Now that this post has “gone viral” – many of you may be arriving here for the first time. I know many of you are coming from Tony Jones’s BeliefNet postings, from Christianity Today’s Out of Ur blog and most recently from the CHURCHandWORLD Presbyweb site. If you’re interested in more of my writings about my ordination experience, you can find them here. But I do want to welcome you to Pomomusings. You can find subscription information on the right (RSS and Email Updates are available). You can read my bio here; please stay awhile and check out some other posts.
What was I thinking in this photo taken on my graduation day from Princeton Seminary? Well, probably many things, but one of them was definitely, “Four years of seminary done – no more school for me!” It was a great feeling.
However, in the next phase of my ongoing attempt to get ordained, it seems that I may not actually be done with my coursework, at least according to an email I received today from the Presbytery of San Francisco.
Let me first say that I have had the privilege of working with some really wonderful people from the Presbytery of San Francisco. Last summer, and into the fall, I was able to work with them as I redesigned their website. Since moving to this area, I’ve been able to get to know some of the ministers and others within the presbytery, and I’ve been looking forward to working with them as I begin the process of transferring to this presbytery.
Transferring as a Candidate
Transferring as a Candidate in the PC(USA) ordination process is not something that is recommended, and I think I am beginning to see why now. Granted, I understand that trying to transfer as a candidate is hard for the Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM). They have no idea who I am – and I am asking to come into the process midway. So I can understand a CPM’s desire to get to know the candidate and make sure they know what they’re getting into.
The Presbytery of San Francisco is known for having very high standards of their candidates, and I was given fair warning in the beginning that I would need to meet their requirements, including educational requirements. This makes sense to me – but having received my M.Div. from a PC(USA) theological seminary (including an M.A. in Youth Ministry), as well as passing all of the ordination exams on my first try, I didn’t think I was going to have much of an issue. Because of Princeton Seminary’s required course load and previous requirements from Kendall Presbytery, I had only taken one exegesis course (in Hebrew) and was prepared that I may have to take a Greek exegesis course to fulfill this presbytery’s requirements. But I was not prepared for what I learned today.
Four Years of Seminary Isn’t Quite Enough
After reviewing my transcript, the Education Subcommittee has made a preliminary decision that I still need to take the following courses:
- Old Testament Biblical Studies
- Greek Exegesis
- Class covering Gospels
- Class covering Paul
- History of Christianity 1
- History of Christianity 2
I was shocked when I received the list this afternoon. It looks like I may be able to petition the Confessions class with information from my systematics courses and polity syllabi and exam, and there is a slight chance I might be able to write a Greek exegesis paper for the Paul or Gospel class…but while this is preliminary, it doesn’t sound like there is going to be a lot of room for conversation.
While I was expecting the Greek exegesis class, I am very surprised by many of the others. I took both OT101: Introduction to the Old Testament and OT315: Sin & Salvation in the Old Testament, but those don’t count toward the OT requirement. I took a course at Columbia Seminary called Gospel Parables, but that doesn’t count toward the class covering the Gospels. Princeton Seminary doesn’t have a specific “Pauline” literature requirement, but I did take an intensive senior-level course my senior year at Whitworth entitled “Paul’s Letters” but that wasn’t able to count toward their requirement.
However, the most confusing requirement are the two History of Christianity courses. At Princeton, that was one of the most often-waived courses by students coming from schools like Whitworth University or Calvin College. There was an understanding by Princeton that the quality of education on those topics received as a Religion major from schools like those was good enough to waive them at Princeton. I submitted detailed syllabi from my classes at Whitworth to the committee, but they were unwilling to count my undergraduate work.
Now, I have my own issues with Princeton Seminary, and I’m not one to pull a “Princeton” card out of my wallet often, but…this committee is essentially telling me that while Princeton Theological Seminary, one of the most academically rigorous of our Presbyterian theological institutions, has reviewed and decided that my education on the History of Christianity from Whitworth University is comparable to graduate-level work, the presbytery still won’t accept it…?
An Impossible Request
I shared with a PC(USA) pastor the list of courses that the committee has said (in a preliminary review) I will still need to take, and they said, “Where did you go to seminary? Was it a bible college?” They couldn’t believe that my degree came from Princeton; it was shocking to them that the presbytery would still require so much more.
Needless to say, this has left me very frustrated today. I don’t know where this leaves me in the process. The most frustrating of all is that this is really an impossible request. The committee, if they finalize these recommendations, is essentially asking someone who is a graduate of four years of seminary education at a PC(USA) institution, who passed all four ordination exams the first time, who works in full-time ministry, to go back to school for what would be the equivalent of nearly another academic year. I would have thought someone on the committee must have at least been thinking to themselves, “But…there isn’t really any way for him to be able to do this…”
This is unfortunately just not doable: it is financially unfeasible to expect that I’d be able to sign up for and pay for 7 more seminary courses after graduating with significant student debt. But it is also unfeasible in terms of the time it would take me to complete this. If I was going to work on completing seven courses while working full-time (and not killing myself), this would take years!
Hoping for Creative Solution
Like I said above, I have really enjoyed meeting and working with people from the Presbytery of San Francisco. And I can understand why the CPM would feel the need to take their time with me and get to know me. That’s part of the process and important. And I am more than willing to meet with them and have conversations on some of these topics (Gospels, exegesis, the history of Christianity). I am even willing to read a few books and write a few papers (heck, it would make for some good content for this blog).
But, asking me to take seven additional courses just isn’t something that is feasible for me. I am hoping that through conversations with the CPM, we will be able to arrive at some creative solution that satisfies their needs and responsibilities as a CPM and honors my current call to ministry and time commitments. Here’s to hoping…