DISCERNMENT AND SPIRITUAL FORMATION
"Discernment is not undertaken only by those who may feel called to specialized ministry in the church. Throughout our lives we are all in discernment. When faced with the need to make a decision, we examine our choices or options in light of past experience, knowledge, known facts, and future goals or dreams. Sometimes this is done in a split second; other times, as when choosing a specific career path or a life partner, it happens over the course of months or years.
We, as Christians, are all ministers by virtue of our baptism. Through baptism, God calls us to share in Christ’s eternal Priesthood. Every baptized Christian is called upon to bring the presence of Christ into the home, workplace, and community. The Church both in this Diocese and at large highly values lay ministry. Even though the Church does not always do an adequate job of reaffirming this fact, it can never be repeated enough that ordained clergy are not 'professional' Christians, and lay people are absolutely not 'amateur' Christians. Such a perception fundamentally betrays the true nature of ministry in the Church in which a Christian’s calling to ministry comes first and foremost through baptism and all Christians are called to specific forms of ministry in the Church and the world. A clergyperson is called to the particular ministry of equipping and encouraging all the baptized in order that they may fulfill their unique ministerial callings. The call to ordained ministry is different than calls to other ministries, but it is absolutely not a higher or 'more Christian' calling than being, for example, a teacher, plumber, or senator."
– From The Ministry Handbook for the Diocese of South Dakota, 2017
The Diocese of South Dakota wants to ensure that every opportunity is given to provide all of its members with the resources they need to listen for and live out God's call in their lives. Below is a list of information and resources that should aid the people of the Diocese of South Dakota as they seek to hear in community the ministry to which God is calling them.
Discernment and Formation: The Local Congregation
As said above, we in the Diocese of South Dakota hold that discernment is a lifelong responsibility for all Christians, not only those who are called to ordained ministry. Through Christian discernment, which is nothing more or less than seeking clarity about God's will, all Christians can discover the ways that God wants them to serve as witnesses to Christ in the world and to help other Christians advance on their spiritual journeys. Discernment happens most effectively when undertaken in the context both of individual prayer and meditation and communal conversation within the congregation. We recognize that all human beings are different and thus the ways in which this individual and communal discernment happens will take on different forms; however, we also strongly affirm that all humans share a common nature that is at once individual and social, meaning that true discernment cannot occur without addressing both dimensions.
We also affirm that the communal dimension of discernment should begin in the context of your local congregation. For some people, this work can be done informally and organically, coming about through the everyday guidance and wisdom provided by the members of your local congregation. Other people will benefit from a more formal local discernment process. In the past, discernment committees were mainly formed for those who specifically wanted to explore a call to ordained ministry. However, we recognize that such a group could be immensely helpful for a number of different people other than those exploring a call to ordained ministry. If a person believes he or she may benefit from a more formal and regular gathering to help clarify God's call, then that person should speak to his or her priest or other congregational leader about having such a group formed. For more information about how the traditional discernment committee structure can be employed in cases that do not involve exploring calls to ordained ministry, please use the form at the bottom of this page to contact the Missioner for Leadership development.
Usually held once a year, the Diocese of South Dakota offers discernment retreats to expand on and enrich the discernment that has begun in a local congregation. These retreats will often focus on those who have received some sense that they may be called to ordained ministry or to some form of specialized lay ministry, and they are required before anyone can formally enter the ordination process in the Diocese of South Dakota (although attendance does not guarantee entrance into this process). This focus does not mean that those who attend must already have a clear and distinct sense of call into these specialized ministries. Some people may have a strong internal sense that God is calling them into such a ministry while others may attend because the local community has perceived that there may be this kind of call.
These retreats do emphasize discerning whether or not a person is called to enter the formal ordination process, but they are by no means limited to these people. Anyone interested in learning more about discernment is welcome to attend and those who serve on local discernment committees or want to otherwise help members of their congregation listen for God's call will benefit immensely from attending these events. Please fill out the form below to register for the next discernment retreat (please look at the Diocesan calendar to find the date of the next retreat) or contact the Missioner for Leadership Development for more information.
More information on DISCERNMENT
Here you can download the first section of the Ministry Handbook of the Diocese of South Dakota, a document that contains much greater detail about our understanding of discernment. Furthermore, this document includes details on the formal ordination process in the Diocese of South Dakota, guidance for people serving on discernment committees in local congregations, and resources to help anyone in their own personal or communal process of discernment.