claudine: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] claudine at 10:03pm on 22/06/2009 under ,
This is an update on my ongoing vocation question to help members of my various (sometimes overlapping) social circles to keep up with where I am; I think I need help keeping up with myself too!

[This is also an attempt at getting back into blogging or online journaling, and I've got a new place for that, at Dreamwidth, which is built on a fork of the Livejournal code. My Dreamwidth posts should be cross-posted to Livejournal though.]

For the past two to three years (I really have lost count) I have been ruminating on a possible vocation to ordained ministry in the Anglican Church. Ruminating might be an understatement; I attended a selection conference almost exactly one year ago. The outcome was essentially a recommendation for me to slow down and get some the rest of my life in order before returning to the process.

This was exactly what I needed, even though it surprised and disappointed a few people at the time. (I'm not sure whether I was one of those surprised or disappointed.) Looking back now on the year or two leading up to selection conference, I believe I was influenced by the priests and theological students I know, and by the romantic aura that can be attached to the role of the priest. I felt that I wanted to want to be a priest but couldn't really convince myself.

I now intend to return to the process as a candidate for the non-stipendiary distinctive diaconate. These are big words and they're all pretty crucial. The distinctive diaconate is a term that is often used in Melbourne (in other parts of the world it's called the 'vocational' or 'permanent' diaconate). Anglican priests (and priests in similar liturgical traditions) must be ordained as deacons before being ordained priests a year later. One consequence of this requirement is that being a deacon can be seen as a stepping stone or hurdle before becoming a priest. There is, however, a growing movement to affirm the order of deacon in its own right, and some clergy are ordained only as deacons, and this role is the focus of their ministry.

Deacons have traditionally been associated with service ministries such as chaplaincy and welfare work, but the modern diaconal movement, which is inspired by models in the early church, has a broader understanding of a deacon as an ambassador of Christ, as our ordinal puts it. It's helpful to try to understand the role of both deacons and priests in terms of how they relate to the rest of the church, rather than focusing only on what they do. In a general sense, while priests are concerned with the care and nurture of a local Christian community (usually a parish), deacons are more like intermediaries between the church and wider society. This is a huge generalisation and there are priests who work outside parishes, and deacons who are focused on parish work, but this is one way of naming the basic distinction between priests and deacons.

Early in the process I tried to make up what I thought were typical or ideal characteristics of priests, and to convince myself and others that I had enough of these characteristics ... this felt like the wrong way to approach vocation or even career development (like taking a test that says you're good at maths, so you should become an accountant or engineer). It has been more helpful to look at the shape of my life so far and to look for a model of life and ministry that roughly fits that shape and can help it grow. I've often felt that I've been caught between two different worlds, in terms of culture, study, work, and religious tradition. At its worst, this means feeling that I don't fit in anywhere; at its best, this means being able to fully relate to different perspectives and help people understand each other.

I've always felt most at home in a university environment and I thought that I had to choose between academia and full-time ministry in the church. Maybe that isn't so: I could end up in university chaplaincy, or in research (or something completely different and unexpected, for that matter). What distinguishes a deacon from a layperson is that deacons are ordained clergy and therefore represent the wider church wherever they are. The shape of diaconal ministry for me might look like approaching my 'Monday to Friday' job with the concerns of the church as a priority, and speaking to the church out of the experience of my day job.

Hence the 'non-stipendiary' part of the equation. Most of the church's finances go to supporting parishes. Parishes are a priority for many of the church's leaders, and during a financial crisis, more care will be taken to protect parishes than other forms of ministry, such as chaplaincy or education. I cannot expect the church to be able (or willing) to pay me if I follow this direction. Besides, I find my current work fulfilling; and not being financially dependent on the church also gives me a greater sense of being able to speak out on areas where the church needs improvement.

There's a lot more that could be said about this; there's a lot more that I'll need to be able to articulate before Those Who Make the Decisions will be convinced. I've had a lot of encouragement, though. I've now had two priests say that the diaconate is more consistent with my experience and concerns than priesthood is (in an absolutely positive sense). There will always be some who think that deacons are just not 'good' enough to be priests; there will be many who don't see any reason for ordaining deacons, if laypeople can do what deacons do. (It's about being and relating, not just about doing.) The relative obscurity of the diaconate is part of the difficulty, and if nothing else I'd like to rescue deacons from obscurity.


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