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The Rev. Timothy Cargal, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Stated Clerk for Preparation for Ministry in Mid Council Ministries of the Office of the General Assembly.

“... the Land that I Will Show You” is the blog of the Office of Preparation for Ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This blog is designed to serve as a resource for those discerning and preparing for a call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament as ordained teaching elders of the church. It will also provide a place for reflecting on and dialoging about the changing context of pastoral ministry in the early 21st century.

For quick announcements about changes or developments in the preparation process, dates related to exams or other key events, discussion boards, surveys, etc., you can follow us on Facebook at “Preparing for Presbyterian Ministry.”

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September 13, 2011

Why Ordination Exams? ... Now

building blocks of ord exam priniciples

In my previous post I shared how the ordination exams began from a concern for equitable treatment of those seeking ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. In this second of three posts in this series on the past, present, and future of the ords, I want to share the principles formed to achieve this purpose of equitable treatment of candidates across the church. Historically, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its predecessor bodies have expressed three principles on which the exams are based.

Blind review by future peers in ministry (ruling and teaching elders) from outside one’s own presbytery of care

As mentioned in my previous post, a primary concern that gave rise to the exams was that some candidates for ordination were being examined much more stringently than others. Whether because of geographical differences, gender, race, or human networks and connections, there was discrimination within the system that tended to favor some and disadvantage others. The model of written examinations identified only by code number and evaluated by readers selected by presbyteries across the church works to minimize biases in reviewing the exams that might arise from preconceptions formed by evaluators about the candidate (either positive or negative) based on past contacts or stereotypes. That evaluations are done by peers in ministry brings to the forefront that the exams are focused on the practice of ministry.

Assessments of the ability to integrate seminary education with one’s gifts for and past experience in ministry through demonstration of “pastoral imagination”

The ordination exams are carefully constructed to perform a unique role within the preparation for ministry process. They are not tests of academic achievement; the seminaries properly assess that through grades in course work and fulfillment of degree requirements. They are not tests of the acceptability of the candidate’s theological views or understanding of the church; the presbyteries properly make those assessments in relationship to particular fields of ministry. They are assessments of a candidate’s ability to integrate academic training and experience gained through the supervised practice of ministry when responding to situations typical of those likely to be encountered in fulfilling the responsibilities of a teaching elder engaged in acts of the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

The standard of assessment is readiness to begin ministry as a teaching elder

In forming their assessment of responses to exam questions, readers are instructed to use two basic considerations. (1) Whether the paper responded to all the elements required by the questions. The abilities to listen carefully to what is set before you and to respond completely to what is required in a given situation are key pastoral skills. (2) Whether the paper demonstrates sufficient understanding of the issues presented and ability to convert that understanding into practical application in ministry as would be expected of someone beginning in the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The issue is not whether a response shows the depth one would hope to see from someone with decades of ministry of experience, but rather of someone starting out.

Recent conversations within the committee that administers the exams for the church have raised a fourth key principle:

The evaluations are done in a context and spirit of Christian community.

The exam scenarios arise from the lived experience of the church and are evaluated with concern for the future of those who will serve it and those who will be ministered to by them. The evaluation process, then, is always to be an expression of loving Christian concern for all those within the community of the church.

These principles have informed the ords process throughout its almost 50 year history. My next post will look at ways the process will seek to continue to live out these principles in service to the church in the 21st century.