as well as those who midwife that holy process. We caught up with the chief midwife, COM Chair Laura Sheridan-Campbell, for her thoughts on the revised process.
What should people know about the diocesan discernment process?
It’s a work in progress and the diocese has a tremendous gift, not only in the 18 persons currently entering the process, but in all those who support discernment, from the Commission on Ministry (COM) to at-large trainers to sponsoring priests to Parish Discernment Committees (PDCs)!
What are the main differences between this process and the previous one?
The revised process emphasizes recruitment of potential ordained leaders by sponsoring priests. It is more flexible in terms of theological formation and times of postulancy and candidacy. Finally, we now call those entering the process, “nominees,” following Episcopal Church canonical language.
Guided by a spiritual director, nominees draft and complete a ministry project with support from their sponsoring priests. The project can take place in the parish or the community. Concurrently, formal discernment begins at the local level, in missions and parishes, with laypersons. PDCs are guided by at-large diocesan members, trained in a discernment method called Listening Hearts. Additionally, what was previously a one-day interview has now been extended to an overnight discernment retreat for the bishop, canon to the ordinary, COM members and nominees who have completed a ministry project and their PDC work. Also, we now have a COM chaplain, the Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas, to ensure pastoral care at the diocesan level for persons in the process.
What are the important dates?
Those who wish to enter the process will do so in September and the retreat will be in February.
How are these changes improvements over the last process?
Discernment is more widely distributed, happening first at the local level with sponsoring priests and PDCs, then careful psychological evaluations, then moving to diocesan level with the bishop, COM and Standing Committee. Discernment continues on all levels throughout the process and involves more people. In this diocese, we are blessed to have Listening Hearts, guided by Susan Ward of Christ Church, Coronado, that undergirds and strengthens local discernment.
Have you received any feedback from people about the changes? If so, what have they said?
Initial feedback suggests that ministry projects are bearing fruit in congregations. In some places, the revised process has played a helpful role in the self-understanding of churches. PDCs have weighed in positively on the presence of at-large members and use of the Listening Hearts method. Also, the February discernment retreat was well-received in that it allowed the COM to grow as a group, and it gathered nominees and diocesan leaders together for an extended time. I’m sure that the diocesan school for ministry that begins this fall will be a positive addition to the process, because it draws on academic and practical gifts and talents of Episcopalians in this diocese, and creates a local context for all of us to learn.
How long will the current process fit our needs?
Since it’s still a work in progress, the Diocese will continue to refine the process as new nominees bring unique circumstances and gifts (such as bi-cultural gifts), and as the school for ministry develops to incorporate a local context for formation and education, in addition to seminary training for those who are exploring a call to ordained ministry.
How does this work help us draw closer to God?
When the Church embraces the work of discernment, and acknowledges discernment as a gift of ministry, involving all orders of ministry (laity, deacons, priests and bishops), the Church becomes more the body of Christ.
The current COM is so appreciative of those who preceded us. I want to make it clear that this is not a new process, but a revised one that draws on the process facilitated by previous diocesan leaders. We also thank all nominees, postulants and candidates. It is not an easy thing to offer oneself for ordination discernment. Lots of eyes are on you, and you submit to rigorous evaluation at every turn. No one who goes through this process remains unchanged. Powerful transformation can take place, transformation that is essential to the Church’s life. This diocese is blessed with amazing people who are offering themselves in this way, that they might be ordained leaders on behalf of Christ’s mission of fearless love. +