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Randall Stoltzfus : Greater Light

Ordination Requirements

Randall Stoltzfus : Greater Light
Randall Stoltzfus : Greater Light

UPDATED 24 January and 25 January – see UPDATE below.

Recent online discussions engendered by people encouraging ordination candidates in The Episcopal Church (Anglican Communion) as they headed to their General Ordination Examination, results in me sketching up what I think is needed in an ordained person nowadays.

I do this because I am conscious that in our numerically-small Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia there is not an agreed minimum standard. I am not even sure if there are written documents of minimum standards in dioceses, hui amorangi, or tikanga (cultural streams)?

For The Episcopal Church, you can see an example here: 2022 General Ordination Examination
Previous examples of examinations.
A primary principle appears to be that a priest is not simply a priest in a parish, ministry unit, or diocese – a priest is a priest in the whole church.

The areas of competence required in The Episcopal Church are:

  • Christian Worship (TEC’s Book of Common Prayer 1979 and at least one other General Convention-approved liturgical resource)
  • History of the Christian Church
  • Christian Ethics and Moral Theology
  • Christian Theology
  • The Practice of Ministry

In thinking about things, I fell over the Australian Anglican draft minimum requirements for ordination. I appreciate that it acknowledges that ordinations can take place of people that don’t fulfil all requirements, but that bishops do so understanding that “variations from them are made self-consciously, intentionally and with adequate justification.” The Australian draft has four areas:

  • Spirituality and faith
  • Theology
  • Ministry Skills
  • Australian Anglican identity

UPDATE (24 January 2023): Thanks to the comment of Clare Amos, here is the recent Church of England Qualities for Discernment of a Priestly vocation and Selection Criteria for Discernment to the Priesthood. I would note that in the FAR larger and diverse context of the Church of England, it has been possible to agree to ordination guidelines. Might I also here note the excellent points being discussed on the Liturgy Facebook Page.
UPDATE (25 January 2023): Thanks to the comment of Jim Pratt, here is the Competencies for the ministry of priests in the Anglican Church of Canada. And the previous CofE criteria for comparison with the new ones.[End of UPDATE].

In my own developing reflections, I think that for a person to be ready to be ordained they need a level of psychological maturity; I think they need to normally functioning at James Fowler’s Stage 5 of faith (in brief summary, I would describe that as having owned faith for oneself – Stage 4 – and having moved beyond needing to see one’s own expression of faith replicated in another person; the Benedictine understanding of faith may be, just as one example, the way that my spirit is nourished, but, as a Stage 5, I would not only be comfortable that for others this is not nourishing for them, but I would encourage the way that is appropriate to that individual).

Psychological maturity and one’s stage of faith are normally not areas of formation, study, and training. Nine areas of formation, study, and training that I think are needed in preparation for ordination spring to my mind:

  • Context: agility in our post-modern, post-Christian, multi-faith, multi-cultural situation; agility with the digital situation in which we find ourselves (this is where people live); in Aotearoa-New Zealand being comfortable in Tikanga Māori and Te Reo Māori (culture and language)
  • Spirituality: having a personal discipline of prayer and contemplation; being able to companion people on the spiritual journey
  • Scripture: knowledge and understanding of the Bible and at least some agility with the effects of biblical languages, geography, and culture to situate the text in its original context
  • Theology & ethics: this includes understanding ethical theories (deontological; utilitarian;…)
  • History: basic overview of Christian history, Anglican history, Christian history in our own nation and region
  • Pastoral: listening skills; basic counselling skills, and the knowledge of where one’s limitations extend to
  • Worship Leadership: the ability to lead comfortably services that one is ordained to lead (the Daily Office, Baptism, Eucharist, Weddings, Funerals – these latter two one might not need immediately)
  • Preaching: public speaking skills; how it differs from a lecture
  • Leadership: dynamics; leadership theory and practice – including how to run a meeting, and understanding the rules of the church

What do you think? What is missing in my list?

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23 thoughts on “Ordination Requirements”

  1. Commitment to Anglican ecclesiology and identity, by which I mean: not being ambivalent towards holy orders and the role of the bishop, embracing of liturgical, sacramental practice and theology (as opposed to being biblicist or anti-liturgical in orientation to worship), comfortable with ideas of sacred place, and the physical ‘stuff’ of our worship (e.g. vestments), theology heavily shaped by incarnation and the sacraments, ritually aware, able to critique our Church while still deeply valuing the liturgy as the core place where we encounter Christ and one another.

  2. I agree on your points, Bosco, and would add these ones, in no particular order:

    A degree of financial literacy (important when dealing with parish treasurers, whether they are good or bad) – understanding of budgets, balance sheets, etc needed.

    Understanding of not only the rules of the church but any relevant civil legislation (esp. regarding child protection, but also historical buildings, etc).

    More than just worship leadership (though that seems very important) but also a reasonable amount of liturgical studies so that any liturgical experimentation can be framed by the context of tradition in its broadest sense and not just be someone in a stole making up nonsense as they go along.

    The ability to lead structured retreats for a variety of people/ages.

    The ability to encourage clerical, religious and lay vocations.

    Community engagement skills – even if that just means wearing a dog collar in the streets and talking to people in shops. But it could be so much more than that – leading the community through social mobilisation when necessary for the sake of the gospel.

    Some education about mission – both local and global and the interaction between them. (I’m sure you know the Emil Brunner quotation, ‘The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.’)

    Since incumbents are in charge of the parish’s music choices, a reasonably thorough understanding of the Church’s music (part of history, liturgy and worship leadership) and the ability to sing at least the Great Thanksgiving competently; the ability to introduce quality new hymns and other music into a congregation’s repertoire alongside the director of music; the ability to see music/choirs/bands as a missional tool for the parish.

    A sound understanding of Christian art and architecture (given that ‘chancel re-orderings’ and so on aren’t unknown, I think clergy need a clue)

    A practical grasp on ecumenism, perhaps by visiting other denominations as part of training, and later, organising visits for their own congregations to visit other denominations and also knowing what the differences are between Anglicanism and the denomination being visited (https://www.youtube.com/@ReadyToHarvest might be useful).

    Training in basic typography – the number of typographically atrocious pew sheets out there is impressing nobody under 50 and is making people under 30 nauseated. We don’t need pew sheets that have more than two or perhaps three typefaces because they look like ransom notes.

    A driver’s licence – I know of one priest who had a massive parish and couldn’t get around it to do pastoral work. His parish was the type that drew people all over town into the centre of the city so, unlike a suburban parish he needed to go far and wide. His ministry was more than severely hampered.

    A good working knowledge of books, films and music that might help parishioners and others in their spiritual life. ‘You might enjoy reading ….’ can be very helpful advice. Having a parish library with such material would be beneficial too.

    Involving kids in worship – not just sending them out of church for colouring in and bringing them back later. When I first saw lots of kids in cassocks and cottas at St Michael’s who would have been maybe 8yo holding candles at mass it made me realise how other parishes seem to want to alienate kids from worship. That said, I realise St Michael’s is special because of the parochial school.

    I know I am expecting a lot …

    1. Thanks, Robert! I would agree with most of those points, and think many can be inserted within my broad headings – perhaps ability to lead retreats might not be a dealbreaker? Otherwise, it would fit under spirituality. Thanks again. Blessings.

      1. Yes, most fit somewhere under your headings. Sure, the ability to lead retreats may not be a dealbreaker, but part of me would hope that every priest could.

  3. Fowler has always left me cold. It seems to me to reflect a sort of middle class boomer liberal sensibility, and I think its use would tend to gatekeep anyone who doesn’t fit that mold. We certainly want people of a mature faith. I’m just not convinced Fowler is a useful guide for assessing that.

    There’s been a lot written in the Church of England about how the selection process discriminated against working class candidates and northern candidates (and would also against BAME candidates were it not for a deliberate guidelines). I didn’t see a lot of that class exclusion while I was in Aotearoa, but as you say, it’s not clear there’s much of a process at all, so it can’t have an institutional bias.

    I’m also concerned that talk of maturity of faith can be confused with length of years. Among Anglicans and others in “western” countries, the sudden shift in the 1980s away from ordaining younger candidates (under ~35) lost us a lot of good leaders or delayed their ordinations by decades. To be fair, I think the prior patter of rejecting older vocations (over ~35) was equally stupid. Apart from the rubrics (minimum 24 for deacons, 25 for priests, 30 for bishops “unless sufficiently schooled in the Latin tongue”), we should be sceptical of any age restrictions – and remember those minimums are for ordination, not for selection and training.

    I think your list of formation focus areas is reasonably comprehensive. I might add to the spirituality bullet that candidates should be exposed to and have at least basic knowledge of several approaches to Christian spirituality. Building a life of prayer is not a one size fits all proposition.

    I think your point about engagement with Tīkanga Māori is vital. A senior Māori church leader once remarked to me that expats like me were often more interested in and more intentional about engaging with Tīkanga Māori and learning at least some Te Reo. I never achieved anything like fluency, but I could manage my way through a pōwhiri without embarrassing myself, and I significantly expanded the use of Te Reo Māori in worship at St. Andrew’s. This may be less of a problem with younger candidates who will increasingly have learned more about Māori language and culture in school.

    Finally, in five years in Aotearoa New Zealand, I never got a firm sense of what constitutes priestly formation in the eyes of St. John’s College. I know the Tīkanga Pākeha Liturgical Working Group had some serious concerns whether students were getting much liturgical formation at all. And it wasn’t at all clear to me there was much more clarity around dogmatics, church history, or anything else.

    1. Thanks, Malcolm – I first had articulated from you the problem of the delaying training for ordination till midlife; I think that is such an important point & I’ve been making it since you pointed it out to me. So, no – I would not delay the beginning of formation until reasonable spiritual maturity, but yes: I would expect spiritual maturity by the time of ordination. As for agility with different styles of praying: that is part of what I understand as being Stage 5 (noting your dislike for that framework). Thanks again & blessings.

  4. I’m currently writing on Stages of Faith and I can see the appeal of wanting clergy to be Stage 5 in Fowler but it also has some pitfalls. Firstly Fowler suggests this stage is unlikely before midlife so you’re suggesting a much older age for ordination. Secondly, Fowler Stage 5 is a stage which can, despite the person’s own acceptance of other positions, be a stage others struggle to accept as it can be viewed as unorthodox or too liberal to “fit” an institutional model.
    I certainly agree there should be a maturity of Faith, for me, I‘be always asked anyone exploring a vocation if they’ve ever had doubts and considered those who boldly say no to be the ones not ready whereas those who have had doubts and come through them to be more likely to be ready. There is something there of a later Faith stage though not necessarily of Fowler’s model.
    I think what’s missing for me from the lists you give above is something about character, disposition or personal strength, how they interact with others and a sense of vocation. The danger with such lists is they become a knowledge and skills list which lacks an holistic approach.

    1. That’s a helpful critique, thanks, Sarah. I’m not (see Malcolm’s comment and my response) wanting to raise the age of ordination, but you yourself are highlighting that Stage 5 can be “before midlife”. My concern for having Stage 4 church leadership is the tendency to seek to clone and replicate one’s own approach. As for Stage 5 being an issue for the institution – are you highlighting that too many Stage 4 (and Stage 3) people are running the institution? In that case, I’m doubling down on my desire to have people at Stage 5. On the other hand – I have certainly met a good number of people who have a “very strong sense of vocation” to ordination but would be a disaster being ordained. Blessings.

  5. Thanks for this – I’m (God-willing) to be ordained a Deacon in a month, having completed a formation program here in Perth.

    I’d challenge the premise of your nine areas a little. Sometimes we can slip into an acquisition-of-skills framework of formation, but I think the really transformative aspect is becoming bolder in prayerful self-reflection, so that you are committed to continual dialogue with scripture, reason and the tradition and willing to continue to learn. Theological reflection is given some emphasis over here; I guess it might slot into your ‘pastoral’ category, but I think it’s actually wider than that and more fundamental.

    I don’t know if Clinical Pastoral Education is required in New Zealand contexts; it is in the Diocese of Perth and I believe that’s a very good thing: it’s challenging, there’s learning around key pastoral skills, but it’s also integrative, and involves theological reflection upon pastoral practice, your own patterns and difficulties, and so on.

    I very much appreciate history of the Church in its local context being required; that could certainly be strengthened over here. We are required to take a unit on sociology of religion, which looks at faith in an Australian context, basic theory around religion (Weber, …), and other faith traditions. Despite already being personally committed to learning about other faiths, it still made my own tendency to read other faiths through a protestant Christian lens (and the problematic aspects of doing so) apparent to me.

    1. Thanks, Grahame – and God bless your ministry as a deacon. I did Clinical Pastoral Education – but, as I highlight in my post, there is NO requirement in NZ. Blessings.

  6. I think most people’s viewpoint will vary by churchmanship or theology. As a more Protestant Anglican in the Episcopal Church, I support the historic catholic three-tiered ministry of bishops, priests and deacons but believe many Anglican churches (particularly in North America), as well as other Christian denominations, have become far too academic. In North America, we have a significant shortage of clergy in most denominations. I don’t think a prospective parish priest should have to get a master’s degree, let alone a doctorate. The church desperately needs frontline clergy to spread the Good News and administer the sacraments. I’ve long thought about becoming a priest and serving in a rural area but I have neither the time nor money to abandon my career and spend three to five years in university at almost 40 years of age to get a master’s degree or doctorate — either of which are completely irrelevant outside of the church.

    1. Thanks, Edward. To be clear, I am not suggesting a master’s degree nor a doctorate. And in NZ, those who go to our national Anglican seminary are provided with accommodation and funding. I have no idea (and I’m not sure if anyone does), however, what percentage of those heading for ordination go to our national seminary. Blessings.

    1. Thank you, Clare, I’m adding this into the original post as an update. I see that they form general guidelines, and I also note that the CofE is a much larger church than our Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia province which cannot agree on such general guidelines. Blessings.

  7. Your list corresponds very closely to one produced by our network of local ministry training programs in western Canada, after observing the elements which were common to all the participating schools. There are some differences:
    1) Our list includes “Teaching & Learning”. This acknowledges clergy responsibility for (or oversight of) Christian education, but it also emphasizes that clergy don’t learn things in order to keep the knowledge to themselves.
    2) Our list includes “Anglicanism”, i.e. sufficient understanding and formation in the Anglican way, specifically. A previous commenter addressed this topic, but I would also add the importance of enabling clergy to participate in ecumenical leadership with sufficient grounding in their own tradition.
    3) Your list identifies “History” as a separate topic. This may be an oversight in our list, though we do include historical background, where appropriate, as ancillary to the other topics.

  8. Bosco,
    Here, for comparison, is the list of competencies required for ordination in the Anglican Church of Canada. https://www.anglican.ca/resources/competencies-for-ordination-to-the-priesthood-in-the-anglican-church-of-canada/

    One of the challenges with this is its application in our Indigenous church, where resources for education and training are not available in indigenous languages, nor are many members of indigenous communities able to afford higher education, especially when most clergy in the North are non-stipendiary or bi-vocational (and even those who are paid a stipend are paid a pittance in comparison with the cost of living). Nor is there any specific requirement for “settler” ordinands to understand the indigenous context.

    1. Fair enough, Tim – but, to be fair, I wonder if you are not seeing it because you are looking for evangelical buzzwords? I would have understood my own first bullet point (the largest section in my bullet points), for example, to be about evangelism. Blessings.

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