The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Readings for November 2017

Listening Hearts by Farnham, McLean, Gill, Ward

I had the opportunity to participate in a discernment process for someone considering ministry in the Episcopal Church USA. As a part of this process, we read Listening Hearts, which I gather is a somewhat popular choice of books for this purpose. My comments below don't reflect on this book, which seemed fine to me. But it did prompt a lot of thinking on my part.

I can see some value in the discernment process, whereby a committee of people in a local congregation help an aspirant decide if that person should pursue ordained ministry. But I am simultaneously troubled by the level of control it places over people who are seeking to serve God in their churches. There is definitely an opportunity for bias and personal feelings to interfere, and it could serve to preserve the power of those already serving by filtering people with alternative viewpoints from entering the clergy.

I don't want to over-emphasize ordained ministry. I think working outside of those offices can be very effective, as with the prophetic office. After all, who could imagine Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, or John the Baptist being vetted by their local congregations? Would Jesus have come away with the recommendation of a discernment committee? So there is a safety valve outside of formal processes. But the discernment committee structure definitely risks squelching the voices of willing servants who might upset the apple cart or not seem to be the right sort of people for ordained ministry.

All this being said, I can't stand in total condemnation of the process of discernment as practiced in my denomination. But after participating in it, I'm not sure I would agree to do so again.


  • Harper's August 2017
Category: books Tags: readings