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Musings: On Callings And Requirements...

I’ve found myself struggling of late, struggling to discern why I am upset, wrestling with what it is about a situation that has me annoyed and trying to determine what if anything I will do about it.


Here is the dilemma. In 2016, as part of the 42nd General Council, the United Church held a Church wide remit to determine if there would be one order of ministry. Effectively this would mean that all those presently serving as Ordained Ministers (ordained to Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care) and Diaconal Ministers (commissioned to education, service and pastoral care), and Designated Lay Ministers (recognized by a regional council and accountable to the Office of Vocation) would be recognized as one Order of Ministry. The remit failed.


The most current General Council has determined that Designated Lay Ministers may now apply for Testamur (the document required to be eligible for Ordination) if they meet the following criteria:


  • graduated from a Designated Lay Ministry program OR have a letter confirming prior learning assessment;

  • recognized by a presbytery (before 2019), Conference (before 2019), or regional council;

  • minimum five years of pastoral ministry experience post-recognition, in at least half-time ministry appointments; and

  • have a call or appointment in place with a community of faith or an offer of employment to a paid accountable/recognized ministry, as determined by the regional council (this is required by The Manual, section H.4.8, for all those seeking commissioning or ordination).


My preparation for ministry involved the completion of an undergraduate degree and a three year master’s level degree, field education for each of the three years of the master’s degree and two supervised field education appointments of four months each. The Designated Lay Ministry program (as offered by St. Andrew’s College) can be completed in three years while serving in an appointment for at least half-time.


And, recently, the Atlantic School of Theology has begun to offer a three year Bachelor of Theology degree and it is expected that the United Church of Canada will accept the completion of this three year degree as meeting the requirements for Testamur.


So why am I upset, annoyed, frustrated? Is it simply because what took me seven years to prepare for can now be done in three? Is it that simple? I don’t think so.


The reduction in educational requirements is occurring in other professions too.


Crandall University (not that I had much respect for them anyways as a result of their “moral code” which is clearly anti LGBTQ2+) advertises “Earn your BEd with classes held one day per week…”calling it a BEd Saturday Option! Maybe you could do a BDiv Friday Option and lead Church on Sunday before going to teach on Monday!

In April of 2023 the CBC reported that the province of Ontario is scrapping post-secondary education requirement for police recruits.


And in the shadow of such decisions, The Conference Board of Canada, in its most recent report card on education in Canada identifies the following weaknesses:


Canada needs to improve workplace skills training and lifelong education. Canada’s adult literacy skills are mediocre, with a large proportion of adults lacking the literacy skills necessary to function in the workplace. Canada gets a “C” and ranks 10th out of 15 peer countries on the indicator measuring adult participation in job-related non-formal education.


Canada also underperforms in the highest levels of skills attainment. Canada produces relatively few graduates with PhDs and graduates in math, science, computer science and engineering. More graduates with advance qualifications in these fields would enhance innovation and productivity growth—and ultimately ensure a high and sustainable quality of life for all Canadians.


Canada’s middle-of-the-pack ranking on university completion may reflect the fact that the financial return from investing in university education in Canada is also middle-of-the-pack at best. Many other countries (and the individuals in those countries) get much better returns on their tertiary investments.


My concern is not only in relation educational requirements – it is also rooted in vocational identity – a call to ministry of Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care.  Is the ‘call’ to ministry the same? I think not. Many Diaconal Ministers have joined other ordered and commissioned ministers in arguing that the call to diaconal / ordained / lay ministry is unique.

I note that on the webpage DLMs Seeking Testamur Eligibility, applicants for Testamur are encouraged to "Discern whether you are called to ordained or diaconal ministry by reviewing the material about ordered ministry and having conversations with both diaconal and ordained ministry colleagues about their stream of ministry." Is this to say that a DLM seeking Testamur could discern a call to Diaconal Ministry after having served as a Designated Lay Minister? It seems so. The page also stresses that the interview "will not be about assessing your call to ministry."


All this to say, there are presently about 70 United Church clergy working to organize a response to the General Council Executive, including a possible legal challenge based on the failed remit.


So, what’s the next best action, for this privileged, white, heterosexual, almost at retirement, male, who has vested interest in my educational and vocational identity? Is it to join in challenging a decision of the Church or to accept that this is the direction of we are moving and accept the change that is unfolding?

Maybe there is just one call - and we respond in many ways and that the best thing I can do is keep my mouth shut and let the Spirit continue to do her work...




Looking Ahead

This morning I was in the office responding to email and phone messages and writing this reflection. This afternoon I am working from home doing some preparatory reading for the season of Lent which begins on February 14th – and if you think that is early – get your head around the idea that Easter occurs on March 31stthis year!


Tomorrow I am in the office again in the morning and then in Moncton for the afternoon attending to a series of meetings and pastoral visits.


Wednesday morning will be dedicated to assisting the Worship and Sanctuary Committee in packing Christmas away for another year and then sharing in community with the folk from Open Sky. In the afternoon I have two meeting scheduled.


Thursday will be devoted to crafting a liturgy and reflection for Sunday, the second Sunday in the Season of Epiphany using the wealth of textual options offered by the Revised Common Lectionary. Later in the afternoon I have two meetings scheduled followed by the Prayer Circle at 7PM.


Friday and Saturday will be days off and on Sunday we will gather in community at 11AM – hope to see you there!

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