Wednesday, July 22, 2015

On Seminarians and their formation and Training — III, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Last week, I wrote about how a person moves through the usual process toward ordination to be a Deacon or Priest in the Episcopal Church. The process is the same for both and is long and involves years of education, reviews, and interviews. Last week’s blog was about the two men who have been with us and what the future holds for them and for us. This week, I address why these two men are here and what they are doing this summer.

The Role of Seminaries

One of the mysteries to most lay people about seminary education is how little practical training is provided. Of course, there are courses in liturgics (the how and why of leading and planning worship), the required clinical pastoral education, and even a course in canon law. At the same time, most Episcopal seminaries offer only one required course in homiletics (preaching) and a single semester of direct parish experience. (Bishop’s encourage seminarians to get as much experience as possible, but it is not a seminary requirement.) For example, I graduated after three years with no instruction in how to organize, lead, or preside at vestry or Bishop’s Committee Meetings, no instruction in promotion or public relations, and no instruction in human resource management or accounting and financial management.

The reason for this distinct lack of practical knowledge is that, historically, seminaries are theological schools not training schools. That is, they are academic institutions whose purpose is to prepare an educated and thoughtful church leadership. Seminaries prepare one to reflect, not to do. This is not training, but education: learning to learn, sometimes called formation. The purpose of formation is not to give a person skills but to equip them spiritually and intellectually for the rigors of ministry. The individual student is expected, with the support of their bishop and commission on ministry, to gain whatever practical experience they can during their three year course of study.

And therein lies this summer experience for David Carlisle and Tim Yanni.

A Summer at St. Mary's Church—the Role of the Parish in Preparation for Ministry

Knowing all this, I have offered Tim and David an opportunity to learn some stuff about parish life that they will not, indeed cannot, get in seminary. Like opportunities to preach to a real congregation of “normal” people. Like opportunities to teach and interact with parishioners about their own lives. Like opportunities to participate in congregational worship. And so on.

David Carlisle, having been an active part of this congregation’s life, has had a number of opportunities to take on leadership roles. He spent a year organizing and establishing our St. Francis Garden in the front of the church. To do so, he had to learn to negotiate with the Bishop’s Committee about the stake people have in their church and how to manage a limited budget in order to accomplish something positive. He has had opportunities to interact with parishioners pastorally while serving as a Eucharistic Visitor, which means calling on people in the hospital or in their home, and sitting with them to talk about their lives, and to pray with them.

As previously noted, Tim Yanni’s path toward ordination has been different than David’s in that he has had fewer opportunities for practical experience in a congregation. Tim’s primary purpose this summer is to complete his clinical pastoral education experience, so we have had to work around his commitments at St. Mark’s Hospital. He has been assisting in the Thursday Catechism Course, and that has given the two of us opportunities to chat while commuting. Tim has been sitting in on Bishop's Committee Meetings and acting as a Eucharistic Visitor, and he has been given several opportunities to preach to a live congregation, not just to a class of fellow students. In his CPE course he has attended birth and been with people in death. He has baptized people, and he has prayed with people.

In other words, this summer at St. Mary's Church has given both David and Tim real-world experience that relatively few seminarians ever get before they graduate. And, this experience has happened in a healthy, living congregation of real people in an odd corner of the universe called Provo.

Which is to say that the positive experience they have had at St. Mary's Church is because of the parishioners. The members of St. Mary's Church have welcomed David and Tim in their new roles and have been gracious in giving them access to parish life. In all this, they have been given a glimpse at what life will be like after they are ordained. It is truly a gift given by the people of God to two men who seek to serve Christ in them.

A footnote:
David will preach his final sermon on August 9 and will then move to Tucson, Arizona, where he, Arum, and the boys will take up their new life at the University of Arizona. David will continue as a member of St. Mary's Church and as an aspirant for ordination from the Diocese of Utah. He has already begun the part-time, non-residential program toward his Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) degree at CDSP.

Tim will finish up CPE in mid-August and then return to CDSP for his third and final year of seminary. He will be meeting with Bishop Hayashi later this summer to discuss becoming a Candidate for Holy Orders, the final step before ordination.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On Seminarians and their formation and Training — II, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Last week, I wrote about how a person moves through the usual process toward ordination to be a Deacon or Priest in The Episcopal Church. The process is the same for both, and is long and involves years of education, reviews, and interviews. The Orders of Priest and Deacon have distinct and important functions in the Church: It is helpful to see the Priest as the one who gathers the congregation for worship, and the Deacon as the one who equips, empowers, and sends members of the Church into the world in witness to Christ’s love. This week’s blog is about the two men who have been with us, and what the future holds for them and for us.

Postulants, Candidates, and Seminarians

As noted in my earlier blog the difference between a Postulant and a Candidate for Holy Orders is the point they are in the process toward ordination. One who desires to enter the process, an aspirant, applies to the Bishop for admission as a Postulant, which is essentially a period of extensive self-examination and discernment before one applies to be a Candidate. A Candidate, on the other hand, is considered to be in the final stages of preparation. It takes a significant action on the part of the Bishop and/or the Candidate to drop out of the process at this point.

In last week’s notes I failed to mention the important role of the Parish Discernment Committee, which is a small group of parishioners, usually appointed by the Priest-in-Charge, who spend several months meeting with an aspirant before they make formal application to the Bishop. I will say more about Discernment Committees another time, but they are critically important in the early steps of the process toward ordination.

All this leads me to describe the two men who are with us this summer, where they are in their different processes, and how they got there.

David Carlisle

David Carlisle came to St. Mary's Church when his wife, Arum Park, was appointed a visiting professor of Classics at BYU. They had become part of The Episcopal Church during graduate school in North Carolina (where they were confirmed by Bishop Michael Curry, now the Presiding Bishop-elect of The Episcopal Church). David grew up in rural New México in an unchurched family. His educational background is in the Classics: the study of ancient Greek and Roman literature and philosophy. After receiving his Ph.D. David taught for a year at Cornell College, a small liberal arts institution affiliated with the United Methodist Church in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, and then moved to Utah with the rest of his family.

David approached me shortly after they arrived to talk about his sense of call to ordained ministry, which had begun many years earlier. I formed a Parish Discernment Committee (consisting of Mary Allen Redd, Keith Jensen, and Chris Peper) and David met with them for nearly a year before asking to receive a formal endorsement from the Bishop's Committee of St. Mary's Church. He had been studying in the diocese’s ministry formation program, and meeting with various clergy throughout the diocese. He attended the (required) Day of Discovery, and subsequently took on the project of creating our St. Francis Garden in the front of the church.

Upon my recommendation, and the certification from the Bishop’s Committee, David applied for admission to the ordination process and was admitted as a Postulant for Holy Orders early in 2015.

Were this a more typical process toward ordination David would begin a three-year residential process at a seminary of the church. However, Arum has accepted a teaching position at the University of Arizona and the Carlisles will be moving to Tucson in August, and David will proceed with a longer (four years) but non-residential program at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California (CDSP). He will remain, officially, a member of St. Mary's Church and a Postulant of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah—which is not all that unusual, in that most seminarians have moved away from their “home” parishes.

Tim Yanni

Tim Yanni came into The Episcopal Church several years ago after being raised a Roman Catholic. He was living in Salt Lake City, and the church he attended was St. James, in Midvale. A few years ago he spoke with the then-Rector, John Williams, about ordination, which John readily supported. Tim went through the Day of Discovery and the usual interviews, but, because of various points of confusion in the process of applying for ordination, he was not immediately accepted as a Postulant. At the same time, he was encouraged by Bishop Hayashi to begin seminary at CDSP. Then, at the end of his first year of seminary, Fr. Williams resigned from St. James’ Church to take a position in New York, and Tim was left without a pastor and mentor. Bishop Hayashi approached me and asked that I take on that responsibility with Tim (although Tim’s “membership” is still at St. James; when it comes to the ordination process confusion is inevitable and certainly not unusual).

As Tim noted in this sermon on July 5, his original conception of ministry was primarily sacramental and pastoral. His experience at St. James’ Church and St. Mary’s has exposed several dimensions of ordained ministry that Tim had not recognized, and he has much appreciated the opportunities for pastoral and educational ministry that his time at St. Mary’s has afforded him. This summer he is enrolled in a program of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at St. Mark’s Hospital, which is a full-time training and experiential program in pastoral care. This is required of all persons moving toward ordination, and is often stressful as one experiences pastoral ministry in its most challenging aspects: births, traumatic injuries, family dynamics, and death. (Just in the last week Tim has witnessed his first birth, his first death, and has done two baptisms—just in case you want to know what parish ministry is like!)

Upon completion of his summer training Tim will return to Berkeley to begin his third and final year of formal theological education. He has become aware of a sense of call to ministry in the Armed Forces (probably the Navy). I have already signed off on his ecclesiastical endorsement, but he must complete two years of formal pastoral ministry before he can be admitted to the chaplain training program. As is true of all seminarians at this point in the process, Tim does not know where he will land after graduation next June. He will continue to be a part of the life of St. Mary's Church even by extension, as we continue to hold him in our prayers.


Next Week: Why are these two men here, and what are they supposed to be doing?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

On Seminarians and Their Formation and Training — I, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

This summer our congregation is fortunate to have two seminarians with us, David Carlisle and Tim Yanni. I say “fortunate” because it is unusual to have even one seminarian being an active part of a smallish congregation like St. Mary's Church. These two add a different voice to our preaching, and bring different skills and backgrounds to our fellowship.

My intention in these next two blog posts is to describe the process through which one goes in order to become a Deacon or Priest in The Episcopal Church, and specifically describe how they are working with me and the congregation this summer as a part of their formation and training.

The Process

When one senses a call to the Diaconate or Priesthood the first step is to take counsel with their pastor, who makes the first determination of the soundness of the person’s call. At some point the person approaches the Bishop. The person is connected with the diocese’s Commission on Ministry, and the formal process of discernment begins by way of physical and psychological examinations, a series of interviews.

Upon the recommendation of the Commission on Ministry and the person’s sponsoring clergy and parish, the Bishop may then make them a Postulant for Holy Orders, which is simply being listed by the Bishop on a roster of those seeking ordination, and is understood to be a time of further exploration on the part of the church leadership and the aspirant. Seminary education may then begin with the permission of the Bishop.

The aspirant then applies to the Bishop to be admitted as a Candidate for Holy Orders, which is understood to be the primary formal step toward ordination. More interviews with the Commission and the Bishop are held, and with the concurrence of the Standing Committee of the diocese (the elected representatives of the diocesan Convention whose members form a Council of Advice to the bishop and act as the board of directors of the corporation). Following admission as a Candidate, theological education continues, and the person, toward the end of their formal education, then applies for ordination to the Diaconate or the Priesthood. Following more interviews (!) and approvals by the Commission and the Standing Committee, the Bishop may then announce the person’s date(s) of ordination.

All of this can take as much as five years, and sometimes longer. In other words, just getting to ordination is a huge commitment on the part of a person and their family, and often includes significant displacement in the lives of all.

Holy Orders

The formal title of the office held by ordained persons in the Church is Holy Orders. That is, one is formally set aside and placed in an order (sometimes called a college) of Deacons or Priests. This is not to be understood as being placed above everyone else in some sort of hierarchy, but rather as being set within a body of persons under the authority of the Bishop.

Deacons are particularly responsible for guiding the members of the Church in ministry of service to the world at large, symbolized by their liturgical role as the one who calls the church to faith (the Creed), humility (Confession), and ministry (the Dismissal). Priests are primarily responsible for the sacramental life of the congregation, and for the administration of the parish, and with the Deacons for the educational and pastoral life of the local church. These are distinct historical formal roles within the Church. (In fact, there have been times when certain parts of the Church had more than twenty ordained ministries!).

Deacons are usually non-stipendiary (unpaid) and part-time ministers; Priests are typically stipended (paid) and formally employed by the church in some capacity. However, there are Deacons who are paid staff in various places, and many priests are intentionally serving in unpaid roles.

All Deacons are understood to be under the direct authority of the Bishop, and are therefore assigned by the Bishop to a particular ministry. If in a parish, they then work under the direction of the priest-in-charge. In both cases, Deacons and Priests exist to serve the church and help organize its activities and ministries.

One helpful conception of the difference in these Orders is to think of Christian life as an ellipse that describes a course of seven days. The Priest stands at one locus, calling the members of the church to gather around the Lord’s Table for worship in order, as the Eucharistic prayer suggestions, to experience solace and strength, for pardon, and renewal (that is the one day, Sunday, of the ellipse). The Deacon stands at the other locus, calling the members of the Church into service in the world (the other six days). This describes a continual process of gathering and dispersal. At St. Mary's Church this is partially expressed by the Priest standing at the door of the church before worship welcoming people and leading them in procession to the Lord’s Table, and by the Deacon standing at the door of the church at the end of the service sending the People out “to love and serve the Lord.”


Next Week: David Carlisle and Tim Yanni, Postulants and Seminarians