"How do you describe the discernment process?"
"A really, really, really long job interview. I think it may be the longest in the world and one of the most challenging. I actually do think of it as a job interview, one that has theology and spirituality and community and relationships built into it as well as background checks and school records and academic preparation and physicals. They check your credit records. In New York, there's a 96-question exam that you fill out before you even start, so they get the basic information. This questionnaire has every kind of question in the entire world on it -- what your mother did, what your father did, what you studied in school, what your first job was, have you had sex yet, have you been married, do you have children, what do you think of them, what are their names, what have been their diseases. The discernment process is essentially a job interview conducted by the church community."
"And the process is different in every diocese."
"Yes. They're trying to standardize it, because studies show that it is dramatically different from one diocese to another. It was created to be different to allow for different ways bishops have of running a diocese. Because Episcopal bishops have very different congregations they're working with; they have different styles of administrating. So there is a point to the flexibility."
"What would go, for instance, in Dixie," I said, "would never..."
"...go up north," said Ms. Proctor. "And these differences are not about the church canons but about the society. The national church wants to standardize the process.
"I did interviews in Ohio and in Indiana, and in these places people are very comfortable talking about hearing voices, getting messages from God, which I was entirely intrigued by and then found that my father was pretty startled by it. This certainly is not his style, but it's obviously part of the religion of people around him. When I went to New York Episcopal churches and asked about hearing messages from God, people said to me, right out, 'If someone walks in here and talks about hearing God, I might send them to the shrink.'
"So there are different ways Episcopalians have of expressing the faith. It's not only different modes of expressing it but of experiencing it. If everyone around you is speaking in tongues, then that might be what comes to you as natural. If there were some mode of expression that was essentially religious, then that would mean every religious person experienced it, no matter where they lived. But instead, these different experiences and different expressions vary tremendously. My father, with all of his rationalism, would have been much better in the Northeast than he would have in Ohio. There's a very different discernment process, for instance, in New York than in Ohio, where my father is."
I said that I felt bad for Ms. Proctor's father, that his Ohio discernment committee turned him away and refused him the possibility of studying for the priesthood.
"I did too. I thought that was extremely sad. And apparently somewhat common. When I was speaking with people in the national church who develop the discernment process and monitor it and help different areas develop it, and I explained my father's process, they shook their head sympathetically and said, 'Sometimes, you know, it doesn't work. ' "
In her book, Ms. Proctor writes about "calling." I asked what "calling" meant to her.
"People have talked about it over the centuries; they've looked for different ways to express it, but I think of calling as the idea that you are doing something that you are inherently supposed to do."
"It's your gift?"
"Your mission. But, as I discuss in the book, I think that we wrestle with the core reasons behind decisions we make that are not explainable in pragmatic terms. When we think about whether to get married, whether to go to college, whether to change a job, we are thinking about calling or mission. These decisions are about 'want,' but 'want' that feels like need. We may need to be a fireman and save people's lives. We may need to try to stop a war or do what we think we can do to stop a war.
"'Calling' gets to some of those essential questions that, no matter who you are, even if you're a raging atheist, are questions about what you are meant to be doing. It's about drive. Calling is an ambiguous way of describing a specific feeling that has no explanation.
"When my father entered Catholic seminary as a child, there was never any discussion of whether or not he was called. It was assumed he was. Otherwise he wouldn't have darkened the bishop's door. And for Anglicans, calling wasn't considered important in the past. The second son often simply went to the Church. Men who were going to teach at universities had to take orders. You could take orders even if you were an atheist. It was about something else, and before that, even in Puritanism and Judaism, any kind of covenant religion, it's assumed that you're essentially called already. And it's just your job to serve."
"I felt," I said, "that writing this book was a way for you to be with your father again."
"Yes. I think it was. I had no idea how to write this book. I tried three or four ways. But somewhere in the middle I realized that I was essentially writing a love letter to my father. If I have a narrative voice, it's narrating to him. The project was for me to be with him, to learn more about him, to have this opportunity as a grownup to go back and meet my father again and in a deeper way.
"I never would have thought that there was a new way to know my father as an adult. I certainly never would have thought that his spiritual path would have been the way. I can't even put enough conditionals on it to explain how inconceivable the whole process was, but then when it happened, it was an amazing experience. I got to call him and have these conversations that meant something to him. We would talk for two hours. I'd call him with specific questions, like, 'Where was your grandmother born?' and never get to answer the question because we would talk for two hours about something else that had to do with the book that actually meant more.