The Priesthood in the Diocese of New Jersey: The Role of the Parish Committee on Ministry
The Parish Committee on Ministry (PCOM) plays a key role throughout the process leading to ordination. It assists the Rector/Vicar, the aspirant, and the vestry in discerning the will of God. A call to the ordained ministry of the Church is a corporate event. God’s call comes not only to the person being considered for this sacred task, but also to the Church. The local Parish Committee on Ministry (PCOM), at the initial stage of this process, is the Church’s presence in listening and defining what that call may be.
The Parish Committee on Ministry (PCOM) is appointed by the Rector/Vicar. It consists of three to five lay persons who have mature faith in and an understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They should be able to articulate their own vocation and ministry in the context of the work of the Church.
They are called to this ministry to explore and discern another’s call to the ordained ministry of the Church. Discernment in this sense means to see and understand God’s will. It is an action of the Holy Spirit through prayer and meditation and the voices of other people. Therefore, we believe that it is essential that the Parish Committee on Ministry (PCOM) begin and end each meeting with a period of prayer and silent reflection. It is this prayerful tone that will invite true discernment of God’s will and minimize any anxiety on the part of the aspirant or committee members.
Discernment is also an action of the intellect, perceiving the will of God, through the gifts of an individual and his/her role in the Christian community. The Parish Committee on Ministry is being asked to help one of their own understand God’s will as it is uniquely played out in the spiritual journey of a sister or brother who senses the call to ordained ministry. They will serve as a support system for the person while he/she is in the process.
It is highly recommended that each PCOM member, the aspirant, and rector/vicar read:
- Listening Hearts, by Suzanne Farnham (www.Amazon.com)
- When the Church Says No, by Helen Thorp (www.GroveBooks.co.uk)
An accurate view of the discernment process is critical to the PCOM’s role. Discernment of an individual for Holy Orders is not a matter of “accepting” or “rejecting” the individuals call. It is a matter of discerning which of the following three orders of ministry the person is called to:
It is best to be very clear at the outset as a committee, that discernment requires the input of the entire diocesan community, ie. the Diocesan Committee on Priesthood, in addition to the PCOM of the congregation. Your role is to make your discernment prayerfully and carefully, then to trust the Holy Spirit and the discernment of the diocesan Committee on Priesthood, which may or may not come to the same discernment as your committee.
The Bishop and the Diocesan Committee on Priesthood (COP) have identified some specific tasks or goals for the Parish Committee on Ministry. We have purposely not put a time line on this stage of the ordination process because it will vary in each circumstance based on how well the committee members know the aspirant. We encourage you to work diligently and deliberately in this sacred task. We wish to stress the care and confidentiality of this ministry since the committee is being given the sacred responsibility, that of being present for one of God’s children.
Task 1 To define the task of the Parish Committee on Ministry, stressing responsibility, care, and confidentiality.
- A member of the Diocesan Committee on Priesthood explains the purpose and work of the Parish Committee on Ministry (PCOM).
- Members of the committee introduce themselves, sharing the particular gifts they bring to the committee. The Rector/Vicar may wish to express his/her reasons for the appointment of each individual to the committee as a part of this introduction.
- The members discuss the process of discerning. See introduction above.
- The group is introduced to an understanding of the four orders of ministry, using the Catechism from the Book of Common Prayer (group exercise).
- What seems unique about each of the four orders?
- What is similar?
- How does this understanding relate to your own life and ministry?
- How will this relate to the aspirant and his/her gifts and calling (in general)?
- The Rector/Vicar introduces the aspirant and distributes a brief biographical sketch provided by the aspirant.
- The Committee studies the biographical information in preparation for the next meeting.
- The Committee may request further information or clarity from the Rector/Vicar.
Task 2 To introduce aspirant to the Committee and to begin to form a community of sharing and trust.
- The chair of the committee summarizes the last session (Task I) with the aspirant present.
- Committee members introduce themselves to the aspirant, sharing some of their story and their investment in this process.
- The aspirant introduces him/herself in a similar way, focusing on what brings the aspirant to this point in his/her spiritual journey.
- The committee members ask clarifying questions of the aspirant regarding his/her introduction.
- The committee schedules the next meeting to go over the aspirant’s autobiography and address the issues that surface for the aspirant and the committee members.
Task 3 To focus on the aspirant’s understanding of Christian ministry and call to ordained ministry
- Committee and the aspirant discuss issues that arise from a study of the aspirant’s autobiography and personal story.
- How has aspirant’s vocation been shaped by teachers, parents, clergy, books, experiences, etc?
- Does the aspirant articulate his/her sense of call with clarity? Passion?
- What has moved the aspirant to seek ordination?
- Committee discusses the four-fold ministry of the Church and the aspirant’s clarity about the Christian ministry.
- Committee discusses how the aspirant’s gifts and vision best fit the call to Christian ministry. Can the aspirant begin to articulate his/her understanding of ordained ministry and what the Church will require of him/her?
Task 4 To focus on the aspirant’s ability and willingness to grow. Committee discusses the following questions with the aspirant:
- Does the aspirant seem to be growing in the Christian faith?
- How has personal/spiritual growth been apparent in the past?
- Are there issues that seem to inhibit growth?
- What is the potential for continued growth?
- How has the aspirant grown in the discernment process? How has he/she progressed over the meetings in articulating his/her sense of call?
- How does the aspirant take care of, order, balance himself/herself?
- Does he/she have a spiritual director?
- Does he/she have a rule of life, a prayer life, and a spirituality that is life giving?
- Does the aspirant strike you as a person of prayer?
- How does the aspirant feel about himself/herself?
- What would the aspirant identify as emotional strengths and weaknesses, and how do they affect his or her present ministry?
Task 5 To reflect on the leadership roles the aspirant presently lives out.
- The Committee considers what leadership roles the aspirant is presently engaged in.
- What does the aspirant identify as strengths and weaknesses in these leadership roles?
- How does the aspirant function in groups and relate to a wide variety of people?
- What alternatives might the aspirant have in mind if leadership as an ordained person does not work out?
Task 6 To focus on aspirant’s gifts, talents and resources in relationship to our mutual understanding of the Church’s ministry.
- Committee discusses how the aspirant’s gifts, skills, current ministries, lifestyle, commitment and vision best fit the call to Christian ministry.
- What priestly ministries has he/she shown in the parish?
- In what ways could you and the aspirant envision the aspirant as a priest?
- Is the aspirant someone you would actively recruit?
- What are the aspirant’s strengths and weaknesses, the areas needing growth?
- The aspirant describes the resources God has uniquely given to him/her that can be developed into the ministry of priesthood. The committee discerns whether it concurs with the aspirant’s assessment. Such things to be considered are:
- Leadership potential: initiative, vision, willingness to risk, potential to motivate others and to energize struggling parishes into dynamic and growing parishes, the ability to sense and deal with the impact of systems and institutions, as well as with interpersonal conflicts.
- A sense of self: strong sense of self-worth, psychological health, level of emotional maturity.
- Personal integrity: authenticity, trustworthiness, dependability.
- A maturing Christian faith that reflects an understanding of Christ’s presence, conveying a sense of being called to service, of sharing the Gospel, living in the Spirit, showing love and exhibiting openness to the whole body of Christ’s people in ecumenical engagement. A disciplined pattern of private and common prayer; and the ability and willingness to speak in a personal way of his/her experience of God and Jesus Christ are also important indicators of a maturing faith.
- Humility: understanding and acceptance of his or her humanity and ultimate dependence on God.
- Awareness of the power of sacrament, word and liturgy and willingness to become a symbol bearer.
- Sense of vocation for the ordained ministry: ability to articulate a call, a beckoning, recognized as from God and what the aspirant believes he/she has to offer to the Church; ability to articulate past and present personal history of ministry.
- Loving heart: capacity and inclination to be close to and care for others, including family, friends, and colleagues.
- Intellectual competence: ability to learn, to process information and apply results, intellectual curiosity as an ongoing process in the aspirant’s life, evidence of the ability to grow in a coherent sense of God’s work through history and in contemporary events, and the potential for appropriately communicating that knowledge. An aspirant for discernment must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university or the equivalent. According to canon law, to be ordained an individual must be 25 years old.
- Effective communication: presence and poise in functioning with people, both one-on-one and with groups, ability to express self simply, clearly, and directly with the capacity to organize thoughts and actions and to establish goals and direction.
- Healthy sense of boundaries.
- Loyalty to the institution of the Church: A healthy respect for the traditions and authority of the Church from a position of challenge as well as from position of support.
- Commitment to continuing personal, professional, and most of all, spiritual growth
Task 7 To meet with the aspirant to share what has been learned from the process and how the aspirant envisions, as a priest, to meet the needs of the church today.
- The Committee discusses the aspirant’s written responses to the following questions. (submitted prior to the meeting):
- What have you learned about yourself as you have explored the possibilities of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church with your Rector/Vicar and Parish Committee on Ministry?
- Tell us about other professions you may have explored or experienced in the past.
- What are the needs of the church as you see them, and how do you envision yourself responding to them through ordained ministry
Task 8 To meet with the Rector/Vicar without aspirant present and formulate recommendation to share with the aspirant and eventually with the Canon for Ministry Development, Diocesan House, 808 West State St., Trenton, New Jersey 08618.
- The Committee considers how the aspirant can be envisioned as a priest of the Episcopal Church.
- The Committee completes form #2C as provided by the Committee on Priesthood for this purpose.
- The Rector and Committee share their recommendations with the aspirant.
- If the Parish Commission on Ministry can envision a call, then the Rector/Vicar provides application forms for the aspirant to complete and send to the Canon for Ministry Development at the Diocesan House.
- If the Parish Commission on Ministry cannot envision a call, it should fill out form #2C to reflect that decision.
- Should the committee and the Rector/Vicar decide to proceed, the aspirant is now presented to the Rector/Vicar, Warden and Vestry supporting a recommendation to the Bishop and the Committee on Priesthood.
It is very important that the Parish Committee on Ministry continue to meet periodically with the nominee as he/she proceeds through the process toward ordained ministry.