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Aug 08, 2016

Call and Gifts Collide



The eldest of six children, Francene Young felt a call early on, but it wasn’t until she neared retirement, that she actively sought ordination. She watched the first women ordained, then the first Black woman consecrated a bishop and never quite made the leap, until a few years ago. Now she will help others discern their call to ministry.


Young was born in Georgia, grew up in Cleveland and attended high school at the prestigious Westover School in Middlebury, Conn. after being awarded a scholarship. She recently served six years on the school’s Board of Trustees, three as chair. Young graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in social services and attended graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, earning a master’s in public health. Raised Baptist, Young joined the Episcopal Church at 17 after participating in a citywide youth program sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio. She and Ken Jones have been married for 16 years.



CEB: Who first taught you about Jesus?   

FY: My first memory of church was a bit frightening: people were crying and shouting and running up and down the aisles. At five years old, I was not sure I liked a God who had made people do this. I remember hearing a lot about going to hell if I wasn’t good, but I don’t remember hearing much about Jesus. I first understood the love of Jesus after I joined the Episcopal church, especially our need to be servants to others.  


CEB: What part did the Church play in your formation? 

FY: The Episcopal Church has been, and still is, instrumental in my formation through Bible studies, Cursillo, Kairos and so much more. The liturgy and the way we worship has always spoken to me, and I learned that I am saved by grace, whew!


CEB: How were your Christian values reflected in your professional life? Was there ever a conflict? 

FY: As a Human Resources professional, I actually used my Christian values when working with colleagues and in addressing issues. I felt comfortable speaking up if my values were being compromised. It was good to work for organizations that valued ethical behavior. 


CEB: What has been your rule of life? When did this become a regular exercise for you? 

FY: I begin and end each day with a prayer of thanksgiving and a prayer of protection for those in need. I usually use the Daily Office. Admittedly, I sometimes read it quickly when I’m really busy. I began the practice after attending Cursillo at Camp Allen in 1989. “Pray without ceasing” is my mantra because, if our triune God already knows my heart and my mind, why not just talk to God directly, and listen (pay attention) to the quiet voice and answers presented through others. 


CEB: When did you feel a call to discern a more direct ministry in the Church?   

FY: In my junior year of college (1974), I was very active in my local parish in Cleveland. When I was working at the church—making pastoral visits, assisting with worship, leading evening classes—I felt fulfilled. I was most influenced by the Rev. Robert H. Burton, who is now deceased. He was one of the greatest servants I ever met—he made serving God fun and meaningful.  I also had the privilege of meeting and working with Polly Bond, the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Ohio. She was an inspiration. She liked hanging out with us “in the hood.”  She had a gift for telling the stories of everyday people and a way of making people feel valued despite economic challenges. While I continued to push away thoughts about being a priest, I read with great interest the ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven in July 1974 but allowed myself to be dissuaded by those who did not see a woman, especially, a Black woman as a priest. I stopped attending church in graduate school but when I took a job at St. Mary’s Hospital in Galveston, I began to attend William Temple, the Episcopal community on the UTMB campus. I was back! 


When Bishop Barbara Harris was consecrated in 1989, I cried out of envy and pride. While I was disappointed in myself for not having her fortitude to pursue my call, I was proud of her.


CEB: What shifted when you decided to do ministry full-time?  

FY: After a conversation with my rector in 2006 (32 years after the Philadelphia Eleven), I revealed a call that had tugged at me since I was 21 years old. I was three years from full retirement benefits from my corporate job and would be too old to go to seminary full-time by then. After a conversation with Bishop Don Wimberly, I decided my call to ordination was stronger than my worry about being paid, so I enrolled in the IONA School for Ministry to be ordained a bivocational priest. I remember thinking, “I have waited too long to respond to this call and I am willing to be non-stipendiary to do what I am called to do.” 


CEB: What best defines what being ordained means to you? 

FY: Being able to lead worship and to administer the sacraments to help restore hope and faith to people who face challenges every day. It might sound morbid to some, but I have been most honored sitting with people and administering last rites as they transition to eternal life. There is truly sadness, as we miss our loved ones and there is great joy to be a part of one’s resurrection. 


It is challenging when someone expects me to be able to fix anything. “You have a direct line to God, pray and fix it.” Interesting. As a bivocational priest, not having the full acceptance as an ordained priest by some of my seminary-trained brothers and sisters is sometimes a challenge. 


CEB: When you were asked to consider the position as transition minister, what was your response? 

FY: I prayed about it and, at first, said “No.” The Holy Spirit tugged at me so I prayed some more and realized all those years in Human Resources helped to develop the gifts I bring to this role: coaching, helping others discern where they are called to be, nudging, probing and reassuring people that the Holy Spirit is in the mix. Helping colleagues work through disappointments, helping identify opportunities for those who feel called to make a change and helping congregations through the search process to find the new leader who is “right” for them uses everything I know how to do. 


CEB: How might the position change with your leadership? 

FY: The position pulls together all the pieces of the search, call and placement processes and helps to streamline “transition” under one umbrella. I’d like to develop a more intentional transition plan for newly called rectors and vicars to avoid the inevitable bumps of new leadership and I’d like to develop the vocation of interim rectors/vicars. Interim priests can play an important role in helping congregations remain stable and focused in the midst of leadership changes. 


CEB: What changes in the discernment process has the Commission on Ministry made?  

FY: There are three primary changes in the Diocesan discernment process:

The creation of the Discovery Retreat—a weekend gathering to help participants be intentional about discovering their God- given gifts and talents and how these might be used in the mission of the Church. The Retreat is open to all confirmed members of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas who wish to take the time and make a commitment to discern their Christian vocation. Those discerning their vocation in lay ministries are highly encouraged to attend as we need to raise up more lay leaders as we establish more missional communities. All those who are discerning a call to ordained ministry are required to attend a Discovery Retreat. There are three retreats a year. 


Replacing local parish discernment committees with regional discernment committees. Discernment committees, currently required as part of the canonical application process, will be expanded to include members from the seeker’s local congregation and members from neighboring Episcopal churches who have been trained in the discernment process and who are available to those discerning a call to lead lay ministries or a call to ordained ministry. 


The increased focus on becoming more “missional” in our ministries requires more leaders to serve our churches, their surrounding communities and the Church in the world. The shift from local to regional discernment will broaden the base of support for those in discernment by including input from people, both inside and outside one’s immediate congregation, and it must include the discernment of lay leaders to lead ministries in our communities. 


An increased focus on the development of lay leaders in the Church to lead the work in newly created missional communities. The expansion of the lay track at the Iona School of Ministry is reflective of this change.


CEB: What would be your advice to readers who may want to be more directly involved in ministry, both at a local lay level or perhaps in some ordained capacity? 

FY: Speak with your rector/vicar about your discernment and sign up for a Discovery Retreat.