Discerning a Call to Ministry

Discerning a Call to Ordained Ministry

In the Episcopal Church, call to ordained ministry is discerned in community. The first step in the discernment process is to meet with the priest in charge of your congregation (also known as your sponsoring clergy) to discuss your sense of call. Remember that God's time is not the same as our time. It may be a year or even longer from the time you first meet with the priest in charge of your congregation until you are eligible to be invited to attend a Discernment Weekend (the final step before the Bishop decides whether or not to make you a Postulant for Holy Orders). This holy time is not just a time of completing tasks and filling out documents, although that is part of what you need to do. It is also a time of listening deeply, both individually and in community, for how God is calling you to serve in the Episcopal Church and whether ordination is required for you to answer that call.

As part of its commitment to implementing Resolution 2015-D014 of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (Evaluate Individuals in the Ordination Process for Addiction Concerns), the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California has created a policy on Alcohol/Substance Dependency and Mental Health Issues for Individuals Seeking Ordained Ministry. Make sure that you review this policy carefully.

The Day of Discernment

The Diocese of Northern California requires those who feel a call to ordained ministry to attend the Day of Discernment. The Day of Discernment is offered twice a year on a Saturday (once in the Spring in the Sacramento area, and once in the Fall outside of the Sacramento area). It is intended to help all members of the Episcopal Church deepen their understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit and the many ways one can be called to serve in the Episcopal Church. During the Day of Discernment, there are presentations on the priesthood, diaconate, and lay ministry, as well as presentations by members of religious orders active in our diocese. There is also an overview of the ordination process (including handing out an application packet and copy of The Manual and Guide for Ordination). Day of Discernment registration is announced in Diocesan newsletters, the website, and on the Commission on Ministry page.

If after attending the Day of Discernment, you and your sponsoring clergy agree that you should continue in the discernment process, you should start compiling your application packet. At that time, you should also contact the Ordination Process Coordinator in the Office of the Bishop to initiate the canonically-required background check and psychological examination. The Office of the Bishop will invoice your congregation for the cost of the background check and psychological screening. Your congregation must pay the invoice in order for the process to proceed.

It is your responsibility to make sure that you know and meet the deadlines for each part of the application process. You may send completed paper documents to the Office of the Bishop through the mail to the attention of the Ordination Process Coordinator. If you send paper documents, be sure to keep a copy for yourself. You may also send scanned documents electronically to the Ordination Process Coordinator.

Background Check

The Office of the Bishop will initiate the background check after receipt of payment from your congregation. You will receive documents from the Oxford Document Management Company (Oxford) within several days, which you must complete, sign, and return promptly to Oxford. Do not delay, as the background check process is lengthy and can take three months or more.

 Psychological and Medical Examinations

The Episcopal Church canons require that specific forms created by the Church Pension Fund be used for these canonically-required examinations.

Authorization and Release Form: provides a consent process that gives formal permission to conduct sensitive examinations. The authorization and release allows clinicians and diocesan officials to communicate among themselves and with one another. The forms release all parties from liability for good-faith actions related to the medical, psychological and psychiatric screening of applicants for ordained ministry.

Life History Questionnaire (LHQ): a clinical self-assessment document that forms the basis for a structured clinical interview by the diocese’s designated psychiatrist or psychologist.

Behavioral Screening Questionnaire (BSQ): a clinical and risk management document, which focuses on a history of your behavior and conduct in areas such as professional discipline, ethics violations, sexual misconduct and breaches of fiduciary duty.

Medical Examination Form: addresses your physical state of health and the areas that may affect professional functioning in the Church.

Instructions for the Medical Examination

Have your physician perform a medical examination, complete the required Medical Examination form and send the completed medical examination form to the Ordination Coordinator’s attention at the Office of the Bishop.

Instructions for the Psychological Examination

Complete two copies of the BSQ and the Authorization and Release and send a copy of both forms to the Ordination Coordinator. After receipt of the BSQ and Authorization and Release, the Ordination Coordinator will provide you with the psychologist’s contact information and authorize you to initiate the process. Do not delay completing paperwork, scheduling appointments and taking psychological tests, as this process takes several months to complete.

After contacting the psychologist, send the following documents to the psychologist with sufficient time for review before a face-to-face meeting.

- Life History Questionnaire (kept as part of clinician’s medical record, not provided to the Diocese)
- Behavioral Screening Questionnaire
- Authorization and Release Form

After completion of the psychological examination process, the psychologist will send a report to the Office of the Bishop. The report is kept confidential.

Regional Discernment Group (RDG) and Vestry/Mission Committee/Mission Committee Discernment

As soon as you have attended the Day of Discernment, your sponsoring clergy should arrange for you to meet with a Regional Discernment Group (RDG). A RDG consists of members (lay and ordained) with particular gifts for discernment. At least 1/3 of its members must be from congregations other than your sponsoring congregation. The RDG will prepare a report with a formal recommendation to your sponsoring clergy, your congregation's Vestry/Mission Committee, and the Bishop about your suitability for ordination. If your Vestry/Mission Committee, after reviewing the RDG report, believes that your call is to ordained ministry, they will vote to formally endorse your application for Postulancy.

After completing the RDG process and receiving an endorsement from your Vestry/Mission Committee, send these four completed documents to the Office of the Bishop:

1. Endorsement of Application for Postulancy 
2. Written Acceptance of Vestry/Mission Committee Nomination (you must write a brief letter to the Bishop accepting your Vestry/Mission Committee’s Nomination for Postulancy)
3. Letter of Recommendation from your Sponsoring Clergy
4. RDG Report to Sponsoring Clergy and Vestry/Mission Committee

Formal Application

During the time the background check, medical examination and psychological evaluation is proceeding, you should gather and complete the following documents and send them to the Ordination Process Coordinator:

- Personal Data Sheet
- Application for Holy Orders 
- Six letters of recommendation from a variety of sources
- Current resume
- Wallet size photograph
- Evidence of Baptism and Confirmation
- Transcripts of college work or equivalent

Meeting with The Bishop

Once you have confirmed that your application file is complete and that the Office of the Bishop has received all required reports, you should contact the Ordination Process Coordinator to schedule a meeting with the Bishop. The purpose of this meeting is for the Bishop to get to know you and talk with you about your sense of call to ordained ministry. After reviewing your application file and meeting with you, the Bishop will decide whether or not to invite you to a Discernment Weekend.

The Discernment Weekend

The Discernment Weekend is held 1-2 times a year. It is an opportunity for members of the Diocesan Commission on Ministry (COM) and Standing Committee (SC) to meet with 3-5 individuals to explore their sense of call to ordained ministry. After a series of interviews and a time of discernment, the COM and SC will make a formal recommendation to the Bishop regarding admission to postulancy. The Bishop will notify you, your sponsoring clergy, the COM, and the SC in writing of her decision regarding your admission to postulancy.

© 2013 The Episcopal Diocese of Northern California.

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