Monday, January 05, 2009
Today marks the first day of the dreaded GOEs = General Ordination Exams.
Seminarians and those who are otherwise candidates (or, in rarer cases, who hope to be candidates) for ordination to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church are sitting for a week of exams.
The canons of the church (Title III, Canon 7, Section 5a) require that before ordination a candidate must be examined and show proficiency in:
1. The Holy Scriptures
2. Church History, including the Ecumenical Movement
3. Christian Theology, including Missionary Theology and Missiology
4. Christian Ethics and Moral Theology
5. Studies in Contemporary Society, including Racial and Minority Groups
6. Liturgics and Church Music
7. Theory and practice of Ministry
These exams are not designed simply to assess a seminarians knowledge in these areas. Seminary has, hopefully, already tested that. The GOEs are really designed to test whether or not a seminarian can integrate that knowledge.
For example, a question about Christian Ethics and Moral Theology may be asked about Holy Scripture.
The whole process is anonymous. That is, the writer has no idea who will be reading and evaluating her paper and the GOE readers will not know anything about the author. This is to insure that the paper is being read on its own merit, without bias.
The GOEs are then rated good (demonstrated proficiency in 6 or 7 areas), fair (demonstrated proficiency in 3, 4 or 5 areas), or poor (demonstrated proficiency in 0, 1 or 2 areas).
What happens then? Well, it really does depend on the candidate's bishop. It varies from diocese to diocese, with some remedial work required by most in areas of concern.
That being said, I've never known a bishop or a commission on ministry to deny ordination to someone who did not do well on GOEs. I'm not saying it has never happened. I'm just saying I've never heard of a situation where that occurred.
Delayed, yes. Denied, no.
So, what's the point?
Well, you know what? Beats the heck out of me.
Okay, so I suppose every profession needs to have a qualifying exam that sets the bar for a standard of knowledge and proficiency. That's the good part. The part that doesn't make sense - well, at least to my little pea brain - is how bishops and COMs treat the information.
Then again, I approach this whole subject with a hermeneutic of suspicion. The GOEs didn't come into existence until 1970. Until then, the 'old boy's network' worked just fine. Or, so I'm told.
When it became clear that the reality of the ordination of women was fast approaching the church, Voila! The General Board of Examining Chaplains came into being by order of General Convention 1970.
By 1972, they administered their first exam.
The 'Philadelphia Eleven' were ordained in July, 1974.
The Episcopal Church regularized their ordinations and allowed for the ordination of women to all orders of ministry in July, 1976, and the ordinations began in January, 1977. (You can check out the time line here.)
Coincidence? Oh, yeah, sure.
Well, good or bad, right or wrong, the GOEs are a fact of life - at least for this week. I know a few folk who are sitting for these exams this week.
Of your kindness and mercy, please keep them in your prayers.