On Saturday 5th of May, the first in a series of five meetings were held between Director of Discernment and Formation, Nic Denny-Dimitriou, and the Discernment group, a collection of candidates within the Diocese of Adelaide undergoing the process of discovering whether God’s calling for their life involves ordained ministry.
Curious about this, I took the opportunity to talk to Nic about the discernment process and the role these meetings play in order to gain a better understanding of the ordination and discernment process which SBC participates.
In Nic’s words, the discernment group is “a group of people in the diocese who are at a… particular point in their ministry life where they are considering offering themselves for ordination,” having come to some sort of belief, perhaps through a particular experience that “they have a calling to the ordained life.”
The group in particular is for those who have done at least a minimum of a few basic subjects in theology (though not necessarily a Bachelor’s degree) and have had some level of significant involvement in ministry. Nic explained that “there is a sense in which they are already known, they are a part of a Christian community. I keep stressing that the community doesn’t have to be a parish. We’re trying to move away from saying that the only ministry that counts is parish ministry. Many people are engaged in ministry in other ways and places.”
It seems that the wide variety of individuals that come through the program may have been bible study leaders, readers, lay preachers, involved in chaplaincy, care work, or whatever else, and yet at some point, they had the suggestion given to them that perhaps they should consider ordination.
“Everybody who is part of the discernment groups needs the backing of a parish priest or other appropriate ministry leader, so that there’s a sense that this is not somebody who’s just been somewhere out in the community who has woken up one day and said “oh, I think I’m going to be a priest” and arise. Usually there will be a recommendation from a priest to say “I know this person, this person has been part of the congregation for a year, two years, 25 years (however long it may be) and these are some of the areas of ministry they have been involved in”.
To say the least, it seems that those going into the priesthood come from all sorts of walks of life. In fact part of the essential early stages of the process appears to focus on this by asking the individuals to reflect on their journey to thee point of considering ordination.
Nic told me:
“People discover a sense of calling in such a variety of ways. Some have been actively involved in Church ministry for all their lives and never given a thought to possibly being ordained, and then one day someone literally or figuratively taps them on the shoulder and says “have you ever thought of ______”. Sometimes for people it’s a bolt out of the blue, sometimes it seems just to make sense… But in my experience very often it’s also that in some or other way that person has wondered for themselves… Right from the beginning my approach is to encourage people to look back over their own stories and also to share them with one another. Stories of coming to faith and of growing in faith with God through experiences in ministry.
The nature of these journeys, as Nic explained to me, is as rich and as complex as the variety of particular experiences of individuals happens to be. Some were brought up in a Christian household and grew into their faith and gradually realised that perhaps ordination is the natural pathway. Others, having come from no faith background, had what could only be described as a significant conversion experience. A diverse spectrum of experience is represented, however, they do find commonalities between themselves, particularly of how they experienced and questioned their calling and what it would involve.
We talked further about the ordination screening process: the discernment meetings, the Ordination Advisory Conference that one must be invited to, the psychological assessments, and more. One shouldn’t expect less than a necessary stringency behind the program as the role and influence of clergy isn’t to be taken lightly. Over all, it was an insightful conversation, and we here at SBC are eager to see what is in store for this current group of candidates.
If you wish to ask any questions of the discernment and formation process, or have any questions about ordination, contact The Rev’d Nic Denny-Dimitriou.
Written by Anthony Bondarenko