Discernment Guide

A Short Guide to Surviving ‘The Discernment Process’ in the Church of England

by Jules Middleton

Some time ago I had one of those ‘why doesn’t someone do that’ thoughts. You know the ones where you see something that needs to be done and rather hope that someone might actually do it? Well with this one I felt a gentle prod from God to just do it myself.

Having gone through the ‘discernment’ or ‘selection process’ in the Church of England, discerning a call to ordained ministry, at times I found myself rather bewildered at what would happen next. As I progressed through, was recommended, and subsequently began training I found I was not alone in this. Despite being an enriching and worthwhile process, many people I spoke to had been totally unprepared for what the process would actually mean for them. Of course some of us were given a list or even a timeline if lucky, but most were left completely unprepared for the way it would affect us and those around us. At times emotional, occasionally draining, sometimes just all too much, I wanted to help people entering the process to feel a bit more prepared for it. So, this guide was begun. I’ve spoken to many others who’ve gone through it, sent out questionnaires, tweets and Facebook requests, and so this guide is the work of many, to whom I am very grateful. Together it is a guide, but also a personal reflection, hopefully giving you a taste of what the process could be like for you. I say right throughout this guide that the situation will vary from diocese to diocese and I can’t stress this enough, but I hope that it will also offer a framework of how the process generally works too.

It has taken some time to put this together, around work, family and study so I am publishing it simply here via my blog, which hopefully will enable it to reach more people (so do send the link to those who you know in the process!).

Of course any mistakes are my own and I would be more than grateful if you pointed them out so I can rectify them!

Jules Middleton, July 2015

This page is effectively the contents page, so all chapters are listed below rather than putting them all in one ridiculously huge long post…

Contents

1. Introduction

2. What is ‘Discernment’ All About?

3. Getting Started

4. It’s All About You

5. Jumping Through Hoops

6. Going to BAP

7. What Next?

8. Appendix & Resources
© Copyright Jules Middleton, 2016

10 Comments

  • Reply
    Bryony
    August 4, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    Can I just say how helpful I found this – and how much I enjoyed reading it. Thank you for writing this and for sharing it.

    • Reply
      Jules
      August 4, 2015 at 9:12 pm

      Thanks Bryony thats really kind of you to let me know 🙂 Blessings to you!

  • Reply
    Lucy
    October 16, 2015 at 10:07 am

    Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It is an unselfish thing to do, and such a helpful thing to do. Thank you.

    • Reply
      Jules
      January 15, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      Thanks Lucy 🙂

  • Reply
    Roxanne
    February 11, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    Hi Jules, I just found this today, I’m in the Scottish Episcopal Church and about to go to a Provincial Panel who will discern if I am to go to a BAP. The guide is so, so helpful and made me chuckle a few times! Thank you so much for your generosity in taking the time to write it – it has been really helpful! 🙂

    • Reply
      Jules
      February 11, 2017 at 6:51 pm

      Thanks Roxanne, I am so glad it was helpful to you! Hope the panel goes really well.
      Blessings
      Jules

  • Reply
    Jay
    March 16, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    I just read your piece in the church times ( a bit behind in my reading) and from then on have quickly looked at your blog. I wish I’d had this when I was going through the process 10 years ago. So well done. However the thing that prompted me to write was your comment on how unlikely it is that the candidate will come out of the first DDO meeting disheartened. I waited ages to see the DDO after an initial discussion with my priest (15 months) and I provided the DDO with a written account of my journey and my current circumstances. When I got there the DDO seemed to have little idea of who I was and asked me all kinds of questions about whether I worked, which church I attended, whether I was married etc. I had to work hard to contain my irritation. The DDO showed great concern that I wasn’t sure about my vocation and used that as proof that I was unsuitable whereas I thought the meeting was about exploring my sense of vocation. It was horrible and awful and although I think of myself as reasonably sane I found that for 3 days after the meeting I couldn’t sleep or eat. That’s how bad it was. The DDO on subsequent meetings expressed huge concern that I wasn’t suitable. It was all very harrowing until I got to the BAP which I have to say was the fairest and most compassionate part of the process. Fast forward 10 years and I am working full time as a priest; details sparse to anonymise the DDO in question.

    • Reply
      Jules
      March 16, 2017 at 5:23 pm

      Thanks Jay. Sorry to hear your experience of the DDO was not too positive. Sadly a lot of it is down the the DDO and if you have a good one it makes all the difference. I hope that your experience is rare, most the stories I’ve heard were positive. Glad you persevered though and you’re obviously now where God intended you to be.
      Blessings
      Jules

  • Reply
    Mark Woodrow
    June 20, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    Dear Jules,

    My partner is just starting the discernment process, and is very concerned about the C 4 canon part, as she is divorced. As I understand it, she, myself, her ex-partner, and one or two referees who knew both them, would be interviewed. Is this correct? There seems to be an opportunity for mischief-making by unhappy ex-partners here, which is rather worrying. What also concerns me is that she would be put in a position of justifying herself, which I’m not at all comfortable with. The process, as described, seems very intrusive.

    I understand that the church needs to have a good reputation, and its ministers be respectable, that scandal and questions over moral fibre would harm their effectiveness. The days when outcasts and the fallen could become apostles and leaders are, alas, long gone. It seems that there isn’t much of God’s redemptive love in the process.

    I note that you say that the implementation of the discernment process is very much up to the bishop, and his assistant. My hope is that this is a case of the written regulations looking very severe, but that the way the process is conducted is done with a good deal of wisdom, sensitivity and understanding of people’s actual lives today.

    • Reply
      Jules
      June 20, 2018 at 3:04 pm

      Hi Mark,
      Thanks for your comment. To be honest it can be really tough and I do think it is necessary, for the reasons you mention, but to reassure you there are plenty of ‘outcasts’ and ‘fallen people’ now serving in God’s church, even in ordained ministry, me included – who has a very misspent past! I understand you both feeling concerned about it though and the thing is, the practical application of a C4 really is down to diocese, DDO, Bishop etc. However I did recently hear a positive note locally that suggests at least here they are looking at it in a much more pastoral way.
      I would suggest your partner talks to her Vocations guide or DDO about it and finds out exactly how it works in your diocese, she could express any concerns she has and find out what is really necessary. (Or I can try and find someone in your area who has been through it who could offer a first hand experience – if you are happy to let me know where you are?). I have heard of some cases where it would have been inappropriate and the diocese has then not talked to previous partners.

      One thing that I find is key in the whole process is to speak up when you need to, it’s very easy to be led down the path that authority says we must go down and not question it when we really should. It doesn’t have to be in an aggressive way, just raising a concern or worry, and if your partner has a good Vocations Guide they should be really open to listening to what she has to say. Or if not them, her Incumbent or someone else who can advise.

      And above all, make sure you have people praying for you, it’s such a deep and full on process, get some prayer cover. I know early in the process you might not be willing to share it with lots of people, but maybe find a few trusted friends and ask them to pray.

      Let me know if I can help some more,

      Blessings to you both
      Jules

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