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. This reference is sent to the Provincial Director of Ordinands (PDO) for the process to begin. The Province is developing the role of a ‘Vocations Advisor’ who can help to discern what kind of ministry (e.g. Lay / ordained) the candidate may be called to. The candidate will be informed of their Vocations Advisor, and about the steps involved in the process of vocational discernment by the PDO.

Discernment with the Vocations Advisor

The Vocations Advisor 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. This begins the personal discernment by the candidate as well as the Church valuing and validating the gifts of the individual.

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 but the bishop may wait for a report from the Vocations Advisor before meeting the candidate.

Discernment with the Provincial Director of Ordinands (PDO)

The process continues with the Vocations Advisor offering their report to the Provincial Director of Ordinands (PDO) and to the diocesan bishop on the candidate’s progress, related to general categories and criteria for discernment. The diocesan bishop interviews the candidate and offers their own reflection to the PDO about the candidate’s progress. The PDO meets the candidate and decides the next most helpful step for the candidate. (The PDO is appointed by the College of Bishops and advises them directly). The individual may be advised to return to the Vocations Advisor to aid personal development or the discernment of an appropriate ministry other than ordained ministry. Further elements of discernment may be included by the PDO, with reference to the diocesan bishop, before the candidate may be considered suitable for ordained ministry. The next stage is for the candidate to meet a regional Assistant Director of Ordinands.

Criteria for Selection and Discernment Curriculum

The Criteria for Selection provide a framework and tool for the Discernment Process, Selection Panels, and the Scottish Episcopal Institute’s (SEI) Formation Outcomes for ordinands. Conversations and reports are shaped around the Criteria. It is important for candidates to engage with the Criteria from an early stage. Candidates are to provide evidence for having fulfilled each Criterion. The Discernment Curriculum does not have the rigidity of a “course” but should be viewed as “accumulating a portfolio”. Candidates are asked to undertake suggested reflections and activities. Details of the Criteria for Selection and the Discernment Curriculum are available from the PDO.

Discernment with the Assistant Director of Ordinands (ADO)

An Assistant Director of Ordinands (ADO), with local ministry and mission expertise, assists the candidate through several meetings with the elements for further discernment. A Registration form is completed with the candidate, and the ADO makes evidence-based recommendations in a report based on the Discernment Curriculum to the diocesan bishop and PDO, as to whether the candidate progresses to a formal Discernment meeting, or not. The diocesan bishop reminds the candidate’s priest of their ongoing pastoral responsibilities to those individuals whose discernment suggests vocational options for discernment other than ordained ministry.

Discernment Meeting

The PDO is responsible for those candidates who are to attend a Discernment Meeting, consisting of two lay people and one clergy person from the Province. After interview, recommendations are sent to the PDO, and copied to the Bishop, about the candidate proceeding to an Advisory Selection Panel, or taking further time with the ADO to address identified issues. The diocesan bishop meets with the individual, in consultation with the PDO, to discuss the next steps. Personal or family circumstances can change significantly during the time of the whole vocational and discernment process so it may be possible for a recommendation to be made that the individual is not called to ordained ministry.

Advisory Selection Panel

The Advisory Selection Panel, receiving the required reports and references from the PDO, is made up of experienced clergy and lay advisers, sometimes with a group of candidates. The Panel involves interviews, written work, and presentations. The PDO writes a full report of the Panel, based on the Advisors’ written reports, for the candidate’s diocesan bishop. 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 and formation with the Scottish Episcopal Institute A final decision as to whether the candidate will be ordained is made at the completion of their Initial Ministerial Education, usually lasting three years.