Recently, one of the sons of our diocese, Tim Dyer, was ordained to the transitional diaconate. It was a wonderfully vibrant and hope filled day for everyone! Tim’s journey toward the priesthood is not quite complete but it is moving forward and that is a story best told by Tim himself. But his journey began with a deceptively simple question: what is my vocation?
By virtue of our baptism, we all have a vocation. We all have been called by God for ministry in his church. We may be called as lay persons, bishops, priests or deacons. Yes. There are four orders of ministry, not just three. It is unfortunate that when someone feels a call to do more in their life of faith, we tend to assume it is a call to ordained ministry. The truth of the matter is that lay ministry is vital to the life of the church. That said, there is much more to lay ministry than what might first come to mind.
Our catechism defines the ministry of the laity as, “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the church.” BCP p. 855. A key phrase in this definition is ‘according to the gifts given them.’ When we are discerning our vocation, it is important to know that our call will align with the gifts that we have. We may be called to altar guild, hospitality, visiting, praying, supporting mission work. All of it is ministry.
Discerning a call to ministry begins with the individual—either by the one being called or in some cases by a person who sees in someone else a call to such ministry. When the question keeps nagging and won’t be silenced, we need the help of the community (such as the clergy, spiritual directors and/or diocesan staff) to discern the particular nature of that call.
It may be a call to one of the licensed lay ministries. Most of us are familiar with Eucharistic Ministers and Eucharistic Visitors. However, there are others. One can receive training and be licensed as Worship Leaders, Pastoral Leaders, Preachers, Catechists and Evangelists. These licensed lay ministries are integral components of successful congregational ministry, particularly in the case of bi-vocational and non-stipendiary clergy. If you want more information on the training required for these ministries, contact the Diocesan Church Center.
It may well be a call to ordained ministry. Today there are various paths toward ordination. All of our deacons and some of our priests are locally formed in the diocese. They take most of their classes in the diocese and are ordained as non-stipendiary clergy. Some of our priests are formed through attending full time residential seminaries for a period of three years. Still others follow a more hybrid route with some classes being taken locally and some offered through online classes at accredited seminaries.
What is my vocation? It is a question we all need to be asking as we take our baptismal vows seriously. The answer is the journey of a lifetime. Ask Tim.
The Reverend Martha Ishman, Canon for Mission Development and Transition and Vicar of St. James, Titusville