Commission on Ministry
In 1970 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church passed a new canon, Canon III.1, which required each diocese to establish a Commission on Ministry (COM). The number of members, their selection process, and their terms of office are to be determined by diocesan canons. The functions of the COM specified in the canon are to assist the bishop “in determining present and future needs for ministry in the diocese” and to assist “in enlisting and selecting persons for Holy Orders.”
The COM in the Diocese of Los Angeles is comprised of about 30 members, both lay and ordained – representing the priesthood, the diaconate, and religious orders. Two members, one lay and one clergy, are elected at the Diocesan convention each year. Additionally, the Bishop can appoint new members, particularly to maintain diversity or provide for certain required skillsets (such as psychologists). There are two co-chairs, one lay and one ordained. In addition to understanding the unique requirements for further ministry in a diocese as large, diverse, and multi-cultural as Los Angeles, the COM members need to reflect and represent that diversity as well.
The COM serves the diocese by walking with individuals as they discern their calling to deeper, and perhaps, ordained ministry. This is a holy and deeply challenging ministry in an ever-shifting landscape, so more often than not, the approach of a commission like the COM is not “one size fits all”. The COM is responsible for creating clear roadmaps for discerners and to do so, again, with as much flexibility as canonically possible, taking into account the gifts, skills, and experience each person brings. The COM’s primary responsibility is to not only shepherd discerners, but to advise the Office of the Bishop and work with the office of Formation and Transition throughout the process.
Every new priest or deacon in the Diocese of Los Angeles has been helped along the way by the Commission on Ministry. Some explorations of ministry lead to ordination; others to lay leadership in the church. As each person enters the diocesan process, they are assigned a COMpanion, a member of the COM who joins the discerner’s journey as a liaison to the COM, as well as a shepherd who provides spiritual support and offers friendship.
The COM’s involvement begins almost as soon as someone in a local congregation begins wondering how God is calling them. A next step is to form a congregational discernment committee (CDC) — a group of dedicated members of the congregation to meet and pray with the person for a period of time and to help them discover God’s call for their life. The COM is brought in to train the CDC as needed, help them begin their process, and advise them along the way.
As the process unfolds, there are a series of meetings, with the bishop, with members of the COM, the Standing Committee and the diocesan office of Formation and Transition. Some meetings occur over weekend interviews. Each person who comes before the COM is looked at as a unique and gifted individual who clearly is hearing God. Something sacred happens every time COM members gather in this way. Almost everyone is a volunteer, giving up half a weekend, praying and discerning, digging deep, wanting what’s best for the discerner and the church. Sometimes it’s hard, for the discerners and the commission. But this rich, intense collaboration always feels holy. This is what makes COM service feel sacred – both an honor and humbling. At its heart, it is a servant ministry — and it offers a broader glimpse of the diocese and its diversity as a whole.