In a previous entry, I explained the “standard” path to ordination in the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. My journey toward ordination, which will culminate with my ordination to the priesthood on December 17, was not exactly along the lines of “standard.” It is important to remember that God calls us all to ministry in some fashion. Each of our journeys is our own. Every single person who is called to ordained ministry has some kind of bump in their path that keeps it from being like anyone else’s. This is my story.
I entered an Episcopal Church for the first time on All Saints Sunday in 2010. I attended St. James in Midvale, which was the closest church to my house. I was recovering from the wounds of a divorce and no longer felt welcome in the Roman Catholic Church, which does not permit divorce (Roman Catholics can apply for, and be granted annulments but that is a different conversation). I was welcomed into the community at St. James and I felt a fulfillment at church that I had not felt in many years. My wounds were healing. As they healed, I felt a calling toward ordination that I had felt as a younger man. I had actually explored ordination in the Roman Catholic Church in my early 20s, but decided the timing was not right.
I met with the parish discernment committee and the rector, the Rev. John Williams, regularly and the discernment committee recommended me for postulancy in 2012. As much as Fr. Williams helped me to find comfort in his beautiful liturgy, his advice was contrary to what the Diocese expected of aspirants. The Diocese of Utah requires three years of residency in the diocese before it will admit an aspirant into the program. Fr. Williams disagreed with this policy and advised me to work around it. Although Bishop Hayashi would not admit me into the ordination process, Fr. Williams encouraged me to apply for, and move away to, seminary before I was admitted.
I believed I was, in fact, ready for seminary. In hindsight, I may not have been. I don’t really know. I can say the first year of seminary is the toughest. I took classes in Church history, Anglican history, and Old Testament. These classes rocked my world and broke down the foundation of my faith (that is what they are supposed to do, believe it or not!). Because I was in such a vulnerable point in my seminary career, I totally muffed the interviews with the Commission on Ministry and was not admitted into the process during my first year of seminary, which was my third year in the diocese.
I felt defeated and ready to give up. But I pushed on. I did everything Bishop Scott asked me to do. I found a regular spiritual director. I met with a counselor. I found a financial advisor. I pushed on with my education. And then, Fr. Williams was asked by the vestry to step down as the rector at St. James. I would not find out specific details until much later; I just knew he was leaving.
My mentor was gone. I did not understand why. I also did not know that this would actually be the best thing that could happen to my process. Bishop Scott telephoned me and told me he was assigning me to work directly with the Rev. Claudia Seiter, the chairperson of the COM, and the Rev. Peter Van Hook, the senior parish priest in the diocese (Peter was actually not the senior priest at the time, the Rev. Lincoln Ure of St. Mark’s Hospital held that distinction until his untimely death in 2016). He also told me I was moving to St. Mary’s. No one, including the Bishop, told me why this move was being made. It did not feel good at the time, but I went with it.
I became a postulant in 2015 and my policy streamlined. I was made a candidate in early 2016, graduated from seminary in May, and then ordained a transitional deacon in June. Fr. Williams has since relocated to a different diocese. I continue to keep close contact with both Revs. Van Hook and Seiter. They help me to keep my nose clean and to feel supported and taken care of.
My advice to anyone considering entering the process is this: The diocese has a very clear outline of expectations in the form of a check list. Follow the check list in as close to chronological order as possible. If you do that, and you are truly called by God, you will have a much more streamlined process than I did. I can say I learned a great deal by completing the process the way I did, but things could have been a whole lot easier for me if I had not tried to circumnavigate the established system.
It is a pleasure to serve at St. Mary’s. My childhood parish was called St. Mary’s. I received my First Holy Communion and my confirmation there. My elementary school was also called called St. Mary’s. I’m thrilled that I will be ordained at a parish named in honor of Our Lady.
~ The Rev. Tim Yanni