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.
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Last week readers elected by their presbyteries gathered together in Atlanta to evaluate standard ordination examinations. Even as they met in Atlanta, readers elected by presbyteries across the upper Midwest and Plains were also evaluating exams. What these readers shared in common was that all the exams they read and evaluations they wrote were managed through an online system. What distinguished them was that the Southern Region readers in Atlanta marked the end of a roughly 45-year practice of bringing people to central locations to perform this work, and the Midwest Region readers joined readers from the Northeast and Central Regions who last fall formed the vanguard moving into the future of exam evaluations by readers trained and working remotely through use of Internet technologies.
But that description of what was “in common” and what “distinguished” the two groups of readers too narrowly focuses on technology. There was much more that united them in their work. Both Southern and Midwest readers were trained on the purposes for the exams and the standards for their evaluation. Both sets of readers had access to resource materials and members of the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) to support them in their work. Members of the various PCC task groups continued the practice of reviewing all reader evaluations for clarity of the comments in explaining the reasons for the assigned evaluation and supporting candidates in their ongoing preparation. There were also things shared by these two groups that distinguished them from past readers. For the first time, reader evaluations and comments were available to candidates and their presbyteries in the same week during which the readers did their work.
So, as we close the chapter on gathered reading groups what will we find as we turn to the next page in the history of the standard ordination exams? Well, in the next cycle of exams to be administered during the 2013-2014 program year there will be three significant changes.
Plans announced by the PCC call for even more changes beginning in the second half of 2014. More flexibility will be introduced into the exam schedule, and even quicker availability of results are anticipated. Though much is changing, the goal is to use technology to improve both efficiencies in the administration of exams and the quality of the contribution the exams make to the discernment and assessment relationship between candidates and their presbyteries.
For me, the most striking image of this change is from an email I received from one of our readers. A self-described “technophobe” who is—I’ll just say—much older than I am described “sitting beside [a] wood stove in [a] log cabin” in a remote area reading exams and yet affirmed that the online process “made my work easy.” If both candidates and readers can be enabled by the ease of the technology to truly focus on demonstrating and assessing readiness to begin ministry as teaching elders, then it can be said that all the changes have been worthwhile.