July 2010

Discerning Youthful Calls

When asked, “When did you know you were called to ordained ministry?” I always begin with the story of Mrs. White. She was the matriarch in our small church. In third grade one Sunday after church as I was taking off my acolyte robe, Mrs. White walked up to me and blurted out, “Make sure you invite me to your ordination!” Confused and dismayed, I ran up to the priest and shouted, “What’s an ordination and how come my older brothers didn’t have to do it?”

Years later while in the midst of the discernment process, it became clear how much Mrs. White’s proclamation was a seed planting experience for ordination. And there were many other, albeit not as blatant, seed planting experiences in my childhood and young adult years: church, summer camp, and the cathedral I attended in college.

Being part of a small church afforded me a myriad of opportunities. From a young age I served as a lector and a chalice bearer. I even mowed the church lawn. Likewise, as a camper, I learned how to facilitate small groups, lead Bible study, even plan and lead worship. The cathedral — which at the time did not have many young adults — quickly incorporated me not only into worship leadership and faith formation but also stewardship.

Each one of these explorations and the subsequent encouragement from both clergy and lay leaders were further seed planting experiences in the discernment for ordination. Given the opportunity and encouragement to involve myself at all levels of the church enabled me to gain an understanding of what my gifts for ministry were.

Invite youth to participate fully
Subsequently, I have consistently made it a priority to provide others, especially young people, with the same opportunities for involvement and exploration. I encourage you to do the same. Ask young people to be acolytes as well as lectors, lay readers and chalice bearers. Encourage them to serve on vestries, outreach, faith formation committees and all other aspects of congregational life. Invite them to be full participants in the life and leadership of the church.

The outcome of involving young people at all levels of the church has been the formation of a generation of deeply committed young people — and they are some of the brightest clergy I know. They are a group of individuals who have discerned both their gifts for ministry and their passion for service to God.

Too often there is a hesitation to invite and encourage young people to become involved in the life of the church. Being an acolyte and helping in Sunday school is commonplace but serving on the finance or outreach committee is much less likely. The rational is that young people have neither the desire nor the ability to serve outside the traditional roles of worship or faith formation. In my experience, however, many young people are not only interested in these areas, but have a high level of competency and creativity that can truly invigorate the life of the church.

Have you considered ordination?
It is paramount to provide a wide range of experiences for young people to engage in the full life of the church. These opportunities can provide critical seed planting for the foundation for discernment. And don’t forget to say the words: “Have you ever considered ordination?”

The Rt. Rev. Brian N. Prior was consecrated as the ninth bishop of Minnesota in February of 2010. A veteran of church camps and othergatherings for young people, he and the Diocese of Minnesota will host the national Episcopal Youth Event for some 1500 young people in June of 2011.

This article is part of the July 2010 Vestry Papers issue on Discernment