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How do you know it’s God? The theology and practice of discerning a call to ministry in Church assessment conferences.

MCCHLERY, LYNN,MARGARET (2018) How do you know it’s God? The theology and practice of discerning a call to ministry in Church assessment conferences. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Christian churches must assess the suitability of applicants who believe themselves called to ministry. Discerning this vocation requires that Assessors, alongside an external criterion-based evaluation of applicants’ personal qualities, address a less easily definable question: is this applicant called by God? This research aims to determine how Assessors sense, authenticate, and verbally articulate a spiritual discernment within the necessary practical confines of ecclesial assessment processes. Consonant with the subject matter, it employs the action-research methodology of Jane Leach’s “Practical Theology as Attention”, to a range of voices in mutual conversation.

The mixed-methods approach utilized here is grounded in ethnographic studies of assessment conferences in five UK denominations, and on interview data from a purposive sample of their Assessors, to establish empirically the Assessor’s experience of discerning call. Thereafter, it draws on Ignatian spirituality to consider the reliability of a maturing spiritual “sense” in decision-making, both individual and corporate; and on Quaker practice for a contrasting communal discernment model. To address the identified challenge of utilizing intuitive knowledge, it engages with Iain McGilchrist’s scientific perspective on how the brain processes information through a bi-lateral pattern of attentiveness. Turning to the specifically theological epistemology, two conversation partners are selected for their divergent perspectives on how God may be known. Newman represents a Catholic continuity between grace and nature, by contrast with Barth, whose negative ontology grounds a distinctive Reformed view of revelation inaccessible to unaided human reason. Attention to all of these voices illuminates how Assessors experience knowing and affirming an authentic call from God. It also provides a basis for suggesting what personal qualities and procedural tools may be required to facilitate this highly distinctive element of their task.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:discernment, vocational assessment, call to ministry, Ignatian spirituality, theological epistemology.
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2018
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:17 Apr 2019 11:36

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