Author: The Rev. Dr. Joy Blaylock, Canon Missioner for Discipleship and Dean of The School for Ministry
On February 24, 2018, Bishop Russell dedicated our Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast’s School for Ministry in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, following our diocesan convention. We blessed and celebrated this new venture that had started months earlier in September of 2017 with eight students.
When you start a new venture, there is enthusiasm and excitement along with some anxiety and a lot of hard work. We were, in effect, charting a new course for ministerial formation and that news was hard for many of you to conceptualize and understand. We worked hard to emphasize our commitment to integrity in both academic work and spiritual formation and have maintained our vow to such throughout. It is my hope that the fruits of our work will become even more evident in our students as they branch out into ministry this year.
In the last decade, the nature of ministerial formation has been changing as our Church grapples to meet the needs of a fast-changing culture. There is no clear-cut roadmap for how to start a local school for ministry but there is continuing growth in the option of local schools for ministry all across the country. Curriculum programs like the one we have used from the Seminary of the Southwest, the Iona Collaborative, continue to set the pace for meeting the needs of local seminary formation and for creating resource connections across many dioceses. This growth in local formation programs attests both to the need for such options and the particular cultural emphases and learning that accompany them.
I write this now as we enter the last few months of our three-year journey. Yes, our eight students have remained steadfast and worked very hard, most recently completing their General Ordination Exams (GOEs). Four out of six of our priestly candidates were “proficient” in all six areas of testing and we have two students who have some very minor remedial steps to take. We are extremely proud of our students and grateful for all who have served as instructors and mentors over the past three years and helped them to become “proficient” in many ways.
Our eight students have a final meeting with the Commission on Ministry in March. If they have successfully met all canonical requirements and are approved, God-willing, they will be ordained to the diaconate on Saturday, April 25, 2020, at Christ Church Cathedral, Mobile, AL. We will officially graduate them from the School for Ministry during our last weekend meeting together on June 13, 2020.
While the GOE measures a student’s academic and pastoral abilities, we have also intentionally paid a great deal of attention to the students’ nurture as spiritual leaders. What has been termed “bi-vocational ministry” can include many expressions and nuances as well as many challenges. These dynamics have to be balanced and integrated in special ways during a student’s formation, each unique to the person and their context. Bishop Russell has worked very hard to keep his finger on the pulse of each student’s discernment and progress throughout the program, especially in their Field Education assignments and projects this year. I think this has been a special blessing not only to our students and myself, but also to the future ministry expressions that will be borne in our diocese.
As we continue to dream about what comes next, we will be creating more options within our School for lay education, licensure, and the continuance of formation for deacons and priests. I still maintain that some of our truest expressions of faith and life start with dreaming big dreams. When Bishop Russell first mentioned the possibility of a School in 2016, it seemed a far-away, huge hurdle. And yet, here we are.
We will continue to emphasize the many ways we can encourage all people, all three orders of ministry, to grow deeper in engagement with faith and our world. As I said in my address at our convention this year, we will continue with our “learning laboratory” where we consider what it looks like to enter into God’s story again and again while allowing ourselves to be transformed in such a way as to address the deep longing, hurt, and hunger of those around us.
To that end, I hope that you will pray for and support our new ministers as they branch out in our Diocese and that you will pray for and support those coming after them this September. In my ten years of ministry, the School for Ministry has been one of the greatest joys in my life and I am honored to have been a part of such a beautiful community of people. Thus, I invite you to join us in being co-conspirators with God in old, new, and creative ministry expressions in our Diocese.