In the early 1970’s the Rector of St. Thomas Church-Whitemarsh near Philadelphia, was the chair of the committee to draft the diocesan canon for the new Commission on Ministry. After some time working on it, he said to me that while he thought the commission idea to include more people in the discernment to ordination process had some merit, he also strongly thought that having so many people involved would eventually create “a committee mentality.” He predicted that real genius in leadership and creative eccentricity would be removed with a bland human production line of mediocre clergy emerging in many instances.
Some years later when on the staff of Lyman Ogilby, Bishop of Pennsylvania, I became the coordinator for him for the ordination process and liaison to the Commission on Ministry and seminaries. Because of the human and chronological stagnation that had developed, created by the mess of the COM canonical process, the Diocese had an active list of about 130 people “on the book” toward potential deacon and priest ordinations! Seemingly no one was stating a solid “No” or “Yes” to people until years of interviews, studies and committee meetings had passed. Of course, few young people were waiting around for some answer, and the number of older and suspiciously persistent second career personalities proliferated! I heard occasionally the pathetic notion that if nothing else, “I could be ordained and work for the Church!”
So I developed a pre qualifying process starting with a very able psychologist who tested and interviewed people at the initiation of the aspirant after identifying themselves to me. They made their own appointment with the psychologist and paid for the process, the report of which was sent to me. In turn I would review the reports with the Bishop as needed. We would then decide what would get shared with the individual in an interview with me. The aspirants were promised a ninety day turn around by me so they could get on with their lives. With this pre qualification process in place, the Bishop actually knew what he was potentially getting,and the COM no longer was inundated with very unprepared people. As my prime goal for the aspirants was for them to be empowered to move on confidently to or away from possible ordination and/or to some other ministry, I was grateful to find with few exceptions that people did get what they needed in a caring and timely way. I also offered a workshop for the pre qualified aspirants to learn how to take charge of and have a high quality discernment interview, which also benefited the COM.
COM’s are generally overwhelmed with too many aspirants who are at best modestly equippable for any professional level ministry. It has got to be so gummy and passive that the Dean of the cathedral in Jacksonville, FL raised the interesting question on Facebook as to whether anyone can say “No” to someone seeking ordination, a decidedly non-Anglican ecclesiology! (I am not saying she advocated this position.) From fearful priests who just cannot bring themselves to say no to the flinty old senior warden (My memo to the clergy told them to send these people on to me so I could give them their answer protecting the priest from possible angry retribution.), to timid personalities on COM’s and poor psychological testing and interview processes, to bishops who seem to think that there is scoreboard in heaven for how many people they can get ordained, we have a Church fat on clergy and lean on congregants.
What is the answer? Well, to start with, all bishops/dioceses should consider a partial or full moratorium on all ordinations and lead by figuring out what the real and godly professional needs are within the jurisdictions. And then forget “ordaining for the larger church” nonsense! Let the seminaries go as Harvard’s President, Nathan Pusey, had said needed to happen in his 1968 report. (Yes, over forty years ago. . . ) In other words, at least for a while, just say, “NO!”