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.”
In my “GA wrap-up” post last summer, I shared that the Assembly called for a special committee to study the overall preparation for ministry process with particular attention to the place of the standard examinations within that process. The committee was charged to bring recommendations to the next General Assembly in 2014. In this post I want to provide an update on that review. But first, a little background …
The last official review of the preparation process for teaching elders was conducted between September 1998 and October 2000 at the request of the General Assembly Council (now the Presbyterian Mission Agency). It was prompted by desires to improve collaboration between presbyteries and seminaries, to support persons in their first calls, to consider reinstatement of a licensure period, and to review the ordination exams. Although a number of recommendations were approved, no structural changes were made to the process or its requirements. Beginning with the revisions to G-14 by the Assembly and presbyteries in 2007 and continuing with the Form of Government revisions in 2011, the specification of constitutional requirements has been greatly streamlined, but the process itself remains essentially unchanged since the 1980s.
The realities of ministry and circumstances of many discerning a call to service as teaching elders has changed significantly over the past three decades. Back in the 1980s a majority were still young people who pursued professions as pastors by attending seminary right out of college. Once ordained they were significantly formed in their pastoral development through first calls as associate/assistant pastors or pastors of smaller congregations with ruling elders who together with other members of presbyteries provided substantial support during the transition to pastoral ministry.
Many of those patterns no longer hold. For some years a majority of those in preparation have been exploring ministry as a second (or even third) career. Rather than being encouraged to attend seminary by communities that already recognized their gifts for ministry, a significant number now begin theological study motivated by other reasons and only then consider vocational service to the church or increasingly through parachurch ministries. Viewed from the vantage point of the congregations, there is a need for persons who can provide pastoral service to smaller congregations and fellowships of recent immigrants, and to support the formation of new types of worshipping communities.
It is against that background that the special committee will bring its recommendations that will potentially shape the preparation process for the next generation of teaching elders. At the invitation of the Stated Clerk, the Reverend Gradye Parsons, the following persons have agreed to serve on this special committee.
The special committee will hold its first meeting on December 14. At that time it will establish its plan for completing its work, including soliciting feedback from across the church and researching best practices for the formation of ministers in our current context. Watch for continuing updates both in this blog and through official announcements from the Office of the General Assembly.