I've talked before about "The Discernment Process." In the
Diocese of Central Pennsylvania it was called, "Total Ministry," but
the name everyone calls it, nationwide, is The Process. The
Discernment Process is a series of events, tests, evaluations,
conversations, retreats, etc. used to vet a pool of people who feel
called to ordained ministry into three various orders - lay,
deacon, and priest.
My particular process began with a meeting with my priest in
March of 2002. Father Bill then scheduled a meeting with my
bishop, who assigned me to a class, which required a lay
committee of evaluators, who recommended me for ordination to
the vestry, which recommended me for ordination to the Bishops
Advisory Commission on Ministry, which required that I be
evaluated by a psychiatrist and a physician, and complete a four
month internship, after which I would be allowed to attend
seminary. During those three years, I went through various
other evaluations by faculty, physicians, and psychiatrists who all
recommended me back to the Commission on Ministry for
Ordination to the Priesthood. They in turn sent word to the
Standing Committee of the Diocese that I should be ordained to
the transitional diaconate, and, in due time, to the priesthood.
The Standing Committee checked all of my paperwork, and
finding no errors, recommended to the Bishop that I be ordained,
which did eventually happen. On June 9, 2007 I was ordained a
deacon, and then priested on January 24, 2008.
In the midst of "The Process" I had a difficult time seeing its
value, but now that it is over, I am glad for it. Glad that there
were several different groups charged with knowing me and
listening for the Spirit to give the thumbs up or thumbs down.
Glad that a system was in place to discern the will of God.
2000 years ago, "The Process" didn't yet exist. In fact, we find
ourselves this afternoon in that interesting 10 day period between
the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost were the disciples must
have felt very much alone. We know what's about to happen on
Sunday, but the 120 followers of Jesus who remained faithful are
in the midst of some serious unrest. Jesus has been resurrected
and appeared to them on several occasions. In fact, he showed
himself to more than 500 during his 40 days of physical
resurrection on earth, but he has since left again, leaving only
one instruction - stay in Jerusalem until the Spirit arrives. So the
disciples sit and they wait and they wonder and, as Luke tells us,
they go about some business.
Twelve is a sacred number filled with rich history and deeply
significant for the early Jewish Church. In the ancient Jewish
world view, the ministry of Jesus can't possibly be the full
revelation of God if not for the redemption of all twelve tribes of
Israel. And so, as David writes in Psalm 109, "another should
take his place." Judas, the fallen disciple, the one who was
destined to be lost, had to be replaced. And so, the group of 120
go about the work of discernment. They probably didn't come up
with a fancy name like "Total Ministry," but they did go through a
very deliberate process.
First, as I've already alluded to, the group went to the guide of
scripture which told them that they should replace Judas.
Secondly, as a community, the group used their common
understanding to create a series of qualifications for apostleship.
These qualifications were; a witness to the resurrection and a
participant in the whole of Jesus' ministry from his baptism
through his ascension. The same qualifications held by the 11
who remained. From this set of criteria they arrived at two
candidates, Joseph and Matthias. Third, the group prayed to
Jesus for guidance. As he had hand selected the original twelve,
it seemed fitting that he would also pick Judas' replacement, and
so they prayed. Fourthly, they cast lots, which sounds very
strange to us. Didn't the soldiers cast lots for Jesus' clothes?
Seems like a strange way to pick a new twelfth apostle, but in
actuality all the offices and duties of the temple were picked in
this way. All the names of the candidates were written on stones,
the stone were put into a jar, and the jar was shaken until one
stone fell out, and the name on that stone was the winner. And
so, the name that fell out was Matthias, hand picked by the Lord
Jesus Christ through prayer, through community, and with the
advice of Scripture.
The details surrounding "The Process" sure have changed over
the last 2000 years, but I believe that at its basis the process by
which we do the work of discernment remains the same;
scripture, community, and prayer - these are the keys to wise
decision making. Be it finding the twelfth apostle, figuring out
who is really called to ordained ministry, where we should retire,
of what ministry of the Church we should get involved in, the
work of discernment is never ending. Without any piece we are
destined to the path of destruction that Judas took, but as a
whole this "Process" leads to the will of God, and the will of God
leads to his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. May your lives
be lives of discernment in the midst of scripture, community and
prayer, and as such bear the fruit of the kingdom of God. Amen.