Journeys towards Ordination

Dr Liz Graveling, August 2015

Why do some young people pursue a calling to ordination and not others? Are there people who are aware of a calling but find it difficult to follow? Dr Liz Graveling of the Ministry Development team has completed research to understand how young people already in training experienced the process of discerning their vocation, aiming to identify encouraging and discouraging factors and any gendered or other patterns.

Summary of research findings

Purpose and method

Purpose: to investigate how younger people already in training have experienced the discernment process, identifying encouraging and discouraging factors and any gendered or other patterns.

Method: participatory research, using a group exercise to explore participants’ experiences of the process leading up to selection. Seven single-sex groups of four to six participants were held at four theological education institutions. 30 ordinands participated, comprising 12 women (three married) and 18 men (13 married).

Key factors in the discernment of vocation to priesthood


  • Practical experience (adult and childhood)
  • Vocations conferences
  • Internal prompts (convictions, engagement in ritual, divine guidance)
  • Other people:
    • Role models (inspire vocation, remove perceived barriers)
    • Seed-planters (actively encourage vocation)
    • Mentors (formal, informal; disciple, counsel)
    • Supporters (emotional, financial; church leaders, DDOs, family)


  • Social difference (focus on gender), influencing:
  • Perceptions (of self and ministry, especially female roles)
  • Lack of opportunity
    • Organisational networks (access)
    • People (women: fewer role models, less access to mentors, family responsibilities)
  • Active discouragement (especially from family)
  • Rejection and hostility (gender-based)
  • Official process (finance, movement between dioceses, institutional identity, coaching)


Enhance communication and sources of information relating to: successful initiatives (e.g. opportunities for practical experience and vocations events); specific areas of candidate concern; role and life of female ministers; information for families (parents) of younger candidates; financial provision and systems; communication between dioceses; communication with university Christian societies.

Review and develop structures and schemes in the following areas: practical experience; vocations events; placement of curates and ordinands; mentoring for women and men; vocational counselling; maternity, paternity and childcare.

Increase or improve training relating to: identification and nurture of young vocations (church leaders, HE chaplains); discussion during IME of gender issues in ministry; discernment and engagement by DDOs and Vocations Advisers, with increased numbers and resources.

A shift in culture may be required regarding: ongoing and wide-ranging vocational discernment in churches; discipleship of and ministry experience for young people; involvement of and investment in children; use of language familiar to young people; gendered role distribution in churches.

Further research is necessary in order to: map existing practical experience schemes and vocations events; investigate good practice (dioceses, churches, chaplaincies); understand reasons for withdrawal from the discernment process by those who have not pursued a vocation.

Click here for the full report