I still remember the day during my first year of seminary when our Director of Student Relations and Senior Placement at Princeton told us that we really shouldn’t transfer while in the ordination process if we could avoid it. I don’t remember the reasons that she gave us, but I do remember that transferring (especially as a Candidate) was not something that she recommended.
And now…here I am…in the process of trying to transfer as a Candidate from Kendall Presbytery to the Presbytery of San Francisco. It certainly isn’t ideal, but under the circumstances, it seemed like the best option.
As I’ve learned more about the process of transferring in as a candidate, it has caused some frustration. Most of it stems from the fact that I was Certified Ready to Receive a Call by Kendall Presbytery, and now that they are transferring me, I could be accepted as a Candidate into the Presbytery of San Francisco, but would not transfer in with that status. So I would be required to stay as a Candidate for a specified amount of time (which I understand and think is actually important for allowing the CPM to get a chance to get to know me) and then would go through San Francisco’s Final Examination process. However, I am would also be asked to complete the Presbytery of San Francisco’s Educational Requirements, which are much more specific and detailed than Kendall Presbytery’s requirements.
Now, it’s not like I was naïve to the fact that different presbyteries required different things. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had at the cafeteria of Princeton Seminary with fellow Presbyterian seminarians in the ordination process. And, unfortunately, most of these were horror stories involving CPMs (Committee on Preparation for Ministry). It was often discussed in seminary how unfair it was when we heard about one of our future colleagues having such a difficult time her/his Presbytery’s CPM. So-and-so was being asked to complete an additional year of Field Ed? So-and-so was told that CPE would not be required…but oh, they changed their mind, and are requiring it now? So the student had to completely change summer plans and find a last minute CPE placement?
The differences that exist from presbytery to presbytery are definitely frustrating. It is almost as if there are as many different ordination “tracks” as there are presbyteries. I was on one Ordination Track while in Kendall Presbytery, jumping through all the appropriate hoops, crossing off all the items on my checklists…and then they basically say, “You’re good to go!” But then things unravel there, and I find out that there was a completely different Track that I would need to figure out how to get on with the Presbytery of San Francisco. This is something that people all over the country potentially face when needing to transfer presbyteries.
Now, some may be thinking, “Well, that’s what you get for messing up things in Kendall…serves you right.” But what about our friends who have to transfer presbyteries for other reasons? Family reasons? Geographic location reasons? The fact that there aren’t universal, national standards (wait, the ordination exams….?) for ordination seems annoying at best, but possibly even unfair to those “under care?”
However, while I want to argue and push for national ordination standards in these types of situations as a form of justice, another part of me still wants to support the local option of presbyteries to decide amidst themselves on other issues. I think this is just what the Peace, Unity and Purity Report was pushing for: the local option. I think many people who are pushing for LGBT ordination within the Presbyterian Church (USA), while they would obviously want to see the removal of G-6.0106b which currently prohibits openly and practicing gays from ordination, they would also hope for the ability for a local option for presbyteries.
Should there be more structured national ordination standards? I don’t know. Sometimes it seems like it would make more sense for there to be some unified standards that would help in certain situations. It’s unfortunate that the requirements can be so different from presbytery to presbytery. And I’ve not even mentioned the complexities that arise when one gets ordained in one presbytery with a scruple, and then needs to be accepted into a different presbytery.
Perhaps there are some things that should be universally standard across every presbytery (e.g. Educational Requirements: even though those are already laid out for us in the Book of Order, some presbyteries add on to that list), while there are other things (views on controversial topics, G-6.0106b or other theological views) that could be determined presbytery by presbytery. I don’t know if there is really any good solution to this issue, but I’ve love to hear your thoughts on the issue of ordination standards.