Sunday, January 14, 2007

Back from Retreat

I have just spent the last three days on retreat at Pallotti College in Millgrove. Lovely place. I go there several times a year for various events, and it was nice to be there again.

I was meeting together with nine other men (four came with their wives) who have been a part of an ongoing group here in Melbourne who have been meeting with the intention of discerning whether they have a vocation to the diaconate. Over the three days, we were joined by four men (and their wives in two cases) who were already serving as deacons in other dioceses.

Melbourne must be almost the last diocese in Australia to institute the permanent diaconate (or simply "diaconate", as one of the deacons put it--its the "transitional" deacons who need the qualifying tag), but it seems that this will be happening in the near future. I'm hardly the one to make the "announcement", but it is open knowledge (as far as I know) that the Archbishop has set up a committee headed by Fr Michael McEntee to look into the details, and that the Synod of Priests has accepted the proposal. Fr McEntee and Bishop Hilton Deakin also attended the retreat. Nevertheless, there are as yet no firm details and certainly no time-table, and those of us attending the retreat were mere "hopefuls"--it is far to early to start using the tag "candidates".

Those who were there, though, are keen to thrown their names into this hat of chaos. I am reading "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" to the kids at the moment, and I feel rather like we are dropping our names into the "Diaconate Goblet" without really knowing what the tasks are ahead of us. Whatever is on the cards, it will be along the lines of the ACBC guidelines. That means that there will be a period of formation--the recommended time is four years full time formation, which is quite a bit when you consider that at the moment the canonical office of Deacon in Melbourne is being envisaged as a non-stipendiary, part-time role. However, the Archdiocese is clearly determined to do this "right", and to learn from the mishaps and experiences of other dioceses in Australia. That is encouraging. I don't know how much of the formation program I might have to do--one expects that there will be some "credit" for previous study and experience--nevertheless, I have never been a Catholic deacon before, and it isn't quite the same thing as being a Lutheran pastor, so I expect there will be at least a couple of years' work to be done.

The retreat really focused upon matters of discernment--ie. discernment of vocation. It's very hard, however, to discern whether one has a vocation to a role that is still really being defined. One thing I find quite hopeful is that Fr McEntee's committee has largely accepted the findings of John Collins on these matters (well summarised by Anthony Gooley in the Pastoral Review essay "Deacons and the Servant Myth", so that rather than being envisaged as a sort of "social justice worker", their ministry will be clearly linked to the proclamation of the Word and to evangelisation, both in liturgical and secular contexts. It is also quite clear that they will not be simply ordained pastoral associates, and that their direct relationship with the bishop will be well spelled out.

So we will see where it goes. I expect that some time will be involved. Time, however, can be a grace, and a very long time can be a very great grace. Patience, unfortunately, was never one of my innate virtues.

Incidentally, as far as I know, I am the only convert clergy in Australia to apply for the permanent diaconate rather than the priesthood. There was, on the other hand, a Catholic deacon who some time ago converted to the Lutheran Church, and is now serving as a Lutheran pastor somewhere in Australia. I would like to know, from any Lutheran readers out there, whether or not they ordained him again or whether they accepted his diaconal ordination as sufficient for ordination to the word and sacrament in the Lutheran Church. (It is not the usual practice for Lutherans in Australia to re-ordain convert clergy.)

Another interesting thing is that Mr John Fenton (previously Pastor/Father John Fenton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) is soon to be ordained as deacon and then priest of the Greek Orthodox Church of America. Obviously no four year formation period there.

7 Comments:

At Monday, January 15, 2007 7:39:00 am , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

"Another interesting thing is that Mr John Fenton (previously Pastor/Father John Fenton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) is soon to be ordained as deacon and then priest of the Greek Orthodox Church of America. Obviously no four year formation period there."

Actually I believe that Father Fenton is a unique case in that he has completed a Doctor of Ministry degree in the Orthodox tradition. While there is a difference between studying at an institution and living in an ecclesiastical tradition, Father Fenton is not exactly in the novice category.

From a Catholic perspective it is interesting to note that in the States there are more definite procedures for Lutheran and Anglican clergy who convert. While not as quick as Father Fenton, it seems that most convert Lutheran/Anglican clergy are ordained within two to three years.

 
At Monday, January 15, 2007 9:38:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Mmm. Not in this country they're not. The dispensation process is rather lengthy and I couldn't imagine anyone getting through it that quick without some sort of understanding from the bishop that he would ordain the convert candidate even before the convert made the "switch". Few bishops are willing to do that. Whatever or whoever the candidate was in the previous life, what matters is their role and contribution in the Catholic community. Even someone with a doctorate in theology or ministry still requires some formation for the specific task of being a priest. Not meaning any offence, Mr Fenton is not and never has been a priest. The hastiness of the ordination appears to suggest that as a Lutheran he was in fact a priest, and that all which is required is that the label swapped.

In my own experience, it has been almost seven years since I seriously began the journey into the Catholic Church, and I am still feeling like a newcomer. That is despite the fact that I have made a personal study of Catholic life and doctrine for over twenty years, and the fact that there is a great congruence between the culture and spirituality of Catholics and Lutherans. I am not trying to suggest that John is a "novice"--hell, how can you be after all he has done and gone through--I am just saying that, as you say, "there is a difference between studying at an institution and living in an ecclesiastical tradition", and to be a priest in an ecclesiatical tradition it should be required that you actually live it for a while. 1 Tim 5:22, I think, is the passage I have in mind: "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands."

 
At Monday, January 15, 2007 12:01:00 pm , Anonymous Lucian said...

Have You ever thought about, let's say, maybe publishing Your conversion-journal? Or maybe get an intermediary job as an academic, or something the like? (You sure seem to be -and I think You are- a very learned man). Or perhaps some-sort of lay-ministry that you Catholics have?
...Just a thought...
Craciun Lucian.

 
At Monday, January 15, 2007 1:54:00 pm , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

At the end of the day, regardless of what process is in place, Father Fenton's ordination has to be a matter of discernment for his bishop.

Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochean Archdiocese has great experience and is very highly regarded. I, for one, would not be willing to second guess his judgement. (I have the suspicion that Father Fenton is an exceptional case, as he is an exceptional person).

In the same way I would not second guess either the American bishops who make use of the Pastoral Provision to ordain ex-Anglicans relatively quickly or the Australian bishops who have a longer process fo discernment. There are many variants in each situation, and finally it is up to the bishop or the episcopal conference to decide which way to move forward.

 
At Monday, January 15, 2007 5:39:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Obviously, David, this is an area that you are likely to know rather more about than most of the rest of us.

I do get the sense that the ‘transition time’ from reception into the church to ordination can vary a lot.

The retired Anglican bishop of London, Graham Leonard, as far as I can make out, was both received and ordained in 1994, indicating an interval of less than a year.

On the other hand, Dwight Longenecker, an Episcopalian priest, was received into the Catholic church in 1995 but not ordained until 2006. (But for all I know the delay may be his choice, rather than the bishop’s.)

One of the more prominent cases in the blogosphere is that of Al Kimel, a former episcopalian priest who maintains his blog at catholic.pontifications.net After a long period of very public reflection on the question, he was received into the Catholic church in June 2005, and ordained as a priest in December 2006.

I assume that he had not be given any definite undertaking that he would be ordained. On the other hand, I also assume that he would have discussed the question, indicated his desire to be ordained, had some indication of the bishop’s thinking on the question, and perhaps some agreement as to what he would do, following reception, to move towards ordination.

A lot, obiously, has to depend on the qualifications and situation of the candidate concerned. But I think a lot must also depend on the policy and attitude of the bishop concerned.

I think one factor may be that, where the local Anglican church had a strongly Catholic wing (as in the US and England), there were sufficient numbers of candidates or potential candidates for reception and ordination to focus people’s attention, to allow some general decisions of principle to be made, to have some structures established, which then smoothed the way for actual cases of reception and ordination. But I don’t think the Australian Anglican church has a similar strongly Catholic wing (at least, of any size), and there hasn’t been the critical mass of cases in Australia which would allow structures to be established, or give bishops the confidence to proceed other than rather tentatively.

 
At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 11:23:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Nb. John has pointed out on his own blog (Conversi ad Dominum - See my blogroll) that he is being put in charge of what they call a "Western Rite" Antiochian parish, so there is not so much difference between liturgies as I supposed. I would also guess that there would be a good many converts to orthodoxy in his congregation, and less ethnicity than we are used to experiencing here in Australia, so that's a factor too.

 
At Friday, April 27, 2007 5:44:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

In my own experience, it has been almost seven years since I seriously began the journey into the Catholic Church, and I am still feeling like a newcomer. That is despite the fact that I have made a personal study of Catholic life and doctrine for over twenty years, and the fact that there is a great congruence between the culture and spirituality of Catholics and Lutherans.

I'm really not surprised. I was raised by a Lutheran mother and Catholic father and married into a Catholic family.

In my ten year stint in the Catholic Church it seemed to me that there is a certain amount of "catch-up" that just will never take place if one has not been raised Catholic from infancy.

Converts are often far better informed intellectually and theologically than "cradle" Catholics (I certainly was) but being Catholic is much like being Jewish, there is a cultural and spiritual interplay at work.

 

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