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.
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Perhaps it is because of graduation season, but I have received several inquiries recently about how long it is taking our graduates to find calls to ordained ministry. Having done some research to respond to these questions, I thought there would probably be a broader audience with interest in what I discovered.
To begin, I need to stress that the proper question within our polity is not really, “How long after graduation?” but rather, “How long after ‘certification of readiness to be examined for ordination, pending a call’?” Within our church, eligibility for ordination is not primarily determined by seminary graduation (although that is a requirement). It is determined through a process of discernment with a presbytery of care regarding the person’s suitability, fitness, and readiness for a call requiring ordination (G-2.0603 and G-2.0604). If the person has not completed that process prior to graduation, then they will not be able to even begin looking for a call.
There are other factors that complicate answering the question about how long it takes candidates to receive a call. First, we have only been asking presbyteries to report to the Office of the General Assembly when candidates are “certified ready” for about 18 months, and many are not yet into the habit. Second, not everyone who is “certified ready” is actively seeking a call (some documentation on that in a moment). So with those caveats, here is the information I do have.
As of mid-May 2015 presbyteries are reporting to my office that they have 288 persons who are “under care” and “certified ready to be examined for ordination, pending a call.” At that same time Church Leadership Connection (CLC) reports 246 Personal Information Forms (PIF) in the system for candidates/first call seekers actively seeking positions, and an additional 36 PIFs for candidates/first call seekers who are not actively seeking. Adding the two categories of CLC numbers gives a total very close to what is reported by the presbyteries, so together they probably give a fairly accurate representation of the current situation.
Now, as to how long those persons have been looking for that first call, of the 288 persons reported to my office as “under care” and “certified ready,” there are 92 whose date of certification was less than year ago (May 15, 2014). There are 81 whose certification was more than three years ago (May 15, 2012), and for 43 of those it was more than five years (May 15, 2010). It is probable, however, that some of these people—especially at the higher end—have either stopped looking (withdrawn from the process or, like the 36 in the CLC system, simply are not actively searching) or found calls and the presbytery has yet to update their profile. For example, while presbyteries reported 292 ordinations in 2014 to the OGA Records Manager, presbyteries have only reported ordination dates in 2014 for 166 candidates on their online rolls. Nevertheless, taking the numbers we have, for every 10 candidates currently looking for a call . . .
3 of them have been searching for less than a year,
4 for between one and three years,
and 3 for more than three years.
There is another way, however, of looking at this issue: For those who have found calls, how long did it take? Since presbyteries began reporting “certification of readiness” dates online in January 2014, there have been 151 persons for whom both ordination and certification dates were provided. There were actually 203 persons with ordinations reported to my office during this period, but presbyteries did not provide the date(s) for some. Nevertheless, that 151 total for whom we have both ordination and certification dates is a sufficiently random and high enough proportion that it likely is close to the overall pattern.
For those 151 persons, the time elapsed between certification to ordination ranges from less than a month to 13 years and 8 months. With a sample that small and a range that wide averages are meaningless. The mean, somewhat more useful, was 11 months. Most useful is actually how many were reported as falling within certain ranges:
29% were ordained within 6 months of certification
30% were ordained between 7 and 12 months of certification, so about 3 out of 5 (59%) were ordained within 1 year of certification
25% were ordained between 1-2 years, so in aggregate more than 4 out of 5 (84%) were ordained within less than 2 years
11% were ordained between 2-4 years of certification, bringing the aggregate to 95% within less than 4 years
5% were ordained more than 4 years after certification
All these figures underscore the importance of inquirers and candidates keeping their progress in the preparation process with their presbyteries on track with their educational progress in seminary if they are going to be in a position to receive a call at or near the time of graduation.