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What Is Discernment?

Discernment consists of recognizing differences. The word from the Latin root means “seeing in a discriminating way.” From the Greek root diakrisis, it means to test and distinguish between good and evil, the path toward God and the path away from God.

Discernment is a way in which Christians seek God in the context of prayer, scripture, tradition, and experience. Discernment also means to sort or screen gifts, talents, solutions, people, and resources for situations, vocations, or placement.

Within the church we engage in spiritual discernment, which is “to see to the heart of the matter with spiritual eyes; from God’s vantage point, to see beneath the surface events through illusions within human systems, and beyond the immediate and transient.”  (Danny E. Morris and Charles M. Olsen, Discerning God’s Will Together: A Spiritual Practice for the Church, p.21)

Discernment of our Christian vocation begins with the conviction that God calls each of us as a baptized Christian to actively participate in the Body of Christ. The goal of discernment is to know God’s desire for a person or situation within the context of the wider vision of the Kingdom of God. The discernment process is one of prayerful discovery that assumes God is already at work in the world around us, inviting us to participate and co-create.

The Diocese of Los Angeles Commission on Ministry desires that every Christian, lay and ordained, grow in their capacity for discernment, for the seeking of God’s will in every moment and circumstance. This guide is designed to assist those engaged in a specific kind of discernment, i.e., individuals who are sensing a call to some form of ministry leadership, whether lay or ordained, in the Episcopal Church. All Christians—lay persons, the ordained clergy, and those considering ordination—“discern” the direction of their ministry. “Ministry” as used here pertains to the particular ways and means through which and by which each Christian takes part as a member of the Body of Christ. The Canons of the Episcopal Church envision the local faith community as the principal resource for this process of discernment.