Today marked one less hoop to jump through, hopefully. The Church Polity Ordination Exam was today, and it was the last of 4 (Church Polity, Theology, Worship & Sacraments, and Exegesis) ordination exams PC(USA)ers have to take – and pass – in order to get ordained. I say hopefully because I thought this exam was pretty straight-forward and simple. That post-exam feeling can be good – or it can mean that I totally didn’t get the questions. I’m hoping that it means I just did well and my Presbyterian Polity course at Columbia really paid off.
I’m really not a fan of these ordination exams. While it’s just one way to “test” to see if you’re ready to be a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), an incredible amount of weight is put on these timed exams. You have three hours for each of the Church Polity, Theology and Worship & Sacraments exams, and you get about a week for the take-home exegesis exam. If you fail, you fail – and you can’t move on in the ordination process until you’ve passed. Let alone the fact that some people aren’t good test-takers, it is an incredibly inauthentic process. You basically just have to say what you think the readers/graders of the exams are going to want to hear. So whether or not you believe what you write, and whether or not you’d actually act in such a way when you actually get out into the real world of ministry, you still have to “pretend” to be a good, Book-of-Order-abiding Presbyterian Inquirer/Candidate for ministry. And then you have to get a good grader. If any of your own “personal” theology or thoughts on ministry slip through your 40+ pages of writing for the four exams, and your reader disagrees with you, they can mark you down. One reader told me that it also really depends on the reader’s mood. While I’m sure they are told to be as objective as possible – one could argue whether that really happens.
Should we get rid of ordination exams? I don’t know. Maybe. Some might then argue that we wouldn’t know if people know enough “Reformed theology” or if they are proficient enough in their Greek or Hebrew (as if most will ever continue to use it once in parish ministry). Shouldn’t the process be such that relationships are formed between Inquirers/Candidates and their CPMs (Committee on Preparation for Ministry) where the committees should know that anyway because of their history with each person in the process. I suppose that’s easier for me to say when my Presbytery currently only has 2 Inquirers/Candidates going through the process.
There must be a better way. Anyone have any ideas?