What follows is most likely to be a diary of sorts, it hasn’t quite taken complete form in my mind. I simply know that at this point in my life I process better when I write. And there has been a lot to process. I am at this very moment in the middle of the beginning, or the beginning of the middle, of becoming an Episcopal Deacon.
Let me explain my timeline troubles and perhaps my need to write will become as clear as mud. Today is just the 10th day since I received permission from my local parish vestry to Discern to become a Deacon. Discernment being a formal process of exploring a feeling of call to religious life. Discernment is in effect a beginning of a process which if it all works out leads to Ordination, or a discovery that perhaps your talents are better served elsewhere.
The fact of my committee’s formation is hardly though the beginning of my journey towards the diaconate. There are moments throughout my life, both formative and transformative, which have drawn me to the point of even seeking permission. This phase of beginning can quite rightly be said to have begun at many points in the last 41 years. Rather than bore you with childhood revelation, I will recall a quiet Sunday morning last November. Traditional simple prayers of the people spoke to me in a new way. Literally I was called to action from my pew. I looked up from my clasped hands and my soul heard without ears a direct command to seek deeper service of His people, my family.
I rarely talk about my “little chats” with the divine. I find that I am uncomfortable with the reality of prophetic voice. Yet here and now I will write down that I believe God speaks with me in a direct yet non-verbal way from time to time. For most of my life this voice has been slightly chastising, loving redirection. As in “Chris you are heading the wrong way” or “focusing on the wrong things.” It was the epitome of the old expression, “if you want to make God laugh, show him your plans.” I haven’t yet found adequate ways to share these communications without feeling deeply apologetic that I might sound crazy. It also doesn’t help that linguistically the words we have for communication all form around sounds and words and neither of these concepts adequately describes communicating with Him.
On that day in November though, God’s plan for me was made perfectly clear and made absolutely no sense. It’s not so much that I had a different plan, it’s just that this definitely wasn’t in my plan. As an analytical sort, I began to make my “but…” list. My objections were all sound and practical. Kids, family, career, money, time, timing, knowledge…I started taking out each of my objections and clothing myself in them. By the next week I was almost convinced it had all been a bit of indigestion and I could go back to my quiet pew having escaped the bullet.
But then my analytical side insisted on unpacking the list and looking at it skeptically. I started with knowledge, at that moment I had no idea of the process to follow a calling into ordination entailed. I didn’t want to be a priest and the only Deacons I knew were older men, or young people doing a temp job at the diaconate on their way to priesthood. So, I stopped my parish Deacon at coffee hour and asked how he became a Deacon. His eyes lit up as he told me about seminary and how much he had benefitted from his decision. He told me about how expensive it was and how long it took him too. He also told me the story of giving a funeral for a developmentally disabled woman whose parents preceded her in death, and that he had been the only one in attendance. That moment of service had made him glad of all the challenges he’d faced to ordination. Deacon Don then referred me to my priest.
Over the next several months I had dozens of conversations, with dozens of people, some ordained, some lay. Only one discouraged me, because of the kids and the demands on my time. My kids however, told me to get on with it. My work schedule, one of my prime obstructions to finding time, shifted. Even my father, who was anti-religious in my childhood, told me that he thought it was a good idea for how I might use the rest of my life. I couldn’t keep making up excuses. And God quite patiently waited for me.
Well patient isn’t the right word. God was about as patient as my nine-year old when I ignore him when he wants to ask a question. Except that I get the sense that I was the nine-year old, and my Father had told me to do the dishes and come back each day to find me playing video games, or cleaning my room, or frankly anything to avoid the one thing He’d asked me to do.
Finally, with the help of several trusted counselors, including my priest and his wife, my husband, and a lot of prayer I realized that not answering this call and resisting hard enough eventually becomes disobedience. I realized that each objection was met with swift resolution, and I discerned that I have been placed on call to Him and the needs of His people, my family.
Which brings me to the beginning of the middle, or middle of the beginning. The process to become a Deacon works like this. A call is perceived, a parish nominates to speak with the Bishop, the Bishop consents or declines the formation of a formal discernment committee. This committee decides if they too perceive the fitness and call. They are formed by a vote from the vestry and report back to the vestry. Upon agreement the vestry send the nomination to the Diocese, who has another committee. This committee decides whether or not to commend you back to the Bishop for training. The Bishop again reviews you and decides whether or not to proceed with formal training or formation. Upon acceptance to this training program some time (years) pass as you form into someone to be ordained and continues for the rest of your life. Somewhere around year 3, most people who make it this far are again evaluated and then ordained. So while I have discerned a call, I am just at the beginning of the formal process called discernment.
And thus I am at the beginning having already begun.