The Apostolic Episcopal Church welcomes enquiries from men who wish to explore a calling to the Diaconate or Priesthood in its communion, or as a lay evangelist, and women who are called to the ministry of a Deaconess.
Irrespective of the location where they are to provide ministry, all candidates for ordination in the Apostolic Episcopal Church are ordained, and their Faculties issued, under the terms of the legislative charter granted to the Church by the State of New York and the resulting Statutes.
Discernment of the call of God to the ordained ministry is a process that, in the view of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, cannot be done entirely at a distance. As a result, the first step for a person considering ordination is usually to contact their nearest mission of the Apostolic Episcopal Church and to become an active lay member of that mission. A current list of missions is provided on this website. Part of the ordination process – that of theological study – can be done at a distance; however, the aspects of altar training, personal and pastoral preparation under a mentor, and assignment to a ministry for the purposes of assessment can only be done in person.
As an alternative to this, a person will form a lay mission with others before deciding to bring that mission into the Apostolic Episcopal Church and seek ordination. The Church welcomes such church planting activities and will facilitate the ministry of individuals involved in this work. In such cases, the mission that is created must be near enough to an existing clergy member of the Church for that clergy member to visit regularly for the purposes of training and assessment.
A further possibility exists where a genuine vocation can be amply demonstrated by those whose profession expresses clear aspects of the Christian faith; for example, those who are engaged in teaching or professional counseling. These candidates will still need to be attached to a mission of the Church periodically for the purpose of training and assessment, but their attachment is likely to be less intensive than for other candidates.
The Church will also consider the ordination of those whose vocation is primarily solitary and expressed through adherence to a Rule of Life, and has provision for both men and women to be received as eremitical or idiorrhythmic members of the several Religious Orders under its care.
It is unlikely that the Church will be able to assist ordinands who do not live near its existing clergy and who are unable to commit to regular travel to undertake the in-person requirements of training. In particular, the Church receives many enquiries from Africa and Asia, and it is not currently able to assist clergy in those parts of the world. Because the Church believes that growth is from the ground up rather than from the top down, it does not believe that it is wise to ordain missionary bishops, or to confer the episcopate upon those who do not have a past of significant service as a priest within our communion.
There is no upper limit of age in terms of the admission of ordinands in the Apostolic Episcopal Church. Indeed, our openness to the older ordinand can provide opportunities for service that are not available in those churches where ministry is conceived primarily or exclusively within a parish. However, there is a lower limit of age, and candidates under the age of 22 will not usually be considered. The minimum age for reception of the diaconate in the Apostolic Episcopal Church is 23, and the priesthood 24.
Preparation for Holy Orders is both a process in which the candidate becomes spiritually prepared and attuned to receive the Order in question and to exercise the consequent ministry of that Order within our communion. The latter aspect is particularly emphasized because we confer Holy Orders for our communion and its ministerial needs, not for the benefit of the individual concerned. It is therefore of the first importance that candidates are fully satisfied with their suitability and affinity with the charism of our church, and that the Church in return considers the candidate to be a satisfactory fit with our communion and its particular traditionalist Anglican and Orthodox witness.
Candidates for ordination or incardination must therefore satisfy the Ordination Committee that they will be able to exercise a productive, purposeful and loyal ministry within the boundaries of the Church. Most will usually be able to demonstrate these qualities by means of a period of attachment to a mission as a lay worker and during their candidacy for ordination. During this time, they will be entrusted with a variety of responsibilities and opportunities to test and prove their vocation.
At an initial stage, enquirers will be invited to explore their vocation after discussion with the minister of one of the missions of the Church. The process of enquiry involves the provision of necessary background documents and successful candidates will be invited to meet with a bishop for the purposes of further exploration via interview and assessment. The assessment of candidates may include psychological assessment, which is carried out for the Church by a qualified psychologist. If the result of interview and assessments is a recommendation that the enquirer be accepted as a candidate for ministerial training, they will be assigned formally as an ordinand to the mission which will provide the basis for that instruction. While training is not full-time, taking into account the non-stipendiary nature of ministry in the Apostolic Episcopal Church, it nevertheless makes significant demands on the candidate and will usually be found to be challenging in a number of ways.
The Church requires that candidates who suffer from any disability or other health condition that may require support should make this known at an early stage of enquiry. The Church wishes to enable suitable candidates to serve effectively in the ministry regardless of any such issue; however, it is important that it should be recognized that the limited resources available to the Church may affect the extent and nature of any support it is able to offer.
The Church does not generally ordain candidates who have committed criminal offences. However, it may exercise discretion on this issue in the case of candidates who have since shown sincere repentance and rebuilt their lives over a significant period of time.
Candidates for ordination must, in addition to demonstrating a clear calling to the ordained ministry, show that they have attained a level of stability in their lives such that they are not characterized by constant disruption. They should be able to support themselves financially, and where they undertake work in a secular profession, it should be of a nature that is compatible with the exercise of Christian ministry. They should have the support of their immediate family members, and be able and willing to uphold in their personal lives and ministry the traditional teaching of the Christian Church on marriage and the family. Candidates who are divorced and remarried may be considered under particular circumstances.
The Church recognizes the significant contribution made to the ordained ministry by clergy who are homosexual. As a conservative, traditionalist denomination, it expects its clergy to uphold traditional Biblical moral teaching on sexual practice and marriage throughout their ministry, and to set an example in their personal lives that honours Christ. The Church believes that the proper place for sexual activity is within marriage (defined exclusively as between a man and a woman), and thus that homosexuals (as is the case with unmarried heterosexuals) are called to a celibate lifestyle. At the same time, the Church endeavours to exercise a compassionate pastoral ministry to all, and to treat homosexual men and women with a loving and respectful approach. It does not exclude homosexual men from the ordained ministry, nor homosexual women from the lay ministry, including those who have entered into a civil partnership in those countries where civil partnerships are legally distinct from marriage. The Church will not admit to ministry a candidate who has entered into any form of same-sex marriage.
It is a requirement that candidates for the permanent diaconate, priesthood or for setting aside as a Deaconess should have completed a first degree (bachelor’s degree) in theology, or an equivalent qualification, or should be able to show substantial experience in ministry that is deemed by the assessing panel to be the equivalent of a degree. The Apostolic Episcopal Church maintains several educational institutions, of which the Western Orthodox University awards a Bachelor of Theology for Ministry degree for ordinands in the Apostolic Episcopal Church under its incorporation in the Commonwealth of Dominica. This is not a United Kingdom or United States degree and is not government-accredited.
Programmes consist of mentored instruction, usually via correspondence, with the programme of study arranged to take account of the candidate’s prior education, experience and to allow for the exploration of particular areas of interest. There are no central fees, but ordinands are expected to pay an honorarium to their mentor and to cover any costs of obtaining books and other materials themselves.
Alternatively, candidates may choose to study theology at a university, interdenominational seminary or other suitable institution whose programs have been approved in advance for the purpose by the Church. If so, they are responsible for all costs of tuition and related expenses relating to their studies.
The Church also places strong emphasis on the development of the ordinand through a committed life of prayer, worship and Christian service. The ecumenical nature of the Apostolic Episcopal Church means that valuable opportunities for engagement with the corporate worship of other churches may present themselves. The candidate’s development should also be directed towards the creation of their own ministry within their community and its nurturing through establishing occasions on which to serve others. Prison visiting, lay ministry to care homes for the elderly and disabled, the provision of administrative or practical assistance to the clergy of our own and of other churches, lay chaplaincy to youth organizations, charity volunteering and street evangelism are some of many forms that this might take. Ordinands are expected to take the lead and be pro-active in this aspect of their ministry, aware that the roots that they put down during their training may serve them well once they have been ordained. In turn, the Church is flexible in its approach, recognizing that the gifts of particular individuals may result in a wide diversity in the nature of ministerial outreach.
Character of ministry in our communion
Whatever the diversity of particular ministries, a uniting factor is that the Apostolic Episcopal Church is a sacramental community. All candidates for the ordained ministry are expected to demonstrate a strong commitment to the Eucharist, which is definitely understood by the Church as a sacrifice, and to traditional liturgical practice, and to commit themselves to altar training that will fit them for their subsequent roles.
Ordained ministers of the Church serve under canonical obedience, and one purpose of training is to establish that candidates have the necessary qualities of discipline, obedience and humility to serve together with others in a Christian community where the bonds of shared faith, vision and commitment are paramount. They commit to a minimum term of five years after ordination during which they may not seek excardination to any other communion without incurring serious canonical penalties.
In some circumstances, ministers originally ordained in another communion may come to the conclusion that their ministry is most appropriately expressed in the Apostolic Episcopal Church, and decide to seek incardination.
The Apostolic Episcopal Church is highly selective in admitting candidates by incardination. Valid ordination in another communion is not, by itself, sufficient criterion for such admission, since the standards required for ordinands in other communions are frequently below those set by the Apostolic Episcopal Church. Moreover, since stability is one of the criteria looked for, candidates who seek to move communions within a relatively short time of their ordination are not generally suitable.
Candidates for incardination are, like ordinands, required to hold a first degree in theology or an equivalent qualification, or to be able to show substantial ministerial experience that is adjudged to be the equivalent of a first degree in theology. There is also provision for admission of those who are professed religious living under a Rule and vows, who are required to meet a similar standard of preparation.
A candidate may not proceed beyond the stage of initial inquiry until he has satisfied the Apostolic Episcopal Church either that he is free of all canonical obligations to his previous communion, or that his Ordinary is, through provision of a Letter of Consent, willing to grant him excardination in the event that he is accepted to exercise the ordained ministry in the Apostolic Episcopal Church.
All independent candidates for incardination are first required to join an existing mission of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, where they will usually be offered opportunities to participate in the work of the mission that will be used for the purposes of assessment. Any decision on incardination will often be subject to a preliminary period of observation under temporary episcopal oversight or other considerations. Incardination may be offered on a temporary basis, subject to review during an initial period of six months or one year.
Where a candidate is responsible for a community not in intercommunion with the Apostolic Episcopal Church that includes other clergy, or for any religious order, all associated clergy and all professed members of the religious order must have met the standards for incardination in order to become members of the Church. In no circumstances will the Church permit “independent” affiliation of communities on an open-ended basis. Such communities must either become a full part of the Apostolic Episcopal Church subject to its hierarchy and canons, or those members who wish to join the Apostolic Episcopal Church must leave the other community in order to do so.
At present, bishops from outside our wider circle of intercommunion relationships are not generally permitted to incardinate except under exceptional circumstances.