Magazine article Anglican Journal

Reforms in Route to Ordination Proposed

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Reforms in Route to Ordination Proposed

Article excerpt

The Anglican Church of Canada should "retool" its methods for assessing candidates for the priesthood to make the process more sensitive to context, says Bishop Bill Cliff, of the diocese of Brandon.

During a recent national gathering to discuss the future of theological education for priestly ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada, Cliff publicly stated that he is not comfortable sending people who have not had a seminary education to participate in the church's standard discernment process.

In an interview with the Anglican Journal following the conference, Cliff expanded on his comments, explaining that in his opinion, the process does not do enough to take into account cultural differences within the church, especially between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Anglicans.

For most Anglicans hoping to become postulants to the priesthood in the Canadian church, the route to ordination involves discerning a call for ordination through a conference organized by the Advisory Committee for Postulants for Ordination (ACPO) of their ecclesiastical province.

Every year, candidates attend a weekend-long discernment gathering in which they are interviewed by a group of assessors about their readiness to serve as priests in the church.

But given the diversity of contexts candidates come from and hope to serve, Cliff does not think ACPO can always accurately perceive whether or not someone is fit for the priesthood.

For example, ACPO requires candidates to articulate why they believe they are called to the ministry, which is congruent with the general Western assumption that those seeking leadership in a community should put themselves forward, Cliff said.

In many Indigenous nations, however, it is the community that identifies who the leaders should be. Cliff said this was driven home to him by comments National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald had made at the national gathering.

MacDonald had said that in many Indigenous communities, it would be seen as "presumptuous" for people to claim they were being called to the priesthood. "Oftentimes, people will say that 'the elders say that I have a calling' [instead]," said MacDonald, adding that assessors need to be sensitive to this cultural difference.

This rings true of Cliff's experience in the predominantly Indigenous northern part of his own diocese, and has made him reluctant to put forward locally-trained Indigenous candidates in the same way he would seminary-trained candidates.

"I wouldn't recommend Indigenous candidates at an ordinary ACPO [conference]," said Cliff. "I think the cultural issues are different, and the sense of discernment is different."

Cliff believes the House of Bishops should take the lead in considering how ACPO could be made to better serve local churches.

An evolving process

Canon Sue House, who recently became ACPO secretary for the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and Yukon and serves at Christ Church Cathedral in the diocese of British Columbia, also thinks the discernment process could be updated.

House has been an assessor at nearly a dozen ACPO conferences since she first became involved in the process in 1990. In that time, she has seen significant changes in the way people come to the priesthood.

In particular, her province has seen a greater number of locally-trained (also sometimes called "locally raised-up") people seeking ordination over the past 15 years.

"When I started, we didn't have locally raised-up clergy," she said. …

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