The seeming furore surrounding the selection process for the next Arch Bishop of Canterbury has prompted me to ponder a little more on vocation. Particularly one to ministry and how does one discern a vocation to be the next Arch Bishop of Canterbury?
The online Oxford Dictionary definition of vocation
a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation: not all of us have a vocation to be nurses or doctors
a person’s employment or main occupation, especially regarded as worthy and requiring dedication: her vocation as a poet
a trade or profession:GNVQs in Leisure and Tourism will be the introduction to a wide span of vocations
The definition here seems to concentrate on a ‘feeling’ or an ‘employment’ or a ‘trade or profession’ but vocation to Christian ministry seems to me to be much more?
Defining Vocation to Ministry. There is a wonderfully complete description of a vocation to Christian Ministry in the Catholic Encylopeodia The two opening paragraphs speak to me about seeking:
“An ecclesiastical or religious vocation is the special gift of those who, in the Church of God, follow with a pure intention the ecclesiastical profession of the evangelical counsels. The elements of this vocation are all the interior and exterior helps, the efficacious graces which have led to the taking of the resolution, and all the graces which produce meritorious perseverance.
Ordinarily this vocation is revealed as the result of deliberation according to the principles of reasonand faith; in extraordinary cases, by supernatural light so abundantly shed upon the soul as to render deliberation unnecessary. There are two signs of vocation: the one negative, the absence ofimpediment; the other positive, a firm resolution by the help of God to serve Him in the ecclesiasticalor religious state.”
The Church of England vocations website gives an introduction from Dr Rowan Williams on Anglican Vocation
Foreword by the Archbishop of Canterbury:
The letters of St Paul often tell us about all the gifts the Church needs in order for it to do its work and to be itself. Everyone has something Jesus Christ has given them which has to be shared with the whole community. Among these gifts is a cluster of things that all have to do with taking some kind of responsibility for the Church’s growth and the Church’s direction – the apostle, the prophet, the teacher, and so on. And while all sorts of different people may exercise these gifts in various ways, the Church has always organised itself on the basis that it needs some visible focus for this kind of ministry. It has worked on the assumption that the task of taking responsibility and nurturing the vision of the Church needs to be recognisable both in and beyond this or that local community and so it has given some people the job of doing this in a very public and official way.
+ Rowan Cantuar:
The selection criteria and process to appoint the next Arch Bishop of Canterbury were spelt out at the outset of the current process. To me, it seems quite convoluted and arcane, but I’m aware that the discernment of a suitable candidate requires prayerful reflection and guidance from more than one direction:
First – God’s will for his Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit during the discernment process
Second – those candidates who may feel called to this ministry, and those who may not feel called but are put forward by others who discern their particular gifts as being appropriate for this ministry.
Third - the Diocese of Canterbury, the provinces of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion as the Arch Bishops roles cross so many boundaries.
Fourth - those appointed to chair and to participate in the actual discernment process as members of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) for a Vacancy in See
Fifth - Her Majesty the Queen and the Prime Minister who has the responsibility of putting forward the two names from the CNC and the Queen for accepting the choice.
The Process and it’s implications:
The whole process from immediately after the announcement of the retirement of Dr Williams has provoked a furious onslaught from the media, from the blogosphere and world wide across the Anglican Communion. It has been highly politicised and controversial. Interest has been wide spread, sometimes encouraging, sometimes critical and some times down right antagonistic. Dr Williams has been personally vilified by many who profess themselves to be faithful Christians, and eulogised by others who have seen his ministry as grace filled and good for the Church. Something missing seems to be any mention of God,s grace, his mission for his church and the need for clarity, charity and that prayerful reflection alluded to earlier.
The selection process has been unseemly with speculative betting odds being offered by book makers and various lists of candidates with their potential gifts and faults laid bare for those who care to take part. There have been some notable exceptions, particularly the likes of Laura Sykes aka @Layanglicana who has blogged, after research on a number of Bishops who might be eligible for appointment to provide a space to inform opinion and reflective discussion on the merits or otherwise of the process. As I write this post, the CNC process is in progress and seemingly has not yet been able to arrive at the consensus necessary to put forward the names of two candidates to the Prime Minister.
So, how does someone who is a diocesan or suffragan bishop discern whether they are called to be the next Arch Bishop of Canterbury?
It might be helpful to briefly dwell on the ministry of a bishop:
This is the chief minister of a diocese. If he is in charge of the whole diocese, he is called a diocesan bishop; however, in most dioceses the diocesan bishop is assisted by one or more suffragan (area) bishops, and sometimes by assistant bishops—often bishops who have retired into their diocese.
To serve this royal priesthood, God has given particular ministries. Bishops are ordained to be shepherds of Christ’s flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles, proclaiming the gospel of God’s kingdom and leading his people in mission. Obedient to the call of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, they are to gather God’s people and celebrate with them the sacraments of the new covenant. Thus formed into a single communion of faith and love, the Church in each place and time is united with the Church in every place and time.
Someone who has served in a ministry as a diocesan bishop, and who is within the specified age limits is eligible to be selected to minister as an Arch Bishop. So, when the Vacancy in See is announced, whose minds turn to a possible new ministry?
I suspect that there are various factors at work:
· Others signpost them towards the appointment by encouragement, prayer and recognition of their particular gifts.
· An Individual feels a strong call from God to exercise his ministry in a different sphere or perhaps in a wider context, and humbly and prayerfully seeks the nomination.
· Popular opinion from the wider church persuades an individual that this might be a future ministry for them?
· The are nominated by others, without lobbying, as suitable for the post.
· Personal ambition probably is somewhere in this, but not to the extent that some might perceive.
I can’t imagine the process that someone goes through when considering whether they are called to be the next Arch Bishop. It must be difficult to ignore the and put aside the media and public interest in candidates and to seek to discern whether they are called to such a ministry. I have seen it suggested that this is a job that nobody would want? So, I see whoever as called will need all of the personal courage and integrity that they possess to accept the role and the prayerful support that their ministry is both the right one for the church and that it will take forward God’s mission for his church into the next decade or more. God help whoever it is.
So where does this leave discernment of a vocation for everyone else?
Thankfully most of those who have sought to discern a vocation to ministry are given the space and time to do so privately, sharing only with our family,vicar, spiritual director, church community, diocesan vocations teams, directors or ordinands etc and selection panels.
The whole process is powerfully affirming, grace filled and an opportunity for personal growth as a disciple. We develop in our spirituality, our personal prayer life and worship. It aids the development of a realistic view of of the potential and the gifts we may bring to any future ministry. It takes time, patience, prayer and exposure to different types of ministry; as you explore the pathways, ordained or lay, that God may be willing you to work in.
How do we deal with those who don’t make the grade?
Equally the discernment process can be damaging to those who believe that the call to ministry is strong, but who meet obstacles and setbacks along the way. While there are many stories of a wonderful experience, I have heard from some who have been disappointed by their experience with this process, perhaps due to unrealistic expectations being raised, or alternatively, through poor administration or preparation by their respective diocese during the discernment process.
My view is that on the whole, the Church has got it right and it putting the right candidates forward for training and ordination or for various types of lay ministry. I do believe that there areas that could be improved or better coordinated, particularly for those who don’t get the answer from the Bishops Assessment Panel (BAP) or other selection process that they seek or anticipate. It seems essential to me that pastoral care and guidance for another way forward is provided as ongoing care for disappointed individuals. Sadly, that is not common across the church, albeit, my personal experience has been one of excellent care and pastoral support in my own benefice and wider network.
http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/vocation accessed 29 Sep 2012.
http://www.churchofengland.org/clergy-office-holders/ministry/vocation.aspx accessed 29 Sep 2012