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About this blog

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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March 15, 2013

Turning a Page on Exams

Notebook computer displaying exam areasLast 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.

Categories: Ordination Exams

February 23, 2013

1001 and FIRST

I have previously written in this blog about the PC(USA) initiative to begin 1,001 new worshiping communities in a ten-year period (for more about that mission emphasis, see Whenever I write or talk about “1001” particularly with our inquirers and candidates, they are usually simultaneously interested and also full of questions. Not surprisingly those questions are very pragmatic: Is “the church” (at all levels from the congregational to the denominational) going to put money behind this plan, or is it just a vision and a goal? Would presbyteries actually consider these efforts “validated ...

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February 13, 2013

An Ash Wednesday Reflection on Ministry

Like tens of millions of Christians around the world today, I stepped away from my usual midday routine to attend an Ash Wednesday service. At about the midpoint of the service I filed forward with the other congregants, and one of the liturgists—a colleague and friend in ministry whom I have known for almost two decades—dipped her finger in the oily ashes and as she traced the shape of the cross on my forehead repeated the solemn words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I cannot hear those words any longer without also remembering ...

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January 30, 2013

Pastoral Residency Accepting Applicants

The Office of Vocation is currently receiving applications for its fourth class of pastoral residents in the “For Such a Time As This” program. The commitment of all those involved in the program is to small church ministry that is “Growing Leaders, Growing Churches.” Since 2009, there have been 22 pastors serving in their first calls with 26 congregations in ten different presbyteries. The residents serve in temporary pastoral relationships with two-year terms. Of those in the first class, virtually all continued as pastors with the congregations once that term was concluded. A similar pattern is anticipated as the ...

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January 24, 2013

MOOCs and Contextual Pastoral Formation

I recently attended a meeting of colleagues from member communions of the National Council of Churches of Christ who work in support of professional church leadership, theological education, and support of candidacy for ordination to ministry. The focus of this year’s gathering was emerging trends in theological education. One topic of discussion was the emergence of “MOOCs”—Massive Open Online Courses—that are now being offered by such prestigious educational institutions as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Literally tens of thousands of students participate in single courses taught by prominent members of the faculty, with much of evaluation of ...

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