A Manual for the Local Discernment Committee for a Nominee for Ordination to the Diaconate

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1 THE EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF WASHINGTON A Manual for the Local Discernment Committee for a Nominee for Ordination to the Diaconate Leading and Equipping Others for Ministry in the World

2 A Manual for the Local Discernment Committee for a Nominee for Ordination to the Diaconate Congratulations! With much prayer and reflection you have been chosen to be a part of the process to help discern whether a member of your faith community is being called to serve as a deacon in the Church. This is, first and foremost, a spiritual process and is designed to help the person discerning a possible call to learn more about office of Deacon and if their gifts possibly lend to them serving in this ministry. You should, if you have not already, review The Steps to Ordination to the Diaconate in order to have an understanding of the overall process and what the aspirant or nominee has completed at this point. The process of discernment to the Diaconate involves both the nominee s sense of vocation as well as the affirmation of the Church that s/he is called to such a ministry. It is for this affirmation of the Church that you have been called, by the leader of your faith community in consultation with the nominee, to serve on the nominee s Local Discernment Committee. Specific guidelines concerning the overall makeup of this committee are: The Local Discernment Committee is to be comprised of three (3) to six (six) members of the nominee s faith community. The priest(s), or other faith leaders of the community are not to be members of this committee, nor is anyone who has been in the ordination process. The committee should include at least one (1) person who knows the nominee well and one (1) who has little knowledge about the nominee. Others on the committee may be chosen for various qualities the priest, or other faith community leader, and nominee feel to be important. Those selected must be willing to make a commitment of time and energy, not only to the process but to the nominee as well. Members will be asked to share their own spiritual journeys and to challenge their own assumptions while shepherding the nominee through this period of prayerful discernment. The process towards ordination can be a spiritually rewarding one for all of those involved; it can, however, also be challenging and frustrating, especially if it is determined that the nominee s gifts are best served in another ministry. There should be no expectation, from either the nominee or those serving on the Local Discernment Committee (LDC), that entering into this process is equivalent to assenting to the nominee being ordained to the diaconate. It is the primary task of the LDC to help the nominee discover if they have the gifts to serve in this ministry of the church and to recommend, or not, the nominee to the diaconal ministry. Prior to your first meeting, it would be suggested that you add the nominee into your daily prayers, and to pray that your hearts and minds be open to the discerning of God s will for the nominee and his/her ministry in the Church. One member of the LDC will be appointed as the convener of the committee. This person, along with the priest (or other leader of the faith community) and the nominee will meet with a representative of the COM (Commission on Ministry) or the Working Group on Diaconal Ministry in order to clarify any questions regarding the process. This same person will also attend the first full meeting of the LDC and be available to the convener should questions arise along the way. 2

3 Although the LDC should make every attempt to follow the guidelines presented in this document, it should be noted that the guidelines may be modified to meet the needs of the group or the nominee. An example of the need to modify these guidelines would be if the LDC feels that more time is needed for mutual prayer and conversation in their discernment. If the nominee withdraws, at any time from the process, after notifying both the priest and the convener of the LDC, the committee will be dissolved and the convener will notify the Canon for Clergy Development and the COM to withdraw their application to the diaconate from review. As a member of the LDC, you work as both an extension of the Commission on Ministry and as a representative of the Body of Christ. Your unique role also allows you, as a committee, to help the nominee accomplish the other tasks required during this period of discernment: the engagement of a spiritual director, church visitations where a deacon is active and present, and an interview with a current deacon in the diocese. At the end of this prayerful discernment, the LDC will make a recommendation to the COM on whether it supports the nominee in her/his call to the diaconate. Once the recommendation is received from the LDC and all other materials necessary are completed, the COM will determine if the nominee should proceed to the next step, the COM Discernment Retreat, and they will continue with the remaining Steps to Ordination to the Diaconate. If they are not invited, the nominee may reapply the following year. Procedures for the Local Discernment Committee As mentioned earlier, prior to the first meeting of the LDC, the priest or other leader of the faith community will appoint one member to serve as the convener of the group. At the first full meeting of the LDC the committee should choose one of their group to serve as clerk to take notes and distribute them to all members of the committee in a timely manner after each meeting and another to serve as timekeeper. The Local Discernment Committee will meet a minimum of 6 times over a minimum of 6 months and all sessions are to be treated as confidential and discussion is to be limited to the work of the committee and nominee or of the committee itself. Each of the sessions should last between minutes. The timekeeper should advise the group when an hour and fifteen minutes has passed and then call time at 90 minutes if the group has not finished. It is important to remember that this is meant to be a prayerful and spiritual process and your time together should begin and end with prayer. As part of the discernment the nominee will be asked to share his/her spiritual journey with you. Sharing a spiritual journey requires a level of personal trust and comfort, and in order to foster such an atmosphere you will be asked to share your own spiritual journey. Beyond sharing your own journey, you are asked to refrain from giving advice or telling your own stories. Your focus needs to remain on the nominee and her/his call and readiness to move towards possible ordination to the diaconate. That is not to say you can t share anything at all, the process needs to feel relaxed and humane and more like a conversation than a cross-examination. You are entering into a prolonged conversation in which discernment is an ongoing process leading to a decision to recommend the nominee for diaconal ministry. You, and the others on the committee, need to try to listen to what the Spirit is saying through the discussion and help the nominee listen to what the Church is saying through your discernment and that of the committee as a whole. 3

4 Session One Convener opens with prayer. A clerk and timekeeper are appointed. The nominee and members introduce themselves. The convener goes over the ground rules for the meetings. A discussion follows about what a deacon is and how a deacon functions within the church and within the community. Distinctions are made between what differentiates baptismal ministry from ordained diaconal ministry. The last 15 minutes are spent in housekeeping details where and when the next meeting will occur and how those gathered may communicate in the meanwhile. Take a few minutes to check in with the group as to what was helpful or not in the meeting, and see if any aspect of the meeting should be changed to make the work together flow more smoothly. The nominee ends the meeting with prayer. Session Two Convener asks another member of the committee to open with prayer. The group should check in with one another. The nominee shares his/her spiritual journey with the committee. The journey should be about a three-five page typed paper, copies of which will be available at the end of the meeting. These copies are to be kept confidential within the group. Please remember that sharing a spiritual journey is personal and sometimes challenging. It is important that you not interrupt the person as they share their journey. You may ask questions after they share in order to seek clarification of something the nominee has said. Under no circumstance should judgment be made on the nominees spiritual journey. Once the presentation is completed, a discussion is to follow around the gifts of the Spirit and which gifts should be evident for diaconal ministry. What gifts for ministry might be necessary for diaconal ministry? Does the nominee exhibit or exercise any of these gifts? Check in with the group to see how the time spent together went. Make sure everyone knows the next time and place for the meeting. Select a member of the group to give a 10 minute presentation of his/her spiritual journey at the next meeting. The nominee ends the meeting in prayer. Session Three Convener asks a member of the committee to open with prayer. The group should check in with one another. The selected member of the committee shares his/her spiritual journey for the next 10 minutes. The timekeeper advises the speaker when 7 minutes have passed and calls time at 10 minutes. 4

5 The group who has been actively listening may then ask questions of clarification of the presenter. No judgment is made on the journey. The convener thanks the presenter for sharing. A discussion then follows about the personal relationships of the nominee and the impact the process and potential ordination might have on those relationships. (Might the process and ordination have an impact on other aspects of the nominee s life: job, schooling, retirement? Might the process and ordination exact a toll on the nominee s emotional life? ) Talk about being a public figure who is constantly being observed and judged for everything from how one s hair is cut to what sort of shoes are worn to how they spend their money to how they act or react to others. You and others on the committee need to discern if the nominee is prepared for the demands of ordained life and the toll it takes on one s own emotional life, on relationships, and whether or not the nominee has the innate abilities it takes to live out an ordained ministry. This is important as the nominee and LDC discern if the call of the nominee is to lay or ordained ministry. Select another person to share his/her spiritual journey for 10 minutes at the next meeting. Check in and see what was helpful and what was not in the discussion at this meeting. Make provision for changes if called for. Ask the nominee to close with prayer. Session Four The convener asks a member of the group to open with prayer. All members check in with one another. The selected member will share his/her spiritual journey for the next 10 minutes with time for clarification questions to follow. The nominee is asked to talk about his/her relationship with God, with Christ, with the Church, and with prayer. The nominee is then asked to talk about how she/he lives out his/her faith in the world. What sort of ministries (those doings within the church) or missions (those doings outside the church doors) has the nominee been involved in? What was the role of the nominee? You, or others on the committee, may then describe what you are hearing. It is important to use phrases such as What I hear you saying is or That makes me think... in order to keep the discussion from feeling like a cross-examination. The nominee should also be given the opportunity to clarify any discussion. Share with one another what is working well in the group and what needs correction. Give the homework for the next session: each person should bring a list of their strengths, weaknesses, growing edges, and their experience of a difficult relationship. Select another member to give a 10 minute story of his/her spiritual journey. Nominee ends the meeting with prayer. 5

6 Session Five The convener asks a member to open the gathering with prayer. The members check in with one another. The selected member shares his/her spiritual journey for 10 minutes with clarification questions to follow. All those gathered are to have complied and brought a list of their strengths, weaknesses, growing edges, and an experience of a difficult relationship. Talk about those things, which push your buttons, frustrate you, delight you, or make you feel like a failure. How do you handle these emotions and deal with the conflicts involved? Let the discussion to follow be an organic conversation, but the convener needs to make sure everyone has a chance to share. The group moves to another topic of discussion having to do with power and authority. How does each one react to power and authority for themselves or in others? How does each one react when feeling powerless? What stories can you tell to exemplify these actions and reactions? Discuss specifically how power and authority relate to the diaconate. The group then listens to the nominee talk about how she/he takes care of his/her physical, emotional, and spiritual being; how he/she continues to probe their faith; how he/she understands stewardship of not only money but of time and energy and rest. Select a person to share his/her spiritual journey for 10 minutes at the next meeting. Each person should voice that which was helpful and that which was not. The nominee closes with prayer. Session Six The convener asks a member to open the meeting with prayer The members check in with each other. The spiritual journey of one of the members takes place with clarification questions over the next 10 minutes. The nominee is asked to talk about his/her ministry in the world. They are to talk about their goals, skills, longings, and growing edges. The group responds by reflecting on what stood out for each of them in the nominee s presentation. The nominee then reflects on the time spent with the committee, where he/she is in terms of discernment, whether or not she/he still believes she/he is called to diaconal ministry or if that belief has changed, and why? Individual members of the committee then respond with a short reflection telling the nominee of a moment that stood out to them in this process. After the nominee ends this portion of the meeting with prayer, the committee says goodbye to the nominee and gets down to their own work. 6

7 Reflections of the committee In order to help you and others on the committee reflect and discern the nominees call to diaconal ministry you should ask yourselves the following: Reflect on the nominee s relationship with God, his/her ministry in the church and mission to the world, his/her gifts and skills, his/her issues around health and self-care and imagine whether or not all these are what are needed for diaconal ministry in this diocese. Reflect on the relationships of the nominee, his/her issues with authority and accountability and handling conflict, his/her ability to lead and communicate, his/her spiritual, mental, and moral characteristics, his/her ability to commit, lead, envision, and respond to and for the people of God and the larger community. How would you and the others on the committee see this person living out his/her ministry? Would you be inspired by this nominee as a leader and want to have him/her in your congregation serving as a deacon? Would you recommend this nominee for postulancy for the diaconate? The convener will then gather the notes taken by the clerk over the past sessions, including this one, and write a letter addressed to the Canon for Clergy Development and the Chair of the Commission on Ministry with its recommendation for postulancy or not. The letter will be sent to you and others on the committee by and you will then have the opportunity to make changes in the narrative. Once the committee is satisfied, the letter will be printed for signatures to be signed by each person on the committee. A meeting will be scheduled with the nominee to tell the nominee whether or not she/he is being recommended. The nominee will be required to sign the document as witness that she/he has seen the document after which it will be forwarded to the Canon for Clergy Development and the Chair of the COM. If deemed necessary, the convener may request that a member of the COM or the Working Group on the Diaconate be present for this final meeting with the nominee. The Commission on Ministry, the Working Group on the Diaconate, and the Bishop, commend you and the other members of the Local Discernment Committee for your work with the nominee. 7

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