©1998 by Louie Crew. Freely use but only if you keep
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I receive quite a few requests for advice from lesbigay persons regarding ordination to ministry in the Episcopal Church. To help in that discernment process, I offer these suggestions.
- Be sure about your call.
- If you are not already doing ministry as a lay person, you should seriously doubt that you have been called. No Commission on Ministry (COM) should take you seriously unless they have clear evidence that you have taken God's call seriously. You don't need a collar to do ministry: much ministry cannot be done nearly as well if you do have a collar. Take very seriously the priesthood you already have as a baptized person--sacred priesthood after the order of Melchisedec.
- Do not limit evidence of your current ministry to in-house church matters. Include those, yes, but all ministers, lay and clergy, are called to bring Christ into the world--to the uttermost parts of it. How are you doing that now? Most especially to whom "among the least of these" your sisters and brothers are you ministering? I did not set this criterion: Jesus did. All disciples will be held accountable to it on the 'Great Gettin Up Morning.'
- Spend much time in prayer and the reading of scriptures. Give God a chance. She has much that She wants to say to you. You'll have to hush to hear her.
- Do not mistake an earnest desire to be good or respectable as a call to priesthood. The Good News is not about Respectability. Jesus said all that needs to be said about Respectability at Calvary. Those who would follow Christ must be willing to give up their Respectability, not seek to enhance it. The church is ill served by those who limit footwashing to a photo-op once a year. Jesus was a friend of sinners, not their scold. If you minister as Jesus did, you should have most of your problems from those who think they are righteous. If that is not true now, a Commission on Ministry would be foolish to think that it will be true after you go through the ordination process.
- Test your call. Try running away from it for several years, fleeing ordination and doing as much ministry as possible without it. Wait till persons start asking you on the basis of your service, "Have you thought about ordained ministry?" Don't start asking yourself first and then jumping to the conclusion that God made you ask.
- Come out -- to yourself, to God, and to your religious community.
- Do it for your personal integrity. Don't set yourself up to live as a divided person. You will abuse both your spirituality and your sexuality: God intends for us to integrate all our parts. You can be neither hale nor holy if you are not whole. In Old English, all three were one word, hal. The three still are one.
- The Church does not need any more closeted priests. All disciples need to live without dissembling. The church does not need to be put on hold while you go off to be another self.
- Come out now, not later. "But let me get in the process first" or "Let me get my degree first" or "Let me get ordained first" or "Let me get a rectorship first" or "Let me bury my father and mother first...." Let the dead bury the dead. If you want to be Jesus's disciple, come without delay.
- Come out for God, not for the camera. We are not supposed to be the center of our own ministry. Some will think that you have catapulted yourself into the center of yours when you surprise them by coming out. You must never buy into their misperceptions, lest you lose the importance of your disclosure in the first place: it is to free you up to be yourself in service to others, not to be caught in a tiresome spectacle of trying to discover who others say you are. Resist the limelight. You can do that most easily if you serve others, especially those whom no one else is noticing, the despised, the rejected. They will bring you face to face with Jesus, who has never successfully been trapped in glorious stained glass.
- Connect to lesbigay community. Connect to all of it, not just the parts that seem respectable. Find the most broken lesbigay person you can find and become that person's friend. Nurture that person's talents in ways that person has long forgotten to do. Forgive that person's trespasses against you and others even before they happen. Set no conditions upon your love for that person. You will see Jesus.
- Join lesbigay organizations, and give generously of your time and your substance. You would not even be able to think about being ordained had they not been working for those possibilities for a quarter of a century. Make sure that three generations from now all this natter will seem as vague and confusing as do the battles over whether you have to be cut or uncut if you want to be a Christian. Don't struggle alone.
- What to do if the call persists
- Alert those in your local congregation. Ideally they have first approached you, not you them. In either case, give them an ample opportunity to know you, not just in your identity at church. Bring folks from the parish with you into your ministry in the world, and into your life in the world. Break bread together with them in your home. Visit them. Share books. Share ideas. Go to the theatre together. Go to the Ghetto together. Take them to the Lesbigay Scenes, not just the nice ones, but to those where need most glares. There they will also see Jesus. Enter extensive email correspondence with one or more of them. Include the rector, but not the rector only. Do none of this with strings attached, none of this as a means to win their approval. Assume that some may not be able to take that reality; but trust God to move their hearts. You are seeking their discernment with you, not their seal of approval. You are not writing a resume, you are being a disciple.
- Inform yourself of every detail of the ordination process in your diocese. Don't count on your rector or your parish discernment committee to do this work for you. In many parishes you may be the only person to be considered for ordination in many years, and perhaps the only one about whom the persons on your committee have had to make a decision. Very early, write to the chair of your Commission on Ministry and request any guidelines your diocese might have for aspirants, postulants, and candidates. You may find the addresses of all dioceses at https://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/diosnail.html . You may find the addresses of all diocesan bishops at https://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/bishops/index.html#D
- Get your finances in order. You will have three years of graduate education to pay for. You will have marginal employment for your first assignments after ordination. You cannot possibly anticipate the expenses, nor likely have all the money upfront. God will provide: Help Her.
- Understand whence the call comes and to whom it comes.
- God calls. Persons think we hear. God calls other persons to test our perception.
- Respect the ministry of those whom you ask to test your call. Do not put yourself into an adversarial relationship with those who oversee the ordination process in your diocese. They are called to a special ministry, and their call has been tested by processes that led to their holding the diocese's trust. Everyone who comes before them feels she or he has heard God's call to do so. Their task is to discern whether God is calling their diocese to hear a call to ordain this person.
- Do not dissemble. Give them every opportunity to know you, and take some time to know and value them, not just as your reviewers, but as your sister/brother ministers. All who are on a Commission on Ministry or a Standing Committee are there because they have been doing, and still are doing, other ministry. Bond with one another out of that common service.
- If knowing you, they would not ordain you, then don't seek ordination in that place.
- Ordination is no one's by right. One has to earn that privilege. No one, straight or gay, is "eligible for any position." All should be
eligible only to be considered. From that point on, one should be judged solely on one's qualifications for the leadership role under consideration.
As a member of the Standing Committee of my diocese, I do not approve of candidates for priesthood based on their sexual orientation. Lesbigay folks have as big a share of people who shouldn't be priests as do straights. We have many fine lesbigay priests, and we have some .... Well, you know. Straights have those too.
As chair of the University Senate and member of the Board of Governors, I do not determine the merits of proposals based on the sexual orientation of the proposers. Lesbigay colleagues can come up with as much foolishness as can straight colleagues.
- What to do if your diocese will not ordain lesbigays
- Stay to be a witness. It may be that God is calling you to change the hearts of people in this place. It may just as well be true that God is calling you to be rejected, to live with dignity as someone who is rejected, as a judgment on that place. Do not stay to be a witness if you insist that the outcome go only one way. If need be, get yourself a new wardrobe from Shadrack, Mishack, & Abenego Abestoswear, Inc, but never whine. These are precisely the times for which Jesus bids us, "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad." Nor should you assume that you will "win," -- not even that you are right. Live to be a faithful disciple to the calling you have heard, and trust those who hear differently to be faithful to what they are hearing. Do not demonize those who disagree with you. Love them. One day many of you will agree, and you will all find it much easier to rejoice if you have been nice to one another in your period of disagreement. Besides, loving your enemies is much, much easier than hating them. None of the process for you, or for your reviewers, should be about winning or losing. It is about serving Christ--about your serving Christ and about their serving Christ.
- Leave. You have the option of seeking ordination in another diocese; however, you should be quite clear about what that option requires: You must start over again from scratch. No other diocese is sitting out there waiting to ordain you. You must move to a new place, take up employment, and join a parish in that diocese. No parish is sitting out there just waiting to present you for candidacy. If you elect to leave where you now are and to seek ordination in another place, you must go there to live among those people for a year at least so that they can discern whether you have the gifts which would prompt them to bring you forward to the Commission on Ministry as an aspirant. If any group along the way--your parish, the Commission on Ministry, the Standing Committee, or the Bishop--says, 'No,' you have no valid claim that that they treated you unfairly. They have no obligations to you except to listen. Furthermore, you have no way to determine in advance whether it might be 'worth your time' to go there and take these risks. Jesus said, "If you want to count the cost, you cannot be my disciple." If you want a career, there are many which you may seek with much more certainty. If you want to be a disciple, continue.
- Suggestions for finding a supportive diocese.
- I don't have any magic list of bishops guaranteed to support you, and am indeed glad that I do not, since bishops should not control the ordination process. Dioceses should. While some dioceses categorically deny ordination to lesbigays, not one categorically ordains us, nor should they, in my view. One way to choose a diocese that might be fit for you is to review dioceses which currently have a high percentage of lesbigays. While being single is not quite the same thing, my report on the placement of single clergy :http//andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/priests98.html#nevermarried probably correlates well with where lesbigay clergy have found the greatest welcome. Be sure to correlate this information with other information, however. For example, if a larger percentage of single priests clusters in a diocese where the official stance opposes the ordination of lesbigays, you know immediately the price that lesbigays have had to pay in that diocese.
- Ask the bishop directly. Bishops know their dioceses very well. Most good bishops don't want to usurp the role of diocesan reviewers, and most of them can give you a candid assessment of the questions of most concern locally. I am amazed at the number of people who bypass, or delay for years, this most important way find out anyone's attitude. Tell the bishop about yourself and why you want to relocate. Give no suggestion that you are expecting a commitment, and don't expect one. Remember, this bishop does not know you. If someone who knows you well also knows this bishop, ask that person to introduce you. If you and the bishop are to be at the same place, try to set up a meeting in advance. Read widely anything the bishop has written, and not just statements about lesbigay issues. Lesbigay issues will be a very small part of your collaboration in ministry. Your ministry will suffer if you find a bishop who likes lesbigays but has no interest in nor support for the kind of ministry you do best.
- Examine the bishop's public record on lesbigay issues:
- Has she or he signed the "Statement of Koinonia," https://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/koinonia.html? In that statement bishops serve notice that they will indeed ordain otherwise qualified lesbigays and bless our relationships. Obviously some other bishops who will do so but never say so publicly, so do not limit your search solely to those who signed.
- How did the bishop vote on bellwether lesbigay issues through the 1994 General Convention? https://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/belwet01.html. See each individual's vote on many issues by clicking on the bishop's name.
- How did the bishop vote on in roll call votes at the 1997 GC ? https://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/votes_d.html
- Examine many more reports at my main page for the HoB, https://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/hob.html
- Do not put too much stock in voting records: many good disciples make horrible decisions on the issues and marvelous decisions about persons. It is not important that your bishop vote for all lesbigay people: it is very important that your bishop be open to the presence of Christ in you and in your ministry. Some bishops with the worst voting records love and support their lesbigay clergy; some bishops with the best voting records don't care very much for any of their clergy.
- Keep in mind that dioceses which are very open (mine, The Diocese of Newark, is one of the most open) are known to be, and already have scads of such requests. As a member of the Standing Committee, I take seriously our vote on candidates, and attend all screening meetings of the Commission on Ministry from aspirancy onward. I am impressed with the quality of our candidates. We have the luxury of choosing only the creme-de-la-creme.
- Keep in mind too the schedule by which bishops might be expected to retire. You want someone likely to be in place through your entire process. See the bishops listed in order of age at https://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/bishops/age.html#start. All bishops now retired, retired at an average of 63.85, as I noted in Quean Lutibelle's Reports on Episcopal Priests, 1998, at https://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/priests98.html.
Using all the hard data, and other which you gather through your own networks, you should be able to make decisions for yourself far better than any that I might make for you, as the data will connect to other variables in your own life that I do not know about. If after looking at some of this you have questions, I'll gladly talk. It might be quicker if you just call. During the summer you can reach me day and night at home, 973-485-4503 and at that number during most evenings of the year.
Joy to you in your journey. May your ministry bring news genuinely good to absolutely everybody!