The canons of the Episcopal Church outline the process and requirements for ordination as an Episcopal priest. Although the canons outline a timeline of at least 18 months, the process in practice is often longer, requiring as many as four to six years. The ordination process requires aspiring priests to complete a series of educational and procedural steps. The Episcopal Church allows men and women, married or single, to be ordained as priests.
An Episcopal priest must complete a program of seminary education leading to a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree. A person does not have to attend a seminary affiliated with the Episcopal Church. However, church canons require study in the following subjects: the Bible; church history; Christian theology; Christian ethics; contemporary society, including racial and other minority groups; use of the Book of Common Prayer (the Anglican prayer book); church music and liturgy; and ministry. Individual dioceses may have additional education requirements. The Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, for example, requires postulants who attended a non-Episcopal seminary to complete a minimum of one semester at an Episcopal seminary to ensure education in the Anglican ministry. Because seminary education is not restricted to men and women interested in ordained ministry, educational requirements can be completed before seeking admission as a postulant for the priesthood.
The Episcopal Church, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, views the priesthood as a calling. The first requirement for ordination is that aspiring priests complete a period of discernment, in which they have a series of meetings with their priest to discuss their call to the priesthood and engage in deep reflection on their decision. The aspirant’s priest can then refer that person to the diocese’s Commission on Ministry, comprised of clergy and lay members, for further examination. The commission interviews the aspirant and can then recommend to the bishop that the person be admitted as a postulant. A postulant must undergo a full background check, medical and psychological evaluation, and a personal interview by the bishop or a designated representative.
Admitting a postulant as a candidate for the priesthood is at the discretion of the bishop. A postulant must submit an application for admission that includes a letter of support by his or her congregation, signed by members of the vestry (the parish governing board) and the rector. After a minimum of six months’ candidacy, a candidate becomes eligible for ordination as a deacon, the next step toward becoming a priest.
To become a deacon, a man or woman must be at least 21 years old. In addition, he or she must apply to the bishop for ordination, and submit a letter of support from the congregation, with the signatures of the vestry and rector. The candidate also must submit a certificate from the seminary that demonstrates his or her academic record in the required subjects and include a recommendation that the candidate be ordained.
Men and women who are at least 24 years old and have served as ordained deacons for at least six months can be ordained as priests. In addition, they must have undergone medical and psychological examinations, as well as a background check, within three years prior to ordination as a priest. If these examinations occurred outside that timeline, they must be updated. They also must apply for ordination and submit the required letters of support and academic records.
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