THE moment when the candidates for ordination are lined up on the south side of York Minster, and the organ plays the opening chords of Parry’s “I Was Glad”, is an unashamedly proud and emotional one for the Revd David Mann, diocesan director of ordinands.
“There’s a tear in my eye,” he says. “I’ve got them all in front of me, and I’m shepherding them in, and I feel, wow! this is the beginning of their journey — but the end of the journey I’ve had with them.”
Before potential ordinands arrive at his door, they will already have had sessions with the diocese of York’s network of 12 vocations advisers. Mr Mann says: “We don’t go after them or start booking meetings: we give them a bit of reading, a bit of homework, a bit of prayer content to work with and explore — and we say ‘Come back to us when you’re ready.’”
“A journey rather than an escalator”: the York diocesan director of ordinands, the Revd David MannIt’s the start of a relationship, an accompaniment that continues right through until priesting. “At that first interview, I’m wanting to say to them ‘Yes’; I want to listen to their faith-journey and sense of calling, and to be able to say, ‘Let’s work this out.’
“Some of the stories of how God has made an impact on their lives and how they want to pursue it are extraordinary. It is often a humbling encounter. I have conversations with some when I feel I should take off my shoes, because I’m on holy ground.”
Many other helpers will be involved in the process. Every candidate in York is given a spiritual director for the journey; the bishops have early involvement with candidates rather than see them only at the end of the process; appropriate experts can be brought in to engage with candidates who might have had physical or mental health issues.
Candidates in York are exposed to different traditions and churchmanships from the start. Northern theological colleges are preferred; there would have to be good reasons for sending them elsewhere, Mr Mann suggests. He is greatly encouraged by the age range of candidates and the percentages of men and women, and is pleased to have been given a colleague to encourage young vocations. “I love the job,” he says.
IN BIRMINGHAM, Canon Faith Claringbull has been diocesan director of ordinands for 13 years. With three universities, this very diverse city is a youthful place with a lot of buoyancy about it, and she reports an exciting upturn in the number of young people coming forward. The selection criteria are robust, and they need to be, because ministry increasingly has to be, too. She reflects: “You can have a hunch about someone — and, usually, I’ve been right on a hunch — but you can’t send people forward on that basis.”
Her first contact is, generally, from a recommendation by a parish priest or university chaplain. “When I first meet someone, I ask them: ‘Why now, why here?’ If they have a story that has me leaning forward in my chair, I think they’ll probably be attractive in their ministry.
Ready for the long haul: the Birmingham diocesan director of ordinands, Canon Faith Claringbull“It’s the way they tell their story. It doesn’t have to be an ‘onwards and upwards’ story of success; it might be a story of tragedy or failure.
“I say at the beginning: ‘If we are going to go forward, we are going to leave no stone unturned both in your Christian life and your personal life; so we will get to know each other well. And, throughout the discernment process, we are listening to the call of the Church.’ We will have drawn up a picture. We are on holy ground, listening to God in our conversations.”
Birmingham has a vocations team with a range of ethnicities, church traditions, and social context. Canon Claringbull tries to match a candidate with someone with whom he or she will chime. “We want them at this stage to articulate what their sense of call is. As time goes on, after meetings with vocation advisers, I expect them to be able to do that: how are they listening, who are they listening with, who is accompanying them?”
The report from the vocations adviser is valuable, she says. “Over the 13 years, the two words I hear in my head are ‘potential’ and ‘evidence’. We’re working on that seesaw all the time, and we are looking for lots and lots of evidence. We just can’t take risks.”
Professionally conducted psychological assessments will explore areas of personality, character, and relationships. “We take care to explain the guidelines and to reassure them that we’re not looking for the Archangel Gabriel,” Canon Claringbull says. “People come with a lot of lumps and bumps in their lives; so we want to know that they have come through, having learnt something; that they have strategies in place to deal with any trigger points if they met them in their ministry.”
Placement in a church outside a candidate’s own tradition is vital in giving evidence of someone in a new context: “Increasingly, there is going to be ministry across a range of traditions. Can they appreciate the best of that tradition’s gifts?
“As I work through the selection criteria, I get them to imagine what the Church will look like. I get them to read the signs of the times. They are not applying for ministry as it is now, but in the future.”
It’s a very close relationship, she acknowledges, especially in Birmingham, where her role includes joint oversight of the assessment of curates, and matching curates to parishes. By the time someone reaches a first incumbency, she will have known him or her for about eight years. There has to be a sense of trust, she emphasises — “we’re asking quite intrusive questions, really” — and, while the process can seem slow, she considers it time well spent.
“I actually think the process does us well. I trust it,” she says. “My absolute litmus test to candidates is, ‘Will putting this collar round your neck set you free?’ And do they have a sense of what is conveyed by that lovely piece in the ordination service when the bishop speaks to the priest candidates and says they will share with him the oversight of the Church, ‘delighting in its beauty and rejoicing in its well-being’? I love that.”
“It’s all about flourishing”: the Carlisle diocesan director of ordinands, Canon Peter ClementCANON Peter Clement spent more than eight years as director of ordinands in Ripon & Leeds, and West Yorkshire & the Dales, before taking up the post in Carlisle. It’s a wonderful privilege to do the job, he says, and, like his counterpart in York, he is moved to tears at the ordination service. “When I’ve known the difficulties and the struggles they have gone through to get to that point, I’m like a proud parent.”
He reflects that it is a good system containing a lot of innate wisdom. “It’s my experience that if you try and rush people through it, it nearly always goes wrong. It’s a bit slow, and often when you tell young people how long it might take, they get a bit frustrated. But we walk with people on that path. One candidate, when he went to a Bishops’ panel and saw all the reports, said: ‘I’d no idea they’d got so deep under my skin and really nailed who I was.’”
Nine assistant DDOs work together with Canon Clement (who sees everyone in the first instance), and each works with two candidates at any one time. Matching them up is largely a matter of geography: “We don’t have a ‘You look after this kind, and I’ll look after that kind’ approach,” he says.
“Part of it is seeing whether folk can work with each other. You don’t have to agree with everyone, or prefer someone’s style of worship, but you do have to work with them.”
What is needed, he concludes, is a departure from the hierarchical view of ordained ministry. “We are all part of the body of Christ, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a head or a toe: no one is better than anyone else. It’s all about flourishing, for all of us, in the right place. That’s what we do.”