We are all called to serve God in his church, but we are not all called in the same way. There are many ways in which to honour God in our lives, be it as a faithful husband / wife / partner, parent, worker in industry, arts, education, public service… the list is impossible to complete but, for a faithful Christian and member of God’s Church, all are ways of serving. An old English hymn (Teach me, my God and King) puts it, “Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, makes that and the action fine.” Of course, many ways are not mutually exclusive and you may fulfil other callings concurrently.
Ordained ministry, too, is one of the ways of serving God in his Church. Some are called to be deacons, some priests, and some (a few) bishops. It seems that the threefold ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon was well established in the Christian church by the 2nd century. God calls men and women to ordained ministry in his Church through his Church and it is a threefold calling.
- Personal – In discerning such a calling you will perhaps feel an inner stirring to serve God’s people in this way.
- Local Church – That inner stirring may be strengthened by members of a local church community and you may have heard words of encouragement from some of those members (“Have you ever thought of being ordained?”).
- The Wider Church – A bishop (who is responsible for conferring ordination and for all clergy under his care) confirms those callings by agreeing to begin your training and, following a successful course, to ordain you.
While the duties of this office are never explicitly defined in the New Testament, a passage in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 6) implies a responsibility for serving during mealtimes or feasts as well as distributing to the poor and caring for fellow believers with unique needs.
Today, deacons enjoy a more fluid role and can often be mediators between priests and laity. During the liturgy, deacons have a specific role akin to assisting at meals. Some deacons preach / teach, some don’t, but all are valuable in the life of the Church. Many deacons go on to become priests and this is known as the “Transitional Diaconate” (both priests and bishops are also deacons). However, more recently this role has been recognised as being unique and desirable as a separate ministry, so a permanent diaconate is encouraged. You may feel called to be a deacon, but not necessarily called to be a priest.
A priesthood developed gradually in the early Christian church as first bishops and then elders, or “presbyters,” began to exercise certain priestly functions, mainly in connection with the celebration of the Eucharist. Although the priestly office was vested primarily in the bishop, a presbyter shared in his priestly functions and, in his absence, could exercise certain of them as his delegate.
With the spread of Christianity and the establishment of parish churches, the presbyter, or parish priest, adopted more of the bishop’s functions and became the principal celebrant of the Eucharist. In this capacity, as well as by hearing confession and granting absolution, alongside the development of Eucharistic theology, the priest eventually assumed the role of the Church’s representative of God to the people and of the people to God. This is how the priest acts in today’s church whilst at the same time not undermining the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers”. For that reason, we denote the ordained priesthood as “Ministerial Priesthood.” Should you feel called to priesthood you would necessarily first be ordained a deacon and serve in that ministry for a period of time.
In Christian churches following the ancient Catholic order, the chief pastor and overseer of a diocesan area containing several congregations is the bishop. These churches have maintained the view that bishops are the successors of the Apostles and that an unbroken line of succession connects the Apostles to all legitimate bishops, a doctrine known as the “Apostolic Succession.”
For the above ministries (as well as for some lay roles) there is a training programme in place, the study to an acceptable level of which is a requirement prior to ordination. Your first point of contact in this regard should always be your Parish Priest.
Religious Communities or Orders are those where members live to a rule and (some of them) make solemn vows. Solemn vows are perpetual, but simple vows may be perpetual or temporary. The difference between the two is subtle: solemn vows, though dispensable, were meant to be a more permanent and durable consecration than simple vows.
In this church, we currently have two Religious Orders – one of women (Franciscan) and one of men (Benedictine). Members of The Franciscan Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament live life in common, whereas members of The Congregation of Brothers of The Merciful Love of God , though coming together semi-regularly for Chapter meetings, prayer, recreation, and fellowship, do not live life in common but are dispersed. As such they are responsible for their own discipline and adherence to the rule and are required to bear Christian witness in the world in any type of employment. In either Order, a period of discernment (postulancy leading to novitiate) is required. A few people feel called to serve God and his Church in this way and you would be welcome and encouraged to make this one of your considerations.