Diocese of Chicago to Refocus Ordination Process

By Douglas LeBlanc

The Diocese of Chicago will take a “sabbath time” in 2010 from receiving new people who feel called to holy orders. The Rt. Rev Jeffrey D. Lee, Bishop of Chicago since February 2008, said he noticed early in his work that the diocese’s Commission on Ministry was exceptionally busy. “We have 40-plus people at various stages of the process. That’s a lot of folks,” Bishop Lee told The Living Church.

The sabbath time will not interrupt the progress of anyone already accepted into the diocese’s discernment program. The bishop has asked the Rev. Sam Portaro, former chaplain at the University of Chicago, to serve as a coach to the Commission on Ministry during the sabbath year. The program was last revised in the mid-1990s, the bishop said.

The revised program likely will place greater emphasis on what sort of ordained people the diocese needs. The diocese, for instance, wants people with entrepreneurial and congregational-development skills who can be flexible about their sources of income. “God calls to ministry, of course, but the Church calls to holy orders. Sometimes we get that right and, God knows, sometimes we don’t,” Bishop Lee said. “We’re trying to recover and renovate a language that at one time would have been common: Fitness for ministry.”

Both the bishop and Fr. Portaro said one change will be how to describe a person discerning a call. The language has changed from aspirant to nominee.

“It may seem a subtle shift, but it isn’t, for it involves the community in discernment long before a person’s call is clarified and put forward, ” Fr. Portaro said. “In my own campus ministry experience, our interns and peer ministers — all students — were invited to participate; at the end of each academic year, our student community leaders and I reflected on who among us had evidenced gifts we could and should encourage. We found this much healthier than an open application process, though we always considered those who self-nominated. It’s just that that wasn’t the most frequently used portal. ”

The bishop added that the new process likely will give him a more active role in meeting nominees early on and monitoring their progress through discernment. While the diocese has previously sponsored discernment weekends for small groups, “We’re thinking of revising that to being only a couple of people at a time, with the bishop present from the beginning.”

“This is a continuing evolution of our recovery of baptismal theology, “the bishop said. “The fundamental sacrament is baptism, not ordination.” Bishop Lee and Fr. Portaro say the diocese’s campus chaplaincies have been a source of many people who feel called to holy orders.

“We are stewards of people’s lives, and of the needs of the church,” the bishop said. “We need people with a heart for Jesus Christ who believe that the Great Commission is the reason we’re in business.”

This article was first published in the October 25, 2009 issue of The Living Church.

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