Every Christian is called to serve God in a variety of ways. While each person’s vocation is unique, we all share some things in common: We are called to be faithful, to pray and learn, to love others and treat them with respect. The Baptismal Covenant from The Book of Common Prayer (page 304) summarizes those commitments and actions that give shape and substance to our lives.
Within our common call as Christians, there are more specific vocations, ways that we are uniquely equipped to live and serve. Each of us is called to ministry, and it can take many forms. Within the church, some are called to serve as ordained leaders, set apart for ministry as deacons, priests, or bishops. In the Episcopal Church, the process toward ordination is established in part by national church canons, carried out within each diocese through committees and commissions working with the bishop and Standing Committee to discern and approve those seeking Holy Orders.
It’s a complicated process, and as the world and church have changed in recent years, our process for discernment for those seeking ordination is ready for revision. With this in mind, I have consulted with the leaders of the Diocese of New Jersey Commission on Ministry, the Committee on the Priesthood, the Committee on the Diaconate, and the School for Ministry. Earlier today, I let those in formal discernment for Holy Orders in our diocese know that I have made the decision to place the Diocese of New Jersey’s ordination process on hold for a period of at least six months, effective immediately.
During this time, no new applications will be received, and no applicants, postulants, or candidates will move forward to the next stage of their discernment. We will use this six+ month period to restructure the discernment and ordination processes, to communicate with those in discernment around needs and expectations, and to build additional clarity, accessibility and justice into the ordination process of the Diocese of New Jersey.
Those who are already engaged in formation and study are encouraged to continue. The School for Ministry will continue to offer academic courses and opportunities for formation. Those enrolled in seminary programs are expected to remain active in coursework and field placements from their seminaries. Diocesan internships and other formative arrangements will continue. Throughout this process, I and other leaders will be in regular communication with those in discernment and with the diocesan community.
Discernment for ordination is not something anyone undertakes lightly. Each individual seeking to live out an ordained vocation engages in years of study and preparation, often at the graduate level, and I am grateful for each person who has listened for God’s call, in themselves or in another. It is my hope and expectation that the work ahead will be a source of strength for us as a diocese, and for all those who are called to serve.
The Right Reverend Sally J. French
Bishop of New Jersey