Is it possible to form a discernment group in the midst of a pandemic?

For most Vocation Directors, contact with discerners and candidates has dwindled to a bare minimum. Overnight retreats aren’t possible. Day-long events are being cancelled. Even casual gatherings are a rarity.

Perhaps most disrupting is the uncertainty surrounding campus operations this fall. 

Given this environment, we believe discernment groups aren’t just possible; they’re more essential than ever.

For a time, because most other events are on hold, small discernment groups may become your primary means of working with men who are considering the priesthood.

Meeting during the pandemic

How to go about meeting with your discernment group? Practically speaking, we see three options:

  • Option A: Outdoor Meetings with Social Distancing
  • Option B: Outdoor Meetings / Video Meeting Hybrid
  • Option C: Video Meetings

If your discernment group is primarily for college students, we recommend you follow the lead of local campus ministers. How are they resuming operations? What blend of in-person and virtual meetings looks most feasible?

Personable Invitation 

Personal invitation is impossible during this time, so personable invitation will be the best option. This means direct text messages, direct emails (not email blasts), Facebook and Whatsapp messaging. Use whatever means you can to show that you, as a priest, are taking a personal interest in a young man’s future. 

Ideas & New Developments

As we adapt to the situation, consider these three points:

  1. Mail Book to Remote Participants. If men are staying home and Zooming into meetings, the Melchizedek Project will mail them a free copy of To Save a Thousand Souls. Just send us the address list of your remote participants.
  2. Involve Seminarians. Especially if your meetings are virtual, invite your seminarians to attend. Many group leaders say their contribution to the conversation is invaluable. And because seminarians’ PFE will be limited, they should have more time to participate.
  3. Use Online Materials. Note that To Save a Thousand Souls is available as an ebook. In addition, group discussion questions are online. And there is a Melchizedek Project podcast (especially useful for men who miss a session).

Video Session with Fr. Brannen. The author of To Save a Thousand Souls will hold a special live webinar with Melchizedek Project participants later in the semester. Stay tuned for date and details.

A Time of Opportunity

Is this a time for the Vocation Office to accept limited effectiveness and success? Yes and no. 

As the Psalmist says, “We accept good things from God; should we not also accept evil?” A certain tranquility of heart is needed when so many of our efforts seem stifled.

At the same time, history shows that especially during a crisis, men are much more disposed to think deeply about their lives and future. This can be a time of real grace and opportunity, as men’s hearts become more open to the possibility of priesthood.


Want to send a free “start up packet” to priests and chaplains in your diocese? Request free materials here, and we’ll mail them out for you.

Thanks to Our Sunday Visitor for sponsoring the Melchizedek Project.