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Why do we do that? Discerning Ministry

I was six years old when I asked for my first Book of Common Prayer (BCP). I’m not even sure what I loved about the book so much as a kid, but I remember getting one, writing my name in cursive inside of it, and underlining and highlighting some of my favorite parts. I was obsessed with playing school (when I wasn’t playing “Communion”) and I’d often teach my students lessons from the Book of Common Prayer. I’d create worksheets where they had to fill in or explain different pieces of the Creeds or answer questions about faith from the Q&A section in the back.

When I prepared to make my Confirmation, I read and studied and constantly asked my parents questions. I loved church, church camp, youth group, learning about my faith, and being involved in my parish. I could not wait to share with the bishop all that I had learned.

As I got older, I often served as the go-to religious person in my family. I wrote and spoke eulogies at my deceased grandparents’ funerals, and at his request, wrote the liturgy and presided over my grandfather’s funeral service at the funeral home for the family. I am always the person volunteered to lead prayer at family meals and often the person family members turn to when they’re struggling to make sense of something challenging in their lives.

My whole life people have been telling me I should be a priest. For a long time I felt a strong aversion to this. Why were people saying this? Why can’t I care about my faith without being ordained? Through a lot of self-reflection in my early twenties, I realized that there were two major reasons for the aversion to imagining myself as a priest or being open to the call to ordination. One was that I had never, until about six years ago, had a strong female role model who was a priest. Almost all of the priests and deacons I knew growing up were male and lived lives that I could never envision for myself. I also had a sense of being not good enough to lead in this capacity. I knew from the Bible that leaders were called to a higher standard and priests are the spiritual leaders of their communities. This was not a role that I felt was suitable for me. I did not understand the conclusion that because someone is serious about their spiritual life and desires to know and serve God, they need to become a priest. After all, isn’t that what we are all called to do as Christians?

Fast forward to completing both an undergraduate and graduate degree in theology, scoring a job where I get paid to teach young girls about scripture and social justice and remind them of their call to holiness in the world, participating in EfM, serving on the vestry, traveling to Salt Lake City as a deputy for the General Convention, serving as a lay preacher, and finding a group of amazing and intentional young people to workshop and do life with the Agape community, I found myself to be in a really healthy and whole place. I was involved in the life of the parish and my job was feeling incredibly vocational.

Then I’m sitting in a Taizé service in St. Mark’s Cathedral during a trip to the Pacific Northwest and I hear an audible voice say, “What you are doing is good, but there is more.” Wait, what? What does that mean? I journaled about it, prayed about it, and then honestly tried to suppress it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Did this experience mean God was calling me to be a priest? Is that the more? I honestly tried to ignore the whole thing for about six months and then decided I needed to put the work and energy into figuring this out. I decided if this was something that other people have told me, that my gifts and interests aligned with, and that God might be calling me toward, then it was probably something that deserved my attention and discernment. At this time, I had some really strong female priest role models in my life, I no longer felt “not good enough” to be a leader, and I was more open to the possibility that this might be what God is asking of me. At the time, I journaled about being open to a lay life or to an ordained life. Looking back, this new stance of openness was really where my discernment began.

So what did discernment of this question look like for me? I wanted to look deeply at the question “Do I need to be ordained in order to fulfill my vocation?” I had four segments to my discernment of this question.

  • I talked about it. I began by talking about it with those closest to me, including family members, friends, and people in my church community.
  • I read. I read a lot of memoirs of (mostly) women who were discerning big life changes.
  • I took a pilgrimage. I walked 250 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain with my mom, in part to wrestle with the question of discernment.
  • I started spiritual direction. I got a spiritual director and committed myself to learning to listen to God.

The result is that I have confidently discerned and believe that God calls me to the laity. This is not a lower or lesser call than the call of the deacon or priest, and I believe it is a call of great freedom and responsibility. According to the BCP, the ministry of the laity is "to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church" (BCP, p. 855).

I live out my call to represent Christ and his Church in line at the grocery store, serving meals at St. Augustine’s Hunger Center with my students, or leading my students on a pilgrimage on the Towpath. I live out my call to represent Christ and his Church by opening my home on Thursday evenings to a fierce and holy group of women who sit around my table to eat and pray together and in speaking truth and showing love to my dear fiance who I will marry in May and enter into a new stage of my vocation as a Christian. I live out my call to represent Christ and his Church by being involved in the life and worship of my parish and being a member of the Commission on Ministry for the Diocese. I live out my call to represent Christ and his Church by talking to my grandma on the phone for an hour when she’s having a hard day. I live out my call to represent Christ and his Church by being the person that God created me to be.

Whatever or wherever my specific work might be, my vocation to be a Christian will always be my primary vocation

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