Saturday, June 07, 2008

Discernment Committee

Like many of you, I read (as a kibitzer) the HoBD listserv. I envy those folks their easy venue to "pick the brains" of their colleagues. I'm going to use my wee blog for a similar venture.

I am chairing the discernment committee for a man in our parish, whom I do believe has a vocation to the priesthood. Our diocese has a weeny little handbook for discernment committees. It is of paltry value, as far as I can tell. And the diocese recommends we all read Listening Hearts, which I have done. We had our first meeting two weeks ago, and our second meeting is tomorrow. The first went ok. Tomorrow's probably will, too. Both of these have been rather prefatory, laying the groundwork.

I find myself wanting really useful, practical guidance on how to structure the process and conduct the meetings of a discernment committee. I'm finding guidance on the meaning of it all, the goals of it all, but dang little about the mechanics of structuring meetings that well serve the seeker and the committee.

If any of you have experience in leading discernment committees, resources you could point me to, or general Wise Words about the organization of a committee and its meetings, I would appreciate receiving them.

And – just so you know – this isn't a difficult discernment. I suspect we're going to vote "yes." But I want to take full advantage of the process so that we can listen deeply to the candidate, and so that he has full advantage of hearing our voices and perspectives. I just don't think the diocesan handbook affords us all the richness that it might.

Yeah, I probably should have asked for this advice more than two weeks ago. But you know how I am.


Blogger Kirstin said...

I don't know--I'm not to this stage in my own process (though without the melanoma, I might have been). But I know who to ask, and I have.

God is in you and with you.

6/08/2008 12:33 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks for the quick response, Kirstin. (And prayers for your travails!)

I do hope some wise folks will offer sage advice here.

6/08/2008 1:28 AM  
Blogger Tandaina- said...

Hey Lisa, I'm not leading a committee but maybe some advice from "the other side" would be useful?

I had a really odd discernment and this time it did not use a formal committee. But ten years ago I did have a discernment committee and I can tell you what was NOT useful.

Questions like: Well what if you get married and have a family? Are utterly useless. Things like "tell us about God" are way too vague.

What does the man in question need out of this? Is he still unsure (and others are pretty sure!), or has he already done a great deal of soul searching? He is probably required to write a spiritual autobiography. Having everyone on the committee do this as well and then discuss his and perhaps others together can be eye opening. What do you share, what is different, where are teh different threads leading you all to different types of ministry (and can you see his leading him to ordained ministry)?

For more practical advice on structure and format try this:
Grounded in God. Covers the how of group discernment (not just for ordination discernment committees either, great for vestries).

6/08/2008 8:46 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Tandaina. It's helpful to get your perspective from "the other side"!

I didn't say this up in the post, so I'll add a little here. First, this committee is well structured, including some people who know the seeker well and some just barely. He feels quite clear that he is called to the priesthood and to parish ministry. So this isn't one of those open-ended discernment committees, of the sort that I might wish to have someday in which I could ask, "What the heck is God saying to me???"

But I assume that all good discernment processes might help a person flesh out their call, suggest areas for growth, affirm areas of strength and ministry.

And I agree that questions as open-ended as "Tell us about God" are just stupid! If I had the savvy to convert the diocesan PDFs, I could show you the kinds of questions we are asking and with which we are wrestling together. I think they are a bit more specific.

I really need to be careful here. Please remember that many members of my parish know who I am, they read my blog, and they know the seeker of whom I'm speaking. And we are bound to confidentiality. So I must exercise discretion. I only want to talk about process, not content.

Yes, Tandaina, the seeker has written and shared his spiritual autobiography. And we are following the structure of the sessions outlined by our diocese.

At the training event for our committee by the diocese, it was made clear that the discernment process often opens eyes of committee members and not just the person who is officially and formally "in discernment." I may not have been clear, but what I'm really seeking are links to other discernment processes, practical guidance about how to structure the meetings, etc. I think our diocese's "discernment handbook" is quite vague and almost useless.

The diocese outlines the process here. And they require that the committee submit a report addressing the 12 questions specified here. And I don't see a clear connection between the two. That's frustrating me.

My problem – or at least the one I can address in this public forum – is how to make the leap between the two. And that's why I'm asking for other resources.

I'll order Grounded in God on your recommendation. (I'll order it from my local bookstore. I refuse to patronize Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.)

And I apologize if it seems I've backed off. I just need to be very careful and be clear about boundaries about what I can and cannot discuss on the blog.

6/08/2008 6:40 PM  
Blogger Kirstin said...

Prayers for all of you--and thank you so much, for praying for me.

6/08/2008 10:37 PM  
Blogger plsdeacon said...

Hi Lisa,

I serve on the Commission on Ministry for the Diocese of Dallas and here are few things that I look for in a person seeking priestly ordination

1. Is this person a natural leader? Do people follow his suggestions? Does she inspire people to change their opinions or actions?

2. Does the person exhibit the ability to learn, understand, and articulate the Christian Faith. If he is liberal, does he understand the conservative take on the issues. If she is a conservative, does she understand the liberal take on the issues.

3. Does the person have a rule of life that includes prayer, study, and action

4. Does the person tithe or is he/she working towards tithing? How we dispose of our money says a lot about our commitment to and faith in God.

5. Has the person ever brought another person to faith in Christ? Is he a disciple who make disciples? Does she speak openly about her fiath with others?

6. Does this person exhibit the gifts for teaching and preaching? If she were preaching would you care if the sermon was 10 min or 30 min or 1 hour? Have you participated in a class that he has lead?

7. How does the person handle criticism? Is he thin skinned? Does she respond and make changes warranted by the criticism?

I hope these help you in your task to help this person discern his or her call to ordained ministry.

Phil Snyder

6/10/2008 9:04 AM  

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