Until this year, each diocese in The Anglican Church in North America has directed its own, unique ordination process. Now, five West Coast bishops have formed a steering committee under the name “ACNA West” to develop their own robust, streamlined ordination process preparing priests and deacons to serve across their dioceses.
Bishop Eric Menees of the Diocese of San Joaquin is at the helm of the ACNA West task force, welcoming to the table Bishop John Mark Zimmerman of the Diocese of the Southwest, Bishop Kevin Allen of the Diocese of Cascadia, Bishop Todd Hunter of the Diocese of C4SO, and Bishop Keith Andrews of the Diocese of Western Anglicans. Setting aside differences in history and ecclesiology, these bishops are striving to match the Anglican Church in North America’s growth with a standardized process to initiate and care for ordinands well, for the greater good of the province.
“When you are made a priest or deacon, you are one for the entire church, not for one diocese,” Bishop Menees says. “Someone from C4SO should be able to serve in San Joaquin and anywhere else across the province.”
To achieve that goal, the bishops are working on the first draft of a joint exam based on what they believe to be the essentials of theological training, including the traditional nine areas of proficiency: Holy Scripture, Church History, Anglican Church History, Doctrine, Liturgics, Moral Theology and Ethics, Ascetical Theology, Practical Theology, and The Missionary Work of the Church. This knowledge will qualify clergy to serve in any ACNA West diocese. The bishops also created a joint examining board—each participating diocese will offer chaplains to serve on the board—with 21 chaplains already in place. The chaplains have also contributed their expertise to exam content.
Overseeing the exam’s format and structure is the Rev. Erin Giles, a vocational deacon in the Diocese of San Joaquin who is helping construct a website with a wiki giving ordinands access to study guides, articles, and bibliographies. She says the website will include a series of online learning modules to supplement ordinands’ seminary education where needed. The exam and accompanying resources are scheduled to be up and running by 2017, and will eventually include a platform for lay ministers.
The ACNA West ordination process has a holistic goal: Identify areas of weakness not for the purpose of weeding ordinands out, but to help them find the answers and continue on. The way to do that is through individual follow-up and mentoring, a special passion for Bishop Menees.
“When people graduate seminary, we send them out to plant a church or pastor a congregation on their own,” he says. “We absolutely, positively have to provide ongoing mentoring for these clergy. Over the last five years, one of my primary efforts has been to help mentor clergy so they are successful, rather than floundering around, trying to figure out what’s what.”
To offer that ongoing mentoring and maintain an organic trajectory for each ordinand, each diocese will complete their ordinands’ process in-house, including the oral exam. After ACNA West beta-tests its process on the West Coast, they plan to invite other dioceses in the province to consider joining the process.
“It serves the Anglican Church in North America in both direct and indirect ways: finding and releasing new clergy and creating unity among Western bishops,” says Bishop Hunter. “I am grateful for Bishop Eric’s leadership in this initiative, and I look forward to working with my brother bishops to further advance the kingdom of God, not just our individual dioceses.”
For Bishops Zimmerman and Andrews, ACNA West models a graceful approach to the Anglican Church in North America’s many cross jurisdictions, providing an opportunity to work together long term.
“The process of working on a common examination is helping us to think beyond our individual parishes and dioceses and to be able to share resources and develop cooperation,” Bishop Zimmerman says.
“While there are unique distinctives associated with each diocese, we are all focused on the Kingdom of God,” Bishop Andrews says. “And we have had a lot of fun!”