Candidacy

Candidate for Ordination

   After more than a year in discernment, and two years at the School for Deacons (sfd.edu), I reached the next stage of my journey a few weeks ago: Candidate.
   In the Diocese of San Joaquin a person who is Postulant can request consideration to become a Candidate for Ordination. Interviews are conducted by the Standing Committee of the Diocese and the Commission on Ministry. Your original application is reviewed, along with your progress in the course of studies you've been following.
   I have noticed over time that some of my fellow pilgrims in this process become tense and anxious when facing these interviews. For me, though, I felt very relaxed. I have come to trust that I am being led on this path for some reason only known to God, and that wherever I ended up must be where God intended.
   This idea of "Trust in God" allowed me to be free in the discussions I had with the different committees I met with. If they didn't like what I said, well my answer would be "Well, this is who I am, rough edges and all." 
   Was I still looking for the Exit Ramp? A selfish side of me still hoped to go back to an uncommitted faith, but the larger part of this "New" me would be disappointed. I've come to realize that for me there is no "going back"--I have been transformed too much to return to the once-a-week religious practice. My day-to-day life and my spiritual practice have become too intertwined to separate them by days any longer.
   Despite the work I have done at School, or the answers I gave to interview questions, I still believe that I am only continuing on this journey because the Spirit is leading me there. 
   For inspiration and reflection I've been reading "The Celtic Way of Prayer" by Esther De Waal (see Recommended Books). It's a marvelous book touching on the holistic way of prayer in Celtic tradition that recognizes the Spirit of God intertwined in the environment around us. De Waal recounts a prayer titled "The Dear's Cry", that tradition claims is from St. Patrick, and which inspires me since being approved as a Candidate:

VII
Be Christ this day my strong protector:
against poison and burning
against drowning and wounding,
through reward wide and plenty...
Christ beside me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me;
Christ beneath me, Christ above me;
Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me;
Christ in my lying, my sitting, my rising;
Christ in heart of all who know me,
Christ on tongue of all who meet me,
Christ in eye of all who see me,
Christ in ear of all who hear me.
IX
For to the Lord belongs salvation,
And to the Lord belongs salvation
And to Christ belongs salvation.
May your salvation, Lord, be with us always.

   Faith is a journey, not a destination. If you stop looking for the path, you will never find your way. Never stop asking yourself "What is God calling me to do?" The answer may surprise you!
   I start my third semester at the School for Deacons this coming Saturday. I still have no idea where I may be going, but I trust that God will lead me there.
   May God's Peace and Love rest on all of you this day!

Postulancy, Perseverence, & Prayer

Postulant and Student

   In your first year of discernment in my Diocese (of San Joaquin) much time was spent on working to achieve the goals of Aspirant and Applicant in hopes of reaching Postulant. Once you're reached the Postulant stage the emphasis shifts to education. 
   It's not that you're no longer "in the process". You continue to participate in your parish and Diocesan events, and you're invited to attend clergy meetings and retreats. This gives you ample opportunity to confirm this "clergy thing" is the path you want to walk, and it also builds your sense of belonging to a new clergy community of support.
   As you enter the education process, though, the process of Steps to Ordination is set on a back burner for the first two years. A new challenge presents itself: Going back to school. 
   It took me several School for Deacons' weekends to develop my routine. During School sessions my horizon focus is reduced to just three weeks at a time. What do I need to get done before the next School Weekend? Which subjects should I tackle first? What am I scheduled for at our next School Weekend worship services?
   Trying to balance this with a full-time job is hard enough, but then throw in all the "regular" problems that life brings you along the way, in addition to the difficult situations you may encounter at work. How long does anyone really go between family conflicts, emergencies, house and car repairs, and on and on... 
   You come to realize, too, that even when you finish School and you enter ministry, is life any less challenging? When you're in ministry, can you tell people "Not today, dear, I already have too many issues going on?" I came to realize that if I want to balance my outer life, I must be balanced in my inner life, too. 
   In the midst of all of this it's easy to fall into a pit of despair and lose your way. The tasks and problems can seem insurmountable, which is why the sense of community we have at School for Deacons is so important. A struggle is bearable when you share it with others. You are required to have a Spiritual Advisor and attend meetings with a Spiritual Formation Group, but you also have your fellow students faculty, and administrators to lean on. 
   Most importantly, though, you come to recognize that you are moving through all of this not only by your own efforts, but by trusting that the Spirit is moving you, too. No one can do this on their own, but only through the help of faith and community. Come to think of it, that's exactly what the early followers of Jesus found in their journey! May the peace that only God can give walk with you!

Postulancy

Postulant in the Ordination Process

   In math, to postulate something is to "suggest or assume the existence, fact, or truth of (something) as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or belief" according to the Google dictionary. To "postulate" doesn't mean something IS true, but it is a suggestion of truth in order to debate, discuss, and test an idea. This is essentially what it means to be a Postulant in the ordination process.
   Once you're approved as a Postulant in the Diocese of San Joaquin you propose a training regimen that must be approved by the Bishop. In our Diocese we have two options: the Diocesan school in Fresno, or the Episcopal School for Deacons in Berkeley, CA (www.sfd.edu)
   I chose the School for Deacons in Berkeley and began courses in the Fall of 2015. All of the courses are designed to prepare the student to become a servant leader in the Episcopal Church, with a particular focus on social ministry. When I first started at the School I was very much a "Doubting Thomas", but after two years I have gained the confidence that I could really do this! (Although I admit it is still a crazy idea!!!)
   The students spend a Saturday and Sunday on campus attending the courses, and then have three weeks to work on assignments at home before the next School Weekend. Students are from the Dioceses of: California, Northern California, El Camino Real, and San Joaquin.
   In my first semester, one of my courses was "Listening and Caring Skills", which had an immediate effect on my personal relationships. Having come from a Union background where you engage in debate with others, your mind is focused on what your answer will be while the other person is speaking. It takes practice (and much role playing) to focus your mind on listening to what the other person is saying without trying to reply, debate, or fix.
   After my third weekend of classes my wife asked me "So, how's the Listening Course going?" I replied "Well, it's called Listening and Caring Skills", to which my oldest daughter piped in "You mean you're going to care, too!?" We all had a great laugh together, and now I truly DO listen!!
   To keep up with the homework for the courses, while working a full-time job with LOTS of travel, I've had to stay disciplined with scheduling. Typically, Monday after a School Weekend is reserved to unwind and set up my homework plan for the next 18 days. I spend 2 to 3 hours each night after supper reading and writing, and longer on Saturdays. Sundays I (try to) reserve for worship, family, and rest. 
   If I was doing all this by myself, I doubt I would ever make it. The School for Deacons, however, provides a community environment that pulls together the entire student body from all three years. The faculty are inspiring and includes many deacons who have already served in churches and communities. When you start with the idea that you must be a little cracked in the head, it certainly helps to be with like-minded individuals working towards the same goals!
   Do I have doubts? Sure! Do I become tired and fatigued? Yes, absolutely, but just as I seem to be running out of gas, another School Weekend starts and I am refreshed when I see my brother and sister students, and the smiles that come with camaraderie.   
   Patience, persistence, and prayer helps each one of us continue on this path, but it is community, and the Spirit, that refreshes the soul. 

Applicant

Applicant to Ordination Process

One spends almost a year as an Aspirant testing the strength of your call, meeting with a Parish Discernment Committee while participating more in your Church's Sunday service. During this time you start working on an extensive Application for Ordination. This is not an application to BE ordained, but an application to your Diocese to begin the ordination process.
   The Application process for me was extremely challenging. Having to "air out" your life and beliefs to several groups of people you are not necessarily close with is difficult for anyone like myself who had lived my inner, personal life closed off to the world.
   How did I overcome the inclination to keep up barriers to protect myself from others? Quite honestly, it took a LOT of prayer and discussions with God. That idea of "being called" ground right up against the inclination to protect myself from hurt and criticism. I lost count of the number of times I thought about quitting the process out of fear of hurt, fear of humiliation, or fear of rejection.
   After months of reflection, meditation, and prayer I finally reached the decision that I would just "let it all hang out". I would just open up to "This is who I am", and let the various committees and professionals involved in the process determine if I would be suitable to follow this path. In some ways I had high hopes that I would be deemed unsuitable, and therefore released from this crazy idea, happy to return to my pew on Sunday and just soak up the weekly spirituality. So far, three years into this process I have not been shown the lane to the exit ramp.
   The Application to begin the Ordination process includes credit checks, criminal background checks, medical evaluations, psychological evaluations, education transcripts, work history, reading history, club memberships, and a recommendation from your parish and parish priest. From an individual's standpoint this can seem very prying, but the Church has an obligation to its parishioners, and the community, to fully examine anyone who wishes to take up ordained ministry. A Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, after all, is a direct representative of the Church.
     After numerous forms, interviews, and committee meetings a successful Applicant will be approved as a Postulant, formally received into the Ordination process. For most Dioceses in the Episcopal Church attaining Postulant status is required before being allowed to pursue an educational program to become a Deacon.
   For me, the time from Aspirant to Postulant took almost a year, but the time I spent early on in wrestling with this call and being open and listening to God built a foundation that has served me well in the years since.
   Trusting that God is leading you and walking with you through this process is critical to your formation as a future servant leader in the Church. I'm not sure of how this process will end for me, but I am sure that I have grown in my relationship with the Creator of all. At the core of my inner self, THIS is the greatest treasure to possess!

1st Step to Ordination: Aspirant

Aspirant

   Aspirant almost sounds like a medical cure, or a physical ailment, but this means nothing more than announcing your interest in aspiring to ordained ministry. 
   When I look back on this stage of my journey I can say that I was definitely afflicted. On one hand part of me was starting to recognize that I was being called. At least three people came up to me over several years asking me if I was "in ministry", and I would tell them "No, I'm just a lector." When I read "Listening Hearts" my recognition of a call suddenly started blasting me like a lighthouse at night.
   Being called to ministry just didn't make sense to my logical mind. Why would God want me? I'm not a scholar or a theologian--I spent many years working in a factory! I didn't consider myself to be particularly "holy", although I have deep beliefs in a God who wants to be as close as a parent, and not as an angry judge.
   I also was concerned with "What will my friends and family think?" This is a crazy idea, after all! Will I suddenly be shunned or isolated? Do I really want to take that chance? What if I start this process and fail to reach the end? I found many reasons NOT to do this.
   I only had one reason to follow this path: What if God was really calling me? Could I continue on with my faith practice knowing I was ignoring the summons?
   If you are wrestling with this as I was, I can offer you this advice: Take a chance! There are times in life when it is worthwhile standing up and sailing against the wind. For me, the suspicion that God needed my service reminded me of the poem by William F. O'Brien:

Some say risk nothing, try only for the sure thing,
Others say nothing gambled nothing gained,
Go all out for your dream.
Life can be lived either way, but for me,
I'd rather try and fail, than never try at all, you see.

Some say "Don't ever fall in love,
Play the game of life wide open,
Burn your candle at both ends."
But I say "No! It's better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all, my friend."

When many moons have gone by,
And you are alone with your dreams of yesteryear,
All your memories will bring you cheer.
You'll be satisfied, succeed or fail, win or lose,
Knowing the right path you did choose. 

   As an Aspirant you are asked to come up with an idea for a project and then implement it--nothing large, just something simple that gives you the experience of working with the parish members. It's a great idea to participate in the many lay ministries such as acolyte (altar server), lector, Eucharist Minister, choir, Altar Guild, and whatever else gets you involved in parish life.
   You are also asked to start work with a Spiritual Director: someone who can offer you advice and direction on deepening your spiritual practice and belief. I have gained new insights and deeply cherish the two Directors I've worked with over the last 3+ years.
   As you work on discerning your call in this Aspirant phase you begin to prepare an application to the Diocese to be formally entered into the process for ordination. Don't worry about changing your mind! There are numerous opportunities to turn away if you feel this isn't for you.
   If, in the end, you are left with a deeper meaning of your faith, then what loss have you suffered? Much of this process is learning to trust in God. Years later, I am still learning that!!
   

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