Tonight I am getting ready to meet with my discernment team. At 7:30 we will gather in a
small office at the church. The five other people on the team each will have left a full—often
over-full—day at work, plowed through the notorious Bay Area commute traffic, and forgone a proper dinner. During
work hours they labor as a therapist, a transportation engineer, a bookseller, an office worker, and in their leisure
hours they write hymns, sing in choirs, raise children, go camping, paint, cook, read. In short, they have busy lives.
Yet they will come to church tonight to work at discerning a call from God. The recipient of all this attention, so
generously and lovingly offered by people who have plenty to do already, is me and my possible call to Holy Orders.
What is this work that is so compelling?
Discernment involves a question, and the search for God in that question. My work to discern a call began when a
thought came, fully formed during a time of trauma and upheaval at my son’s elementary school: “You should
be a priest.” I dismissed the voice quickly, thinking that, like too much pizza eaten too close to bedtime, the
stress of events at my son’s school was causing mental indigestion, but the notion continued to tug at my sleeve.
That was five years ago.
In due time I met with my rector at St. Gregory’s, who referred me to the church’s Vocations Committee.
The committee asked me to write a spiritual autobiography (5,000 words, and I could have said more!), then patiently,
gently, and respectfully asked me questions about what I was experiencing that made me think I might have a call to
ordained ministry. How did my husband and son feel about this, they asked? What does it mean to me to be a priest? Who
is Jesus for me? What were my hesitations about following this path?
I am not alone in this process. In our congregation of 250, about a dozen people are in various stages of discerning
a call to the priesthood or the diaconate. At least four members of the
congregation will be in seminary next year. That is a large number compared to many other churches, though as a
church we are by no means unique. Many of us have stories to tell about how the events in our lives have opened us to
listening for God’s voice. That we all have gifts for ministry to one another is one of the fundamental meanings
behind our baptismal covenant. How to use them?
Many of the questions we ask boil down to just two: what is my right work, and how do I rightly love? From these
spring myriad other questions: What are my gifts? How can I serve? Can I reconcile conflicting obligations—say,
between my desire to support my family financially and my real need for personally meaningful labor? How can I be in
right relationship with others?
Can I be at one with another?
Our authors in this issue look at these questions and more. Listening for God’s prompting, life coach and
vocational counselor Deborah Frangquist writes of the joy of helping clients sift through the stuff of their lives and
of her own hard-won experience of recovering from wrong turns. David Sanger shares the relief and giddy excitement he
felt when his spiritual director helped him discern God’s call in his heart’s desire: photography. A member
of the San Francisco Monthly Meeting, Krista Barnard, tells of learning to trust her Quaker tradition and the voice
that prompts her to speak, and to wait for it as long as it takes.
The Rev. Caroline Fairless finds that the voice of God can come from just about anywhere, from a canceled workshop
or even from an invitation from God’s Friends to write an article about discernment. Joan Stockbridge describes
listening for the promptings of the Spirit while performing as a storyteller. In our online edition, Daniel Green
relates his experiences—from Zen studies to organic farming—while discerning a call to the priesthood. (See
www.godsfriends.org.) And throughout the issue you’ll find brief stories of discernment in contexts ranging from
finding an ordained vocation to illuminating a troubled marriage.
Those who have gone before me in the discernment process at St. Gregory’s have experienced a variety of
outcomes: a call joyfully accepted resulting in ordination; a call acknowledged and confirmed but deferred; a
realization that for better or worse, the person’s heart rests with another faith tradition, and he must follow
it out of our church for as long as it leads. I do not know where my process of discerning a call to the priesthood may
lead—to seminary and ultimately to the ordained priesthood or to something else entirely. I do believe that God
is in the question, and that I don’t have to resolve the question alone.
At the end of our meeting tonight, I will organize this group, several of whom are far superior musicians to me, to
sing Compline, the prayer at the close of day. When this first happened, I realized: this is my congregation, and like
every Christian, I am a priest already.
— Margaret Lukens, Issue Editor