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Online discernment process under way

07 May 2020

Temporary virtual selection method for ordination replaces BAPs during lockdown

Worcester Diocese

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, and other clergy and ministers lay hands on the Revd Jen Denniston, at ordination to the priesthood in Worcester Cathedral, in June last year

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, and other clergy and ministers lay hands on the Revd Jen Denniston, at ordination to the priesthood in Wo...

ALMOST 500 candidates for ordination training are to be assessed at the final stage of discernment using a virtual selection process. The temporary online discernment panel (TODP) has replaced the bishops’ advisory panel (BAP) until at least the end of July, allowing those recommended to enrol at colleges for the start of the new academic year.

The three-day BAP residential would have included a combination of interviews, exercises, and group work, an ecclesiological model of “building a community with a common purpose” which the national ministry team (NMT) concluded could not be replicated online. Instead, the recommendations of national advisers will be based on two interviews, by Zoom, with each can­didate; interview will be conducted by two experi­enced assessors.

These are to be done diocese by diocese; so assessors will have the opportunity to speak to diocesan directors of ordinands (DDOs).

DDOs will also be invited to an introductory meeting for all candidates who are to be assessed in a given group: a meeting that will include a simple act of worship, “so that the assessment process is appropriately framed in prayer”. The process is described as “simple, though robust enough to give the bishops sufficient confidence, and flexible enough to cope with the exigencies of the situation in which we find ourselves”.

The director of the NMT, the Rt Revd Dr Chris Goldsmith, described the process as “an extraordinary piece of work carried out in a very short time. . . We are keen to give [candidates] the best opportunity to present themselves well in these trying circumstances, and we believe we have found a good solution for all involved.”

The Revd Mark Tanner, who chairs the Selection Oversight Group, said: “Normally, we would not choose to engage with candidates in a virtual way, but this temporary provision enables us to continue discerning ordained vocation with confidence and clarity.”

The most experienced advisers will be used, and training will be provided both in virtual interviewing and interviewing in pairs. Candidates will have a written protocol to follow should something go wrong with the technology, and will also be assured that they are not being assessed on their ability or otherwise to use technology.

The DDO for Lichfield, the Revd Romita Shrisunder, commended the “tremendous effort” that had been put into shaping the new process in a matter of weeks. “This current crisis is encouraging all of us to reimagine Church,” she said on Monday. “I feel encouraged and overwhelmed by the way our candidates have demonstrated flexibility and adaptability in this unprecedented situation. Their vocation hasn’t wavered but has become stronger. This leaves me with tremendous hope for the future of the Church.”

The diocesan director of ordinands and vocations for Leeds, Canon Derek Walmsley, has written a book, published last month by Authentic, Everyone: Finding our place in His great story. He has told area deans to “keep the pipelines moving. I pointed out that the pathways to many vocations in ministry begin during a brief conversation over coffee after a service, and, in these days of YouTube services, that won’t happen so easily.”

All Leeds clergy have been asked to continue to encourage lay and ordained vocations, and have received a video talk that could be included in a broadcast service. “We have begun interviewing candidates via Zoom, but recognise that this is not ideal,” Canon Walmsey said. “We like to visit candidates at home at least once to meet any spouses and family. We also like candidates to visit other churches and experience other contexts, which is clearly difficult for now.”

Hereford diocese’s first TODP introductory meeting took place last week, and interviews are in place for the next fortnight. The director of vocations and ordinands, the Revd Neil Patterson, said: “My sense is that it has been a remarkable effort by the ministry team to create a viable online process in a very short time. They are making every effort to enable all candidates who were expecting to attend a BAP, and so potentially enter training to be assessed.”

The director of vocations for Carlisle, Canon Peter Clement, said: “It seems to me we have a golden opportunity to see people emerging who we had not spotted before. There are folk coming forward to lead, maybe online, who had not done so before. After all, this is part of the new world we will all be part of, like it or not. Let’s see who can thrive in this environment. It’s time, maybe, for church leaders to tap people on the shoulder, so to speak.”

At the national weekly online service on Vocations Sunday, key workers spoke of how their Christian faith gave them strength to serve others during the coronavirus pandemic. The service was led by the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s, Dr Paula Gooder, a licensed lay minister, who said in her address: “At times like this, all we can do is listen again to the God who calls, reminding us that we are loved with a love beyond measure, calling us by name and asking us to pour out this great love in any and every way we can.”

There were no guarantees, said Caz Pinder, who has been working with Blackburn’s director of vocations, the Revd Nick McKee, for more than a year, and has high praise for its M:Power course for training urban leaders (Feature, 1 May). “Discernment is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before,” she said on Monday. “They don’t tell you what they’re looking for. All my life, I’ve had to sell myself, and the bulk of life is like that if you want to get anywhere.

“Discernment is the total opposite. I needed to transform, though I didn’t think so at the time: I went into it with the attitude ‘God is calling me to ordination, and the Church needs to sort it.’ Now, I know I don’t need to sell myself at all, because God sees me as I am. He’s sat on my heart all my life, and, in the last few months, he has got inside. He’ll use me, whether they prepare me for a BAP, or whether I’m ordained or not. That’s just brilliant.”

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