Priest Ordination FAQs
- What is discernment of Holy Orders?
- What is spiritual direction? How do I find a spiritual director?
- What is the Commission on Ministry?
- What are the different stages of the process of ordination to the priesthood?
- How do I become an aspirant?
- How do I become a nominee?
- What is a parish discernment committee?
- How do I become a postulant?
- If I am ordained in another Christian denomination, what steps should I follow?
- What are the coursework and degree requirements for a seminary education?
- What is CPE?
- What if I have already attended seminary, and/or received a degree?
- What financial support is available to seminarians for seminary expenses?
- How do I become a candidate?
- What is the Standing Committee?
- What are the GOEs?
- When am I able to look for jobs outside the diocese of North Carolina?
- How do I look for jobs as a priest in the Episcopal Church?
- How do I apply for the transitional diaconate?
- When does the diocesan ordination to the diaconate take place?
- How do I apply for the priesthood?
- When does the diocesan ordination to the priesthood take place?
- What is the diocesan residency program?
- How do the North Carolina diocesan priorities relate to the recruitment of persons to the ordained ministry, regarding anti-racism, bi-vocational ministry, rural and vulnerable congregations, and lifelong Christian formation?
What is discernment of Holy Orders?
Discernment is the process of prayerful reflection and exploration of a calling by God to serve the church in the specific role of an ordained person. While the ministers of the church are, first and foremost, all baptized lay Christians, the term Holy Orders refers to the specific ministries of the bishop, priest or presbyter, and deacon, described on pages 855-856 of the Book of Common Prayer. The process of discernment involves the applicant, their sponsoring priest, their congregation, their family, their spiritual director, the bishop, the Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee. There is no specified time limit for the period of discernment for Holy Orders.
What is spiritual direction? How do I find a spiritual director?
Spiritual direction is the work of a person with a trained spiritual director in the work of discernment. A spiritual director is not your pastor or therapist, and they are not usually a member of your own community. The director can offer perspective on the spiritual life, spiritual disciplines and your life’s story in God. Sessions with a spiritual director might address topics of grace, God’s love, loss, grief, faith, forgiveness and reconciliation. In discernment of Holy Orders, spiritual direction would address God’s calling, your gifts, the ministry of the church, personal sacrifices, life changes, support systems and your faith in Jesus Christ. To find a spiritual director in the Diocese of North Carolina, contact Canon Rhonda Lee.
What is the Commission on Ministry?
The Commission on Ministry (COM) is a group of 12 clergy and lay people appointed by the bishop who serve the Diocese of North Carolina for a three or six year term. The COM works with individuals to discern a call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church. They interview applicants for postulancy, candidacy, the transitional diaconate and the priesthood, first by discerning a call to the ordained ministry and, later, evaluating the ability to accept that call through education and formation. In the Diocese of North Carolina there are two separate commissions, one for the priesthood and on for the diaconate. A more intentional path of discernment for those discerning a call to lay ministry is forthcoming.
What are the different stages of the process of ordination to the priesthood?
- Transitional deacon
How do I become an aspirant?
- Be confirmed as an Episcopalian and a member of good standing in a church in the diocese of North Carolina for a minimum of one year. It is highly recommended that you become involved in the ministries of your parish.
- Meet with a priest in your parish and have conversations about the process of discernment and the call to the priesthood. If your priest feels you are experiencing a calling and wishes for you to explore further discernment, you may be nominated by your sponsoring parish.
How do I become a nominee?
- Have your sponsoring presbyter submit your nomination to the diocesan office by Advent I. The form can be found here and must be signed by your priest and the members of your parish vestry. Your priest will also write a letter to the bishop recommending you to explore further discernment.
- At this stage, your priest will also organize a parish discernment committee and begin the process of group discernment with you.
What is a parish discernment committee?
Parish discernment committees are made up of members of your parish church. Some of the people will know you well, and others might not. The sponsoring presbyter selects the persons who will serve on this committee for you. The committee will meet a minimum of six sessions with you to determine whether or not they believe you are experiencing a call to the priesthood, and will submit their report to your vestry and to the diocese on your behalf. The aspirant will write a spiritual autobiography essay for use in these discernment sessions. A description of the assignment can be found here. Information to guide the sessions for parish discernment committees can be found here. Parish discernment committees must meet with a member of the Commission on Ministry for an orientation before beginning their work. Please contact the Rev. Nancy Cox to set up a meeting prior to the first session with the aspirant.
How do I become a postulant?
- Shortly following your nomination by your sponsoring presbyter on or before the first Sunday in Advent, you will receive assignments from the chair of the Commission on Ministry. They will include an application form, a spiritual autobiography, several essay questions, a life history and other documents. You will be asked to complete a physical examination from your doctor, as well as a psychological evaluation from a diocesan counselor. You will also complete your sessions with your parish discernment committee. All materials and evaluations are due by March 15 to the diocesan office.
- After your materials are reviewed, you will meet with our diocesan bishop for a one-on-one interview. He will ask you about the calling you are experiencing, and your readiness to serve in a diocesan internship. With the bishop’s approval, you will be assigned a part-time diocesan internship at a congregation in your area. This internship will take place from June-December, and upon completion, you and your supervisor will submit an evaluation of your time in this congregation in leadership.
- In January, interns will interview for postulancy with the Commission on Ministry at a two day conference in Raleigh or another location. These interviews are focused on your prayer life, your theology and faith in Jesus Christ, your gifts for congregational leadership, and your personal life, including your family’s needs, your finances and your support systems. The Commission, in consult with the bishop, determines whether a calling to the priesthood is apparent, or not, or if more discernment is needed before a calling can be identified. Applicants are notified by the bishop if they are to be made postulants. From that time they will begin the process of applying to seminary, or determining what kind of additional formation is needed in the months to come.
If I am ordained in another Christian denomination, what steps should I follow?
Under Canon II.10.3, you will enter the process of discernment with the Diocese of North Carolina by beginning at the stage of aspirant, following your confirmation/membership into the Episcopal Church. You will be nominated by your sponsoring parish, meet with your parish discernment committee, and complete all paperwork and essays for postulancy, but you will interview with the Commission on Ministry for both postulancy and candidacy at the same time at the overnight retreat. Additional formational work or an Anglican year at an Episcopal seminary may be required, as well as evaluation in the form of the GOEs.
What are the coursework and degree requirements for a seminary education?
A three-year Masters of Divinity at an approved, accredited Episcopal seminary is required. Decisions about choosing a seminary are made with the approval of the bishop. Specific coursework requirements will vary from person to person and will depend on the recommendations of the bishop and the Commission on Ministry. A unit of CPE is required by the time the postulant applies for candidacy in the second year of seminary.
What is CPE?
CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) is a placement in a hospital or intensive care facility for a seminarian to learn skills in chaplaincy, crisis and pastoral care. Information about accredited CPE centers can be found at acpe.edu. CPE is usually completed during the summer following the first year of seminary.
What if I have already attended seminary and/or received a degree?
The discernment process begins at the stage of aspirant regardless of previous educational experience. Additional educational formation may still be required following acceptance to postulancy, whether it includes a residential Anglican year, a unit of CPE or an M.Div. at an Episcopal seminary. While the Diocese of North Carolina accepts all applicants to the process of discernment, it is not advised to begin seminary independent of the ordination process.
What financial support is available to seminarians for seminary expenses?
The Diocese of North Carolina offers an annual grant toward tuition for postulants. For specific amounts, contact Canon Catherine Massey. Sponsoring parishes are encouraged to financially support their seminarians as well. The cost of the GOEs is also fully funded for postulants.
How do I become a candidate?
Candidacy interviews take place in March of the second year of seminary. These interviews are with two groups, the Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee, usually in the same weekend (Saturday and Monday).You will submit a pre-candidacy reflection essay, an application and certificate of minister and vestry from your sponsoring priest and vestry, your seminary Middler evaluation and your CPE evaluations. Your interviews with both committees will focus on your formation and readiness for ministry, your prayer life and relationship with God, and your leadership skills gained in seminary. The Commission or bishop may make recommendations for continued education in specific areas based on these interviews.
What is the Standing Committee?
The Standing Committee is an elected body of clergy and lay persons from the Diocese of North Carolina, charged with the responsibility of counsel of advice to the bishop as well as oversight of many areas of ministry, including ordination of priests. In the Diocese of North Carolina, the Standing Committee interviews postulants for candidacy and interviews candidates for the transitional diaconate.
What are the GOEs?
The GOEs, or General Ordination Exams, are a series of exams taken in the third year of seminary. They evaluate six canonical areas of education: the Holy Scriptures, Church history, Christian theology, worship, the practice of ministry, and Christian ethics and moral theology. If someone does not demonstrate proficiency in one or more of these areas, the diocesan Board of Examining Chaplains will assign additional work as they deem necessary until the Candidate does demonstrate proficiency. It is not advised for a person to take the GOEs before postulancy.
When am I able to look for jobs outside the diocese of North Carolina?
The bishop and Canon Catherine Massey will confer with you about the right time to look for jobs in ordained ministry and offer advice about what parishes might be a good fit for you as you interview for positions.
How do I look for jobs as a priest in the Episcopal Church?
The diocesan transitions officer, Canon Catherine Massey, will be available for consultation and exploration of available jobs not only in North Carolina but throughout the Episcopal Church.
What is the transitional diaconate? How do I apply for it?
Ordination to the Priesthood is preceded by ordination to a Transitional Diaconate of no less than six months, appointment to a cure (ministry assignment), recommendation from the deacon’s supervising clergy and vestry, recommendation from the COM and the certification of the Standing Committee. Candidates for the transitional diaconate are interviewed by the Standing Committee and the Commission on Ministry in April. GOEs and CPE must be completed by this time. You will submit both an application completed by you and an endorsement from your sponsoring presbyter and vestry, and complete Title IV training, an updated physical exam and a background check.
When does the diocesan ordination to the diaconate take place?
Generally in June every year, in consult with the bishop and the diocesan calendar. In no case may a date or announcement of ordination be set or made without the consent of the bishop.
How do I apply for the priesthood?
Priesthood interviews with the Commission on Ministry take place in October. You will submit an application completed by you and an endorsement from your sponsoring presbyter and vestry prior to your interview.
When does the diocesan ordination to the priesthood take place?
Generally in December every year, in consult with the bishop and the diocesan calendar. In no case may a date or announcement of ordination be set or made without the consent of the bishop.
What is the diocesan residency program?
This program offers an opportunity for continuing formation and community during the first two years of ordained ministry for those who will become priests in the Church. Newly ordained transitional deacons and priests (whether ordained in this diocese or in another diocese) gather quarterly in a community of peers for overnight meetings with a residency supervisor. These mandatory meetings provide support and draw on current ministry experience for the continued formation and integration of a priestly and pastoral identity.
How do the North Carolina diocesan priorities of racial justice and reconciliation, bi-vocational ministry, care of vulnerable congregations, creation care, collaborative ministry and lifelong Christian formation relate to the recruitment of persons to the ordained ministry?
The Diocese of North Carolina intentionally practices our discernment of ordination with these goals in mind. We interview persons who have skills, interests, passions and energy for addressing these priorities, and we believe it is our task, as servants of Jesus Christ, to prepare leaders for a new generation in the Episcopal Church. If any of these priorities resonate with your skills or passions, we hope that you will share that as a part of your discernment process. Our mission strategy plan, presented at the 2021 Diocesan Convention, clarifies how these priorities will be implemented over the next five to seven years in our common life together.