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Episcopal Education Ordination Requirements & Transferring Flexibility Between Schools


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I am someone who is off the pursuing PhD track for the immediate future while I try to gauge what's possible for my future (I'm 29 - about to enter my 30s). I've dreamed about a PhD in Christian Ethics and becoming a professor at a small, liberal arts college. I also want to become an assistant priest or curate on the side for the Episcopal church. I already have a masters in theological studies from a non-episcopal seminary (Princeton Seminary), and I need at least one more year of study to meet the ordination requirements for the priesthood. I want to both meet the ordination requirements AND try to position myself for more prep for a PhD. Does anybody know how flexible the ordination requirements for education are in the Episcopal church? For instance, could I take just the Anglican theology/history classes (maybe 6 credits) at an Episcopal seminary as a non-degree seeking student? And then, transfer them into a one-year program (let's say Vanderbilt) to take a thesis with a desired professor?

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Are you in the discernment process? Because the answer really depends on your bishop (/CoM) and how flexible they're willing to be on the requirements--though I would guess they'd want the full Anglican year, particular in regards to things like field education, CPE, and liturgics. (Think of it less as needing to show academic proficiency in the Anglican tradition and more of them being interested in ensuring you've been fully exposed to Anglican polity/their expectations for priestly formation.)

Edited by Re-Donne
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As a newer episcopal priest myself, here's some things to think over:

1) Ultimately it's going to come down to your bishop. There are minimum guidelines/objectives that all bishops must follow but they have significant freedom in how they meet these guidelines/objectives. Some dioceses have internal formation teams where you study under a priest(s) and fill in holes in your preparation. Some bishops will take your MA/MTS and just send you to do an Anglican year. Some take you as you are and limit your ministry. Some won't ordain you unless you have a M.Div, no ifs, ands, or buts! Unfortunately it's inconsistent and will depend on their and the COM's mood.

Getting through the bishop is, IMO, the easy part. Getting through your PDC (Parish Discernment Committee) and the COM (Commission on Ministry) is the struggle because you're bound to have at least 1-2 people in each group who are stuck in the 1950s model of ministry and worldview. These people will create busy work and throw shit tasks at you just to see if you'll play their game. Just take a deep breath, remind yourself that this process isn't a reflection on/of you, and cross their tasks off. Thank them, pump up their ego when needed to keep them quasi on your side, and move on. Fighting them isn't the hill you want to die on.

2) Decide which of these two options is the most important: PhD or ordination. Do that thing and focus your energies on it. Do the second one as you can. Either of these will be difficult part-time, certainly more so getting a PhD. If you get your PhD at a seminary or divinity school it'll likely put you around episcopal academics and/or priests.

3) You can take the usual Anglican courses that would constitute an Anglican year (history, ethics, theology, liturgy, etc) for personal growth if you want. If the school accepts you to take the course, that's all that matters. You don't need the bishop's permission to take a class. DO NOT though ever frame your conversation with the PDC, COM, or bishop as you taking these courses because you want to be a priest and decided to get a head start. They'll take that as you having already decided rather than discerning. The standard model in TEC (The Episcopal Church) is that you go through a year long discernment process and if they, and you, discern a call to seminary, you sit down with your bishop and they give you a list of schools that they're willing to let you attend. You visit and apply to those and then both parties make a final decision. If you deviate from that it only creates hurdles for you to jump over.

Your next step is to sit down with the priest of your church and tell them that you're discerning a call to ordination. The standard is that you need to be a member in good standing and an active member of the congregation for one year before you can have this conversation. Most bishops will not deviate from this. I have heard of some making slight compromises like being a member and active for six months but then the PDC must meet for six months too. I also have known of seminarians who were about to graduate and their bishop "dropped" them for whatever reason. In those cases you go "Bishop Shopping" to find one to adopt/buy you. Your situation doesn't seem likely to fall into this kind of situation. You'll definitely be told to find a church, be active for a year, then talk about discernment.

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  • 2 months later...

I echo what everyone else said about the discernment process, it is super important that you follow the proper channels and in the order expected. While I certainly had classmates who went through discernment while already in the MDiv program the process has not been as easy for them and their job prospects after graduation are not as clear.


What the actual requirements will be for your Anglican studies will be up to the bishop and seminary but most typically it is a 2 semester diploma and also covers things like anglican liturgy, preaching, and music which are all very important for the priesthood, not to mention the formation that happens by living and studying within an Anglican institution. 


But since you are interested in doing a thesis you might want to look into doing an STM in Anglican Studies which is usually 1 year and includes a thesis which you could focus on Christian Ethics within the Anglican tradition. 

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It depends entirely on your bishop. If you’re not already active in your parish, get very active very quickly and start the ordination process. The ordination process is long (think 5 years start to finish) and the Anglican-specific academic requirements are frankly one of the smallest parts. But: the entire answer is going to be up to your bishop and her/his staff, and they will likely see it as very presumptuous to ask these formation questions at an early stage of your discernment process. Be careful not to put the cart before the horse, at least publicly to those with power over you. 

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