I entered the ordination process through the Episcopal Diocese of Florida in 2012. Growing up, I had five priests in my family, including both of my parents, a grandfather and two uncles. I had seen the behind-the-scenes action of ordained ministry. It seemed as normal to me as any other profession. Being around the priesthood didn’t make me feel like I had to become a priest, but when it came down to discerning a call to ministry, wanting to work with people, wanting to teach and learn about the Bible, it fit the criteria.Being in the ordination process was a unique experience. The list of people I had to meet with was extensive: priests, bishops, committees and commissions, deans and faculty members and advisers, and then bishops again and more committees—the list goes on.
Being in the ordination process was a unique experience. The list of people I had to meet with was extensive: priests, bishops, committees and commissions, deans and faculty members and advisers, and then bishops again and more committees—the list goes on.
It is a grueling process. At some point, it shifted from a process of mutual discernment, where I was working together with all those people to discern my vocation, to a game of trying to convince as many people as possible to let me go to seminary. It was hard for me, once seminary and ordination were in my focus, to entertain any other options for the outcome of the process.
I started seminary in August of 2014 at Virginia Theological Seminary and it was challenging. It was academically, spiritually and personally challenging. By the end of my second year of the three-year master’s program, I was going through a lot of turmoil in my personal life. I can say now that while it was one of the most painful times in my life, it was also one of the most transformational—but that didn’t make it any less painful.
This time of turmoil and uncertainty in my spiritual life, my personal life and my ordination process was the catalyst for me to reexamine my call and rethink my place in the ordination process. I took a year away from school to regroup and refocus, and began a one year paid internship at an outreach mission in Tallahassee, Florida called Grace Mission Episcopal Church. At Grace, I was in community with people living on the streets or in the shelters in downtown Tallahassee. We were a certified soup kitchen and served ten meals a week, as well as held regular worship on Sunday mornings and Tuesday nights.
For the first time since starting the ordination process I began to ask myself, “Do I need to be ordained to fulfill my vocation?” While working at Grace I had the opportunity on a regular basis to preach, teach, do pastoral care, serve people, work in a church, take part in liturgy—and I was doing all of it as a lay person. It began to give me clarity about the nuance of the call that I had felt. There was no doubt in my mind that I had been called to go seminary, but I was beginning to see that that wasn’t the same thing as a call to ordination. Thankfully, theological education is available to everyone through programs like Education For Ministry (EFM) and the diocesan School for Ministry, and I encourage anyone feeling called to deeper theological education to look into these opportunities.
Every conversation at that time, especially when I went back to school in the fall, gave me more and more clarity about the decision in front of me. This question persisted, “Do I need to be ordained to fulfill my vocation?” As a lay person, I could preach, teach, work in the church, work with people—I could even get a doctorate if I wanted to. The answer, at every turn, seemed to be, no, I didn’t need to be ordained. Now, don’t get me wrong, being a priest is pretty much the easiest way to do these things, but again, that still sounds like a “why not?” kind of answer instead of a why. I knew if I left the process, that doing all these things to fulfill my vocation would be harder. It would be more of an uphill battle. There would be less institutional support, and that has been true. But I have also found that the decision that seems the most like a total formless void of mystery, the one that feels least safe and least secure, is always the one God is calling us to.I officially left the discernment process and graduated from seminary in May 2016. I moved to San Diego in June with no job lined up, no prospects and no idea what I was going to do next. But I knew, amidst all the anxiety of that last semester and moving, that I had made the right decision.
I officially left the discernment process and graduated from seminary in May 2016. I moved to San Diego in June with no job lined up, no prospects and no idea what I was going to do next. But I knew, amidst all the anxiety of that last semester and moving, that I had made the right decision.
Getting ordained is a specific vocation. In my mind, to be called to ordained ministry is to be deeply called to a sacramental ministry, to need to be able to perform the sacraments of the church to fulfill one’s vocation, and that just wasn’t the case for me. It was also important for me to realize that my discernment about my ordination did not stop once I started seminary. Really, discernment about ordination doesn’t stop until you are kneeling in front of a bishop, being ordained. Even when I thought everything was decided, and I knew exactly what I wanted, God was still discerning in me, and that is still happening today. +
Feeling trapped is scary. As the Psalmist’s words remind us, however, God comes to those who are stuck. This was the case in the Old Testament with exiled Israel—caught in a geopolitical and geographical conundrum, with its oppressors on one side and the daunting Red Sea on the other. Nowhere to go but “up,” so […]
Brian Petersen grew up in San Diego County and was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. He served in the Marine Corps and later became involved in youth ministry and music ministry while attending Azusa Pacific University. After graduating from APU, Brian moved to the Pacific Northwest and attended seminary at Golden […]
Peter arrived from the Diocese of Iowa after retiring in January 2016. Following graduation from Nashotah House seminary in 1984, he served parishes in Davenport, Trinity Cathedral; Durant, Iowa; and Clinton, Iowa as well as ELCA Lutheran congregations in Princeton Iowa, and several interim settings in the “Quad-Cities” Iowa/Illinois region with the ELCA. Having been […]