So you’re thinking about ordained ministry in this or that Anglican community. (If you need guidance on the question, check out this article.) Maybe you’re already ordained in some other denomination. Maybe you’ve been serving in ministry for years but as a layperson (that was my experience).
What are some of the general guidelines and things to take into account as you begin to explore this possible future? That is the purpose of this article—to give you some general ideas.
As always, a caveat: there are lots of ways of being Anglican, so some of these points will apply to you more than others. In fact, you might find that your own experience goes against some of these points. Fair enough. All I can say is that this comes from 15 years serving in Anglican ministry and interactions with Anglicans from over a dozen provinces.
So that having been said, a rookie’s guide to ordination:
1. Anglican ordination usually starts with your parish priest (local pastor).
The parish priest is the person who normally acts as the mediator between the parish (local congregation) and the bishop. Some parishioners know the bishop well and just send him an IM or email, but that is not the norm. The priest probably interacts with the bishop and the diocesan government on a normal basis, whether that means serving on some committee or submitting reports or planning episcopal visits.
Many bishops who receive e-mails or calls about ordination will instinctively refer the inquirer to their priest. This makes sense: most people who are ordained will function as pastors of some sort. So if your Anglican pastor doesn’t know you and can’t recommend you to the bishop, who is the pastor of the diocese, that’s not a good place to start.
Bottom line: if you’re curious about the ordination process, find a local Anglican pastor to speak with!
2. Know why you feel called to receive Anglican orders.
I can’t tell you how many times I was asked the question: but why are you sensing a call to ordained ministry? I already had a Ph.D. in divinity and a decade of full-time ministry but, nonetheless, was asked this many times. It got exasperating, but in retrospect, I get it.
There are many bad reasons to pursue ordination: power, control, esteem, reputation, thinking that this will get you closer to God (it both will and won’t—a different article there), etc.
It’s worth considering: what will you be able to do as an ordained minister you can’t do as a lay minister? You love teaching, evangelizing, and counseling. No real need to be ordained for those. Many dioceses have the permanent diaconate, so maybe you need to consider if you feel called to the diaconate rather than the priesthood. I personally felt called to the episcopate from the very beginning. (That’s a joke.)
3. Be patient and humble.
Seriously, you might have a bishop who really wants to ordain you, but there are often constraints of time and church law that cannot be rushed.
I had to do an unpaid internship at a homeless compound and half a year of chaplaincy (Clinical Pastoral Education) at a children’s hospital. Again, all of that after ten years of ministry and with a Ph.D. in Divinity.
It seemed a little humiliating, to be honest. But in the words of TS Eliot, “humility is endless.” Or Mother Theresa: “The only way to learn humility is by being humiliated.”
In retrospect, those experiences at the Children’s Hospital—helping a little child to say her first prayer, of being with the mother of a youth who had tried to commit suicide and would never be conscious again—I wouldn’t change them for anything.
Be patient. Be humble. You might have a fantastic M.Div. already but be asked to take a few (or many) classes in Anglican studies. Are you being asked to take some online courses in something you’re sure you already know? Are you being put under the supervision of someone whom, you think, has less experience than you?
In all honesty, if you can’t deal with humiliation, you shouldn’t be a priest, and, even if you are ordained, you won’t be a good one. That’s me being totally honest.
4. Meet the committees.
While all Anglican dioceses have their own cultures and procedures, there is a high probability that you will need to meet with or be interviewed by at least one commission or committee.
People will ask you questions you might find odd or pointless or invasive. Guess what, these are the same people who will be your parishioners someday—or people like them.
Work with these groups. Learn from them. Learn about the culture of their parish or mission; learn about the culture of the diocese. Are there particular values or words or topics that resurface? Whether or not you get ordained, this all can help you be better informed about your regional church and assist you to be a better servant and stronger voice in that community.
5. The diocese is the real center.
I once heard a senior cleric say that most Anglicans live like Congregationalists. His point—I think—was that the day-to-day functioning of your parish has little to do with the diocese.
That is often true, but discernment is an exposure to the world of the undergirding, hidden mechanics of diocesan life. That’s a good thing! If you are later ordained, you will become a cog in that machinery. Some priests play almost no role in the life of the diocese beyond their congregation, others are enormously influential, but the truth is that, once you are ordained, you are part and parcel of the diocese.
That means more than might appear obvious: your primary home is the diocese, not the parish or the province.
It also means that, while your diocese might belong to a province (ACNA, TEC, whatever), if your diocese leaves you are, by default and unless you clearly decide otherwise, leaving as well. That doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
It also means that while your ordination is acknowledged as valid by (probably) the Anglican Communion and/or the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), you cannot technically operate as a priest outside of your diocese without first seeking permission from the bishop ordinary of the diocese. If you move to another city in another diocese, your former bishop and your (potential) new bishop will need to work in concert to grant you permission to officiate in the new city or town.
That’s a lot of technicality, and some of it is ignored today, but it is what it is. It represents an aspiration to a wholeness/holiness (same root). But in the end, the diocese is the new home of the one ordained—not the parish or the province or the global communion. Primates and archbishops are nothing more than bishops with certain administrative prerogatives. The bible recognizes bishops, who are pastors of the local church or diocese.
6. Have a clear plan.
Enough technical canonical theory! As you progress, someone will ask you, “What do you want to do if you are ordained?”
Perhaps you genuinely feel like you will place yourself completely and totally at the mercy of your bishop because you are stepping out in faith. That sort of faith may well be desirable, but some bishops and committees are also looking for pragmatism—the art of the real.
So, prepare a statement along the following lines: “I would like to continue my work with [whatever, which provides a salary] while assisting with the ministry of [whatever], strengthening and focusing on our work among [whomever].” And then you can add, “But I’m also open to considering any other ministry needs.” Only add that if it’s sincere, of course.
7. Learn the vocab.
A minor point, but worth mentioning. We Anglicans have all sorts of fancy words we like to use. (“Where in the name of the Holy Martyrs of Cordova are the purificators? Get me the sub-dean and sacristan!”)
But in all solemnity, we have a whole vocabulary for this topic of ordination. It’s not used in the same way everywhere, but just make sure you have an idea of the following words’ definitions:
- Discernment: the individual and communal process of assessing one’s call to ordination
- Aspirant: “a person seeking ordination as a deacon or priest, or a person who desires to be admitted to a religious order. When an aspirant has received approval from the diocese to begin seminary or other required training, he or she becomes a postulant.”
- Postulant: “One who tests a vocation such as a vocation to an ordained ministry or the religious life. Postulants for holy orders seek ordination as deacon or priest. The length of postulancy varies. … Postulancy is an initial time of preparation and testing for ordained ministry.”
- Ordinand: “One who is ordained at the ordination of a bishop, priest, or deacon.”
- Curate: “a member of the clergy serving as assistant (as to a rector) in a parish.”
8. Get your papers in order.
Yep, like deboarding the plane and going through passport and customs control. Do this earlier rather than later.
- Been baptized? Have a certificate.
- Confirmed? Likewise.
- Ordained in some denomination or other? Same.
To what extent these things will be acknowledged by your diocese, to what extent anyone will even care about them—that changes from diocese to diocese and committee to committee. But I can tell you that it demonstrates transparency and responsibility.
In our ministry, I’ve had to track down a baptismal certificate from that Lutheran church in Montana where I was baptized. Likewise, Sharon had to request one from her old Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) church in Hawaii. That was a legitimate request by a cleric who was trying to do his job.
Replacing such papers can take time, so you better get started sooner rather than later. And the same goes for academic transcripts.
9. Why are you leaving your denomination?
If this one doesn’t apply to you, skip it. But really, read it because someday you’ll talk with someone to whom it does apply.
This is not about being politic. Why are you leaving your denomination for Anglicanism? Are you really attracted to a fuller and more profound vision of ministry within the messy, beautiful world of Anglican Christianity? Why? The concern is the same as that of people who left a neighboring congregation to join yours.
- Is your motive sincere and birthed from a genuine call to ministry within the catholic and apostolic church?
- Or were you frustrated with your previous supervisor or boss?
- Did you not work well in a team?
- Whatever the problems or issues were, will they resurface in Anglican ministry?
10. Help your bishop.
In the end, your bishop is the priest responsible for the supervision of the diocese. Bishops have a lot on their minds. Bishops—like any senior management, I imagine—love to have competent, trustworthy people assisting them and working under them.
Do you know your bishop’s vision for his diocese? There’s a good chance he talked about it at a recent synod or council or diocesan conference or newsletter. Get to know it.
How can you be a part of it? How can you help your head pastor fulfill that sense of calling? Get to know his vision, learn how you can be a part of it, and tell him.
There are, no doubt, things missing. But I hope that this will count as an initial and humble rookie’s guide to ordination.
There will be committees and commissions. There will be paperwork and certificates and transcripts. Things will often start with the parish priest. Be prepared for certain questions. Have a plan to propose. Be patient. Be humble. Commend the whole thing into the merciful hands of God and pray for all involved.
And ultimately, you must believe—or at least try to believe—that this is a real communal discernment of whether God has called you to ministry in holy orders.