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The Rev. Timothy Cargal, Ph.D., serves as the Coordinator, Preparation for Ministry/Exams for 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/Examinations of the Presbyterian Church (USA). 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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December 27, 2012

Year-End Snapshots, Part Two

2012A comment posted to my most recent blog raised a couple of interesting issues that go beyond what can be reasonably answered in the space of a comment response, so I offer here a few more statistical snapshots. The issues concerned the number of inquirers/candidates relative to open positions, and whether female candidates were taking longer to secure first calls than their male counterparts.

Inquirers/Candidates relative to Open Positions: The commenter noted that there are “four times as many candidates as there are total positions available.” Assuming that the commenter is using “candidate” in a more general sense to refer to all those under care (technically both inquirers and candidates), he has the numbers roughly right. As of this morning, the Church Leadership Connection “Applicants and Positions Report” (a real-time report available at all times from the CLC website: http://www.pcusa.org/clc) shows “449 positions in the system” (emphasis added); that compares to 2,047 current inquirers and candidates—actually a bit more than “four times as many.”

However, a couple of points need to be made about those numbers. First, as I highlighted the CLC report only can provide data about positions “in the system”; there are other “open positions” not “in the system” at any given time. Some congregations do not, for a variety of reasons, choose to use the CLC system at all (admittedly often because the positions are part-time calls or the congregation has limited ability to assist with relocation expenses). The CLC number is frequently cited because it is the only hard number available, but it does not take in a complete picture of openings for pastoral leadership.

Second, the number of inquirers and candidates is actually at its lowest level in a quarter century. In 1988 there were 1,698 candidates (not including inquirers) as compared with today’s 1,076. Now, it stands to reason that with fewer overall members in PC(USA) congregations over the past 25 years the number of inquirers and candidates would decrease as well. But actually, the number of candidates (the only number officially tracked year-to-year) has moved significantly up and down during the period; it was as low as 1,182 in 2000, and had its recent peak at 1,437 in 2006. Judged both by the reported number of candidates and the rate at which people are registering for ordination exams (down about 30% since the 2007-2008 cycle), the number of inquirers and candidates has declined significantly in the past several years.

Women Receiving First Calls: Because of the ways information about inquirers and candidates is reported to the Office of Preparation for Ministry by the presbyteries, comprehensive information about how long candidates are spending seeking their first call is not available. Over the past several years, I have been tracking the time between “certification of readiness to be examined for ordination” and being ordained among candidates for whom both dates are supplied by the presbyteries. For the past two years (ordinations in 2011 up through those already reported for 2012), we have this data on 145 candidates (roughly a third of all ordinations).

Within this group, women make-up a slight majority of those ordained at 52%—although that is below their proportion of all candidates (57%, as I reported in my previous blog). The sample size is so small and the range between certification and ordination dates so great (from as little as 8 days to as much as 14 years), the average times are really meaningless. Comparing the medians for women and men (the time spent seeking a call by the woman and the man in the middle of their respective groups), there was still a slight advantage among women (median of 9 months) as compared to men (10 months).

Perhaps the best way to analyze the data, however, is in terms of the proportion ordained within certain time ranges. That analysis indicates women are taking slightly longer to receive first calls. Among men, 62% of those ordained in 2011-12 had been “certified ready” for one year or less (35% within six months, 27% in 7-12 months); for women, the percentage was 58% (33% in six, 25% in 7-12 months). However, the proportions were exactly the same for both men and women in terms of those ordained within 1-2 years of “certification” (23%) and 2-4 years (11%) respectively. Consequently, a slightly higher proportion of women were ordained more than four years after “certification” (8%) than were men (5%).

Thus, while the proportion of women candidates relative to men is influenced by time spent looking for a first call, that factor does not account for the full difference.

Categories: Ordination Process


  1. That was really helpful and interesting. Thanks for taking the time to dive into the stats more! Also, you were right I was using "candidate" broadly.

    by David

    December 27, 2012

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