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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There is an old saying (well, not “old” as in “ancient,” but old nonetheless) that goes: “The job isn’t finished until the paperwork is done.” I’m remembering that aphorism because today we have released on our website updates of the standard forms for the preparation for ministry process (click here to go to the website). Normally we would just announce the updates and I wouldn’t blog about the subject, but I want to take advantage of this opportunity to reflect a bit on why such paperwork is important to the “job” of preparing for ministry.
First, here is a quick summary of the revisions that have been made to the forms for this release. All the forms have been updated to take into account changes to the Form of Government that came into effect in July 2011. Beyond simply updating Book of Order citations, the forms now reflect changes in the process itself. So, for example, Forms 3 and 4 no longer refer specifically to “annual consultations”; presbyteries now control the scheduling of consultations, and so the forms can be used in preparation for any consultations regardless of frequency.
There is also now a clear distinction between forms that are for a presbytery’s own use, and those forms that are shared with other presbyteries (Form 6, on verifying a candidate’s “certification of readiness”) and the Office of the General Assembly (Form 7A to report progress through the process, and Form 7B to report conclusion of work with an inquirer or candidate). Presbyteries can use or modify all the specific Forms 1 through 5 as they wish, but are asked to use Forms 6 and 7 as released to assure consistency.
But why is all this paperwork necessary?
Well, more important than the work of filling in the forms is the work that goes into preparing to fill them out. Having those under care, their sessions, and their presbyteries reflect carefully and prayerfully about what is being learned about the individual’s sense of call and developing gifts for ministry are the very soul of this process. Like the spiritual practice of journaling, the act of writing can help to bring clarity and focus creating genuinely new insights that might otherwise be missed.
With regard particularly to consultation preparation and reporting (Forms 3 and 4), having agreements in writing is very important to make expectations clear for all parties in the process. Since so much of each inquirer and candidate’s preparation is highly individualized rather than dictated by constitutional requirements, it is clarity of expectations that perhaps more than anything else assures fair and equitable treatment of those under care.
And though we can wish circumstances didn’t make it so, the fact is the documentation provided by this paperwork is necessary in case legal issues of “due diligence” or “negligent supervision or preparation” should arise. These papers need to be preserved as a permanent record that both the presbytery and those under their care have fulfilled the requisite policies and procedures and followed up with concerns that may have arisen.
For most of us, doing the paperwork will never be the most engaging part of our work. But it is still important for the insights it provides, the clarity it brings, and the protections it can provide.