October 24, 2011
Top Five Changes in Preparation for Ministry
At the Fall Polity conference last week, I led a workshop entitled “COMs and CPMs since nFOG.” The workshop was structured as a “top ten” list of changes and held in conjunction with the release of new advisory handbooks for COMs and CPMs by the Office of Vocation. I’ll have more to say about the new Advisory Handbook on Preparing for Ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in my next post (but you can download it now by clicking here). In this post I want to share my suggestions for the “top five” changes in the preparation for ministry process in the current Form of Government (in order of appearance).
- Time Requirement to Begin Process (G-2.0602): Applicants must still be a member of a PC(USA) congregation to begin the process (because of the shared oversight of both a session and a presbytery, G-2.0605), but the six-month requirement now relates to being “active in the work and worship of that congregation” rather than the length of membership. Someone who has already been active in the congregation can become an inquirer at the time of becoming a member; someone on the members roll but who has not been recently “active in [its] work and worship” would need to re-establish relationship with the congregation. The point is to establish both the session’s oversight and its ability to make a meaningful endorsement decision.
- Constitution Focuses on “Purpose” Rather than Process (G-2.0603 and 2.0604): The purpose of inquiry is for the presbytery to make “an informed decision about the inquirer’s suitability for ordered ministry.” During candidacy the emphasis shifts to preparing for ordered ministry through the presbytery’s “support, guidance, and evaluation of a candidate’s fitness and readiness for a call to ministry requiring ordination.” Presbyteries design processes and requirements that enable them to make those decisions with those who enter into discernment with them regarding a call to ordered ministry as a teaching elder.
- New Requirement at Final Assessment (G-2.0607a): A presbytery is to look for “evidence” of “a candidate’s wisdom and maturity of faith, leadership skills, compassionate spirit, honest repute, and sound judgment.” These qualities determine one’s “fitness” for this ministry; the other “final assessment” requirements (G-2.0607b-d) relate to one’s “readiness.” Already some have suggested these qualities seem subjective and intangible. Yet all assessment of meaningful ministry is finally subjective, and the Advisory Handbook suggests some well-established practices in preparation for ministry that can provide “evidence” of whether or not a person possesses these qualities.
- Possible Exceptions Broadened (G-2.0610): By a supermajority vote (“three-fourths”), “a presbytery may waive any of the requirements for ordination … except for” the ordination examinations (“alternate means” for the exams may be approved by a presbytery through the same process). Just how much this broadens the possible exceptions will be influenced by whether the next General Assembly applies the “authoritative interpretation” (AI) of the former G-14.0470 to the current G-2.0610. The former provision allowed exceptions in “extraordinary circumstances” that the AI interpreted as applying to persons who exceeded the usual requirements but had done so by means other than those in the constitutionally mandated process.
- Ordination is Ordinarily the Responsibility of the Calling Presbytery (G-2.0702 and 2.0704): Usually the calling presbytery will examine, ordain, and install the candidate, reporting its actions to the General Assembly, presbytery of care, and the candidate’s home session. It may, however, request another presbytery to examine and/or ordain the candidate on its behalf.
What other implications do you see in these changes? Would you have other changes to nominate to this “top five” list, or to suggest would round out a “top ten” list?