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Called to be Laity

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. +


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Category: #Sundays

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3 replies to “Called to be Laity

  1. Susan McClure | on March 30, 2017

    Thank you David for your story. And of course we welcome you at St. Paul’s and San Diego. As an older person who has been in my profession as an occupational therapist, for 50 years, I have found over the years I have had several instances of changing my focus within my profession to meet what I feel is God’s calling. I think many of us have had this experience, so what your are saying is not that unusual.

  2. Frank | on April 1, 2017

    Leave it to us Episcopalians Gods Peace.; ;

  3. RUBEN RODRIGUEZ | on April 20, 2021

    Thank you, David. I found your story as an unexpected pleasure when I was trying to find out what “CLM” meant in my notes of the EC meeting held on April 10, 2021. Anyway, I never sensed a calling for ordination. But I did feel a calling for ministry as a lay person. Not surprisingly we are all called to be ministers as we are called to love God and one another. I believe that loving one another is part of loving God. For example, the good works enumerated in Matthew 25:35-40 put flesh on loving God and loving others. Anyway, it was good to meet your acquaintance and I look forward to other opportunities to share personal history and faith with you. God bless, Ruben

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