Rough Guide to the Discernment Process for the Young

It has been a constant frustration for me that no one seems to have written a detailed, step-by-step guide of the modern, current discernment process for young prospective Ordinands who are currently students. As the number of young Ordinands has significantly increased a recent years, this is no longer just a niche area. Beware that the process is in a constant state of flux, and that it does differ slightly depending on the Diocese. Here’s my attempt:

(1) Have a private but informal chat with your local incumbent priest in your home Church and Parish.

(2) Email the Diocesan Vocations Officer (D.V.O.) in your home Diocese.

(3) Type up a 2-side personal “Vocational Testimony” and then email this to the D.V.O.

(4) Have an initial interview with your D.V.O. at the Diocesan Offices. He/she will explain in full exactly how the whole vocation and discernment process for ordained ministry pans out in this particular Diocese, and who is responsible for which particular areas and stages of the process. He/She will assign you a Diocesan Director of Ordinands in your home and sponsoring Diocese and, maybe an additional one in the Diocese where you are at university during term time. He/she will also assign you an ordained “Spiritual Director”, and an ordained “Vocations Chaplain”.

(5) Fill out a rough, preliminary, first draft of an initial “Registration Form for Selection for a Bishops’ Advisory Panel”. This form, without anything being filled in, is 11 A4 sides long so from this you can see that this discernment process is very thorough, rigorous, and intrusive. This form then acts as the basis for the whole discernment process and become a long-term, working document, and work-in-progress. Most will use inspiration from their work, study, life experience, reading on vocation, “The [nine] Criteria for Selection for Ordained Ministry”, their “Vocational Testimony”, and their initial interview with the D.V.O. You’re D.D.O., Vocations Chaplain, Spiritual Director, D.V.O., Diocesan Director of Vocations, the current incumbent priest at your home Church and Parish will then regularly meet up with you in person (sometimes weekly), to thoroughly discuss each of the nine criteria for selection one-by-one. You will harness the inspiration of these discussions and conversations to then enhance, improve and update your “Registration Form”. If you’re very keen, if you’re well-read on vocation, and if the process runs as smoothly as possible, this part of the process will take at least 9 months, but often a year or two for young, undergraduate students.

(6) Interview with the sponsoring Bishop in your Diocese. This is often a Suffragan/Assistant/Junior Bishop rather than the Diocesan Bishop.

(7) Hopefully your Diocese will then, after this, sponsor you for a Bishops’ Advisory Panel. This is a three-day residential event in a retreat house. There you will be interviewed by small groups of the Bishops’ Advisers three times, with each interview lasting at least 50 minutes and focusing on at most 3 of the 9 current “Criteria for Selection for Ordained Ministry”. You then have to give a 5-minute PowerPoint presentation in front of the Bishops’ advisers and other fellow candidates for ordination on one of the nine criteria for selection, and then answer questions. Finally, you are given a formal letter from a potential future parishoner, detailing a hypothetical but possible pastoral situation, which you then have 48 hours to write a full formal reply to, explaining your response.

(8) The Bishops’ Advisors then decide whether or not they are going to recommend you to your Diocesan Bishop for ordination. They can give one of three responses here, which are essentially: “yes”, “not yet”, and “no”. The not yet means that they think that you are being called by God to become an ordained minister in the Church but that you do not yet have the full potential to start training. They is often due to a perceived “lack of life experience” for young people, but can also be due to lack of formal, academic education (as you’ll need to carry out academic theology at theological college where you train for ordained ministry). There are a whole host of other reasons for this too.

(9) Presuming that you were recommended, your return to the DDO in your home Diocese and, based on your theological tradition, theological views, Churchmanship and academic achievement, attainment and abilities, he/she recommends a small shortlist of theological college which he/she thinks would be most suitable for you. You then go on open/visit days to each of them and make the final decision yourself.

(10) Train at theological college for a 3-year BA if you’ve never studied an overlapping academic Theology degree before or 2 years if you have.

(11) You hopefully graduate 2 or 3 years on from starting your training.

(12) You get ordained first as a Deacon by your home Diocesan Bishop in the Diocese’s Cathedral.

(13) You start your 4 year curacy, but after the first year you get ordained as a priest which allows you to do some additional things such as preside at the Eucharist, and pronounce the “Absolution”.

(14) Once your 4-year curacy has ended, you can then start looking and then applying for permanent, and often incumbent, posts.

By Ben Somervell

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