Discernment process for ordained ministry

In the Scottish Episcopal Church, final decisions about selection for training and then ordination to the diaconate or presbyterate are made by the candidate’s diocesan bishop. However, the bishops involve others in the discernment process from the beginning.

Discernment in the congregation or chaplaincy

Candidates must be sponsored by their priest or chaplain, and normally will have discussed their sense of vocation with them for a time. The priest may or may not involve the Vestry (church council).

When the candidate comes to the point of formal sponsorship, a reference from their priest is required. Some dioceses have or are developing the role of a ‘Vocations Adviser’ who can help to discern what kind of ministry (e.g. Lay / ordained) the candidate may be called to.

Discernment with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands

The candidate is then referred by their priest or chaplain to the Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO), who will have several meetings with the candidate for up to about 18 months. During this time, the candidate may be required to do reading and written work, undertake practical ministry, and broaden their church experience.

Some dioceses require candidates to engage in group discussion about discernment and their vocation with their congregation or with other candidates. The candidate will normally meet with their diocesan bishop at least once during this time.

Discernment in the Province

The DDO refers the candidate to the Provincial Director of Ordinands (PDO), who interviews the candidate. (The PDO is appointed by the College of Bishops and advises them directly.)

This provides a further element of discernment, and also provides evidence as to whether the candidate is ready to proceed to a Provincial Advisory Panel. The PDO writes a report for the candidate’s diocesan bishop.

The Provincial Advisory Panel is made up of experienced clergy and lay advisers, with a group of candidates. There may be several Panels in a year, depending on numbers. The Panel involves interviews, presentations and group discussion.

The candidate may be recommended to go to a Bishops’ Advisory Panel in England, to do further discernment work, or not recommended. The PDO writes a full report of the Panel based on the Advisors’ written reports for the candidate’s diocesan bishop.

Discernment in the Anglican Communion

If recommended by the Provincial Panel, the candidate will proceed to a Bishops’ Advisory Panel in England. These are for candidates from the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

They take place over 3 days, and involve written work, interviews with Vocational, Pastoral and Educational Advisers, presentations and group discussions. Candidates may be recommended for training, not recommended, or conditionally recommended.

Final decisions

The candidate’s diocesan bishop decides what the candidate will do next on the basis of the various recommendations. In practice, they almost always follow the recommendations of the Panels.

At this stage, the candidate may begin training, but the decision has not yet been made as to whether they will be ordained at the end of training. Again, in practice, it would be very unusual for them not to be, but it has happened.