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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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April 25, 2012

(Post[?]-)Denominational Ministry

Four figures holding interlocked puzzle piecesAs I have over the last three weeks been meeting with ecumenical colleagues, seminarians, and presbytery staff and volunteers around topics related to preparing for ministry in the 21st century, one topic that has emerged repeatedly has been the challenge of preparing folks for denominational ministry in what is an increasingly post-denominational age.

Now, that description “post-denominational age” can have a lot of different aspects. In this blog post I want to highlight just a couple. First, the growing ecumenical make-up of student bodies and faculties at even denominationally-affiliated seminaries means they are losing aspects of their denominational identity and a focus of preparing students for ministry in particular denominational settings. Second—and closely related to the first—is that denominational identity is diminishing not only among congregants but also among pastors who serve those congregations.

For years we have known that when people for whatever reasons seek faith communities the denominational affiliation of a congregation usually ranks far below such other factors as geographical proximity, number of members/adherents, and programmatic offerings. There are ever fewer persons who say, “I am a Presbyterian so where is the Presbyterian church” (and fewer still who would be as specific as, “I am a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)…”). They are still out there, but they grow fewer each year.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the same factors of geographical proximity, size of student body, and types of academic programs tend to weigh much more heavily in decisions about where to attend seminary than denominational affiliation. Besides, some would ask, what difference does denominational affiliation of the school really make if the students and faculty are both ecumenically diverse? At graduation—and even after being ordained for years—we are seeing ministers move between denominations as they seek pastoral calls based on the same factors of geography, size, and programs.

If the church is truly “the body of Christ” (and not the assembly of Presbyterians) and the call to ministry a response to “join in the work of the gospel” (rather than institutional maintenance), should the diminishment of denominational identity be a cause for concern? Should we simply embrace and live into the post-denominational age? I want to suggest two reasons why I at least am hesitant—neither of which relates to the fact that I currently work directly for a denomination in my own current ministry.

First, I am concerned that what passes for ecumenism today in some circles can often boil down to, “Theology really doesn’t matter.” Rather than an ecumenical attitude that holds one’s own theology and traditions with humility and an openness to be challenged by others, there can be a bland homogenization of the differences that fails to genuinely respect either one’s own theology and tradition or those of others. I, for one, long for a place somewhere well to the center between the poles of anathematizing one another at one extreme and the theological equivalent of “I’m OK; you’re OK” at the other.

Second, while I too get nervous around the term “denominational loyalty” (which tends to conjure for me recollection of 1 Corinthians 1:10-17) I also firmly believe we need the communal accountability that comes from identifying ourselves with a specific manifestation of Christ’s body in the world. You will look in vain for the words “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” anywhere within the ordination vows of deacons or ruling and teaching elders (W-4.4003). But it is also clear within the context of ordination and installation services just who it is to whom I am accountable when I say I will “be governed by our church’s polity, and will … abide by its discipline” (W-4.4003e, emphasis added). Seeking to escape accountability and responsibility for one’s actions is also a reason why some ministers seek calls in another denomination.

What do you think? How should denominations weigh “denominational identity” in the preparation for ordained ministry in an age when so few church members and even many ministers take it so lightly?

Categories: Ordained Ministry, Ordination Process


April 16, 2012

A Digital Handbook for Digital Exams

This fall, the standard ordination examinations will have a whole new "look and feel" as all five areas will be administered online for the first time. So that everyone from inquirers and candidates, to their presbytery committees, to the proctors at the testing sites can prepare for the changes, we are releasing a new edition of the "Handbook on Standard Ordination Examinations in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)."

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March 27, 2012

Who is the Client?

Today I joined with a number of colleagues who serve the Presbyterian Church (USA) at the national level for presentations by and conversations with Gil Rendle about cultural forces in which denominations are currently going about their work. (I’ve discussed some aspects of his book, Journey in the Wilderness, in a previous post.) There was one question he posed to the group specifically with reference to those who are preparing for ordained ministry that I would like to pose to those who follow this blog.

First though, let me summarize the background against which he posed the question. In ...

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March 23, 2012

The End of an Era

Across the church this week those who wrote standard ordination examinations last January have been receiving their examination books and readers’ evaluations back from their proctors. What as been a twice-yearly ritual for more than four decades was being performed for the last time. When the “ords” are next taken in August of this year, they will be a paperless process.

The first steps toward online ordination exams were actually taken back in October 2009. On the first Friday of that month, a “pilot test” of Internet-based administration of the Bible Content Examination (BCE) was conducted. A total of 138 ...

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February 28, 2012

Considering Our--and Others'--Call

I’m currently on the road visiting a couple of seminary campuses to meet with Presbyterian students, the faculties, and administrative support staff. As always these visits have included many stimulating discussions. But as I was reading through the passages for this morning in the Daily Lectionary, one of those conversations immediately came to mind.

The observation was made that any process that requires a person to demonstrate God’s call on her or his life to others runs the very real risk of excluding some who are genuinely called but simply cannot provide the particular “evidence” (see G-2.0607 ...

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