Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What is Call? – Part 3

Please see earlier Parts 1 and 2

The issue of initial assignment of newly-ordained clergy is not one of arbitrary decision by the Bishop.  The Bishop typically spends months in reflection and prayerful consideration. He consults with the seminarian and, if there is one, spouse. He discusses the placement with the Commission on Ministry and, I suspect, the Standing Committee (though I am not in those meetings). He converses with the various congregations about the prospect of accepting a newly-ordained person into their midst.  Out of that multifaceted process emerges the Bishop’s assignments.  Mississippi has a history of placing all seminarians who are ordained.  That is fairly unique in the Church. Sometimes, though, it is not well-received, but those occasions are rare.  My point in all this is to say that the call may be to some place other than what may have wished, but the process is one of call and need by the Church.

Once we get into the ordained vocation, the same issues sometime arise.  The primary symptoms are those which I listed earlier – those situations in which there is a reluctance to “perceive a call”.  Those potentially become intractable.  In such circumstances, clergy may sometimes find themselves either struggling in a position which is not ideal or being unemployed for reluctance to accept a call to someplace they do not choose to go, for whatever reason.

The 17th Century Anglican priest and poet George Herbert wrote a poem entitled “The Call”, which has been memorialized in Hymn 487 in the Hymnal 1982. His words reveal the subtle, transcendent, life-changing, and irresistible nature of the call:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life: 
such a way as gives us breath,
such a truth as ends all strife,
such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength: 
such a light as shows a feast,
such a feast as mends in length,
such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart: 
such a joy as none can move,
such a love as none can part,
such a heart as joys in love.

A true call is mystical, nuanced and profound. It requires discernment. It is very personal – unique to the individual. To paraphrase what the Supreme Court said about obscenity, “It cannot be described, but you know it when you see it.”

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