Anyone who has been part of an evaluative procedure knows the abject terror that is brought on by the simple word – “Interview.” Whether it’s for a job, admission to an educational program, or even for your child’s school newspaper, even the prospect of an “interview” brings on sweaty palms, a shaky voice, weak knees, and a queasy stomach because it is an experience that puts you “out there” in front of other people in the most vulnerable position – on the “hot seat.”
This is where you sit while another person, or a group of people, grill you about your past, your present, your future, what you know, what you think, what you want, who you are, who you want to be, and even who you have been and don’t want to be anymore. The feeling of terror is directly proportionate to the number of people doing the grilling, as well as the power those people have over your life.
“The Process” towards ordination is mainly a series of one interview after another and, as I sit here more than 20 years after the final one, I can’t tell you which was the worst one or the most terrifying. I can tell you that one of the most dreaded steps in the ordination process is the final interview by a rather unwieldy but daunting group made up of the Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee, both of which are charged with examining every Candidate for ordination and making a recommendation to the Bishop regarding a rather nebulous quality known as “readiness for ordination.” I arrived in Norfolk for my “ordination interview” sometime in April of 1984, about a month before graduation, and I was terrified beyond belief.
All interviewees in this process are encouraged to bring their spouses both for moral support and so that their opinions and insights can be considered as well. As a single person, I was alone. There was no one sitting before this august body to face the inquisition but me. I had been a single person for 10 years at that time but I had never felt more alone than I did at that moment. But – I sucked it up as always and looked confidently and expectantly at the Chairman….He greeted me warmly and then opened the floor for questions from any of the Commission members and my nemesis from the last few years immediately spoke up. My heart plummeted as I knew that nothing good was coming out of her mouth. She looked at me with, I swear, a glint in her eyes, and said, “Well, we understand that you aren’t a very good housekeeper.”
What followed wasn’t pretty! I was assailed with ridiculous questions and comments about how prospective employers and church vestries would respond to me with my “messy” tendencies and my weight problem. Anyone listening in would have been convinced that I was being interviewed as a prospective entrant in the Miss America pageant. By the time it was over, I was convinced that these people did not see me as a prospective priest and that the last four years had all been in vain.
“The Process” I refer to is the method whereby a person is evaluated, judged, and admitted as a participant, then is molded into what “The Process” expects. It is difficult but worth the hard work; it is painful, but not “unto death”; and it is destructive and productive at the same time – weeding out the inappropriate behaviors and tendencies and encouraging the development of more acceptable qualities. Actually, it’s a lot like squeezing the proverbial square peg into the round hole but, I have to admit, it works.
In many situations, this refining process takes on a life of its own, especially when there are extraneous “issues” involved. The Ordination Process in the Diocese of Southern Virginia in the 1980’s was a “well-oiled machine,” which was managed by very capable clergy and laypeople who had the best interests of the church at heart but many of whom also had “issues” with the admittance of women to the previously all-male priesthood. It was this combination that rendered “The Interview” for my possible ordination as a Deacon almost useless as a tool for measuring my actual readiness for that step. It became instead an evaluation of the image I created as a future priest of the church and whether that image was acceptable. For many of those involved in “the Process” at that time, that image was not what they were looking for nor was it what they believed the church should be encouraging and accepting.
I was caught in a “process” that I quite frankly believed in as a tool for the formation of God’s ministers but which had become more of a tool for proving that women are not appropriate and acceptable candidates for this “process” and which threatened to “process” the first woman right out of the program. Very shortly, you can read all about how close this came to being a reality and how I survived “the Process.”
Watch for my upcoming book, “Lady Father: How I Survived Outrageous Discrimination in the Church.” Subscribe to this blog now and you will be notified of the publication date in advance. Use the form to the right and then keep reading for more “sneak peeks” in future blogs.