Thursday, January 3, 2013

Blogging the GOEs, Question 1: WTF Out of the Gate

[Hello all:  beginning with a disclaimer.  Crusty seems to have touched a nerve with this first post on GOEs (one of my most-read postings).  Apart from being perpetually stunned anyone cares what he has to say about anything (he mainly does this to spare CODW his rantings and provide an outlet), Crusty does want to say one thing.  He's not opposed to GOEs, and sharply criticized the decision to defund them in the original draft budget proposed last summer.  He would, however, like to have a discussion about a thorough overhaul, and you can read some of his previous thoughts here.]


Welcome back to COD's live-blogging of the General Ordination Exams 2: Electric Boogaloo

Well, live to me, not you, since Crusty doesn't want to post blogs that have the question in them and thus give any students taking the exam in Hawaii an unfair advantage.  Rest assured, GBEC, this will not be posted until well after all students have begun each question.

Crusty Old Dean initially took the Daily Office Readings for this morning as a good sign:  the Psalm appointed was Psalm 68, the triumphant declaration that God will arise and scatter one's enemies, that God is the God of orphans and widows, and yea, dogs will lap up the blood of our foes.

Origen approves of Crusty's exegesis.
COD does not want to presume who the enemy might be here; for all of you who thought the students taking General Ordination Exams might call down on God to smite their examiners, well, I think you have given us a window into your psyche.  Crusty, of course, interpreted Psalm 68 allegorically, in good Origenist fashion (best non-saint saint ever!): that students might smite the inner enemies of their own self-doubt, and lap up knowledge and triumph from the puddles of their tears of exasperation. 

Then Crusty saw the question.  As readers from last year might remember, GOEs often have a WTF question:  where you really wonder what people are thinking.  Last year's exam had some WTF moments (Crusty was perplexed a question on theology and the environment relied on quotes from a book over 40 years old, as if this topic has not been dealt with in any substantive theological works in recent years), but hard to say a real WTF question from top to bottom, and COD was in general thrilled with the 2012 General Ordination Exams, apart from his usual judgmental snark.

It's a whole new year.

Looks like we're hitting the WTF question out of the gate:


Set 1: Liturgy and Church Music



LIMITED RESOURCES:A printed one-volume annotated Bible; a printed 1979 Book of Common Prayer; a printed Book of Occasional Services; a printed Lesser Feasts and Fasts; the printed Enriching Our Worship volumes; a printed Holy Women, Holy Men; and printed authorized Episcopal hymnals. NO electronic or Internet resources.

Create a liturgy for a nature-oriented event in your pastoral context. You may imagine any such situation: for example, the planting or harvesting of crops, the blessing of a fishing fleet, the planting of a community garden, the reclaiming of land after a natural disaster, or the blessing of animals.

1. In a well-organized essay of approximately 750 words:

     A. Give the pastoral reason for the rite;
     B. Explain the theological understanding of creation that informs your liturgical design.

2. In another essay of approximately 750 words:

     A. Outline the celebration, explaining why you structured it this way and why you chose the liturgical texts, readings and music, showing how your choices conform to the rubrics of the liturgical books listed above;
     B. Describe the roles of the members of the congregation, including the liturgical leaders;
     C. Describe the liturgical choreography (the movement of the assembly, including the liturgical ministers) and the use of space.

Crusty's initial response was one word:  "Really?"  This is the same word of bemused disbelief that Official Child of Crusty Old Dean (OCOCOD, a condition for which, sadly, there is no known cure) drops when baffled by behavior of COD and CODW.

Really?  This is the liturgy question?  Let me count the levels of my bemusement:

1)  This puts the "occasional" in "occasional" services.  Crusty's been going to church his entire life, didn't take a decade off, and been active members of congregations, as lay and clergy, rural and suburban (Crusty spent six months as interim pastor in a farming town of 800 people!) and has been to a grand total of one of these kinds of liturgies.

Buddy Christ will say your answer is "proficient."
2)  When you think that the overwhelming majority of the work of ordained clergy involves either sacramental (Eucharist, Baptism) or pastoral (burial of the dead) liturgies and their adaptation to context -- I think of all the prayer vigils held after 9/11 and after Sandy Hook -- COD is utterly baffled that the one liturgy question likely to be asked has to do, frankly, with developing a liturgy that would be used in this context.  Don't get me wrong:  the question of our relationship to nature is an important one with long, deep roots in our traditions and in which some really good theological work has been done.  That's not the issue: rather, to have this be the grounds on which competency is to be based (and remember, that is the purpose of the GOEs -- to demonstrate grounds of competency in the defined areas) is a bit like having the ground for competency in the Bible section be writing a blog post on the movie Dogma.  Step off, haters: Crusty loves Dogma and the way it relates biblical and theological questions to modern (well, if you consider late 90s modern), however it would be baffling to ask such a question to be the grounds for demonstrating competency in Bible.  Crusty is flummoxed that the liturgical competency is being demonstrated through liturgies which simply do not rise to the same pastoral or theological level as, say, asking someone to develop a funeral liturgy for someone killed in a natural disaster, rather than reclaiming land after a natural disaster.  BTW, thank God they didn't allow the Book of Occasional Service from the Dutch Reformed Church, it totally would have telegraphed that reclaiming of land possibility.

3)  The question is just rife with vagaries, something that concerns COD.  If there's one thing Crusty has learned, it's that despite being crystal clear in sermons, people often don't hear what he says, and sometimes hear the exact opposite.  Crusty favors erring on the side of clarity.  Further, this can be a problem in GOEs if the assessment portion may wind up being based on unspoken understandings or standards.  Let's take Section 1, which asks for theological understanding:  what kind?  Ecofeminism? Biblically based? From an extrapolation of the oikonomia of the Trinity?  I would hate for someone to lay out a theological understanding of creation and have the readers say, "Oh but you didn't mention Genesis" or "How could you not mention the work of Sallie McFague in your answer!"  Also, what is meant by "creation?"  The dynamics involved in defining "creation" from, say, a pet blessing, would be different from, say, blessing of crops.  Similar with section 2:  "describe the roles" and "describe the liturgical choreography" and "use of space."  All of these things are important, to be sure -- Crusty's favorite liturgy professor endlessly repeated the maxim "the space always wins" when it comes to liturgical planning -- but what do you mean by "describe"?  What their theological, liturgical, or symbolic roles are?  Not what they are supposed to do, because that's asked in the next section.  More direction and clarity was needed throughout this question in what, how, and on what basis students are being asked to do.

4)  If the intent is to get students to think of creative applications of liturgy to context -- something which would be a fabulous way to demonstrate competency -- Good God, there are other ways to do this than this question.  Ask them to devise an emergent Eucharist, or a service that is in response to a natural disaster, not land reclaimed after one.

5)  Besides, the whole question is moot:  Crusty bets three-quarters do a pet blessing.  And that's how we'll judge people demonstrating competency in liturgy.

26 comments:

  1. Tell us how you really feel -- and keep us posted! :)

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  2. Meh, got to have some focus around developing creative liturgies. Goodness knows that simply weird shouldn't pass for quality. I guess I'd be interested to see a little more focus to the question possibly including a pastoral aspect to group or activity which may not be representative of an entire congregation (this NEVER happens , right?) such as the first day of deer season or safety of free-diving spear fisherpersons.

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  3. I love it when you lose your shit.

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  4. That this sort of question is being dreamed up and asked as a test of liturgical knowledge or skill is (a) annoying and (b) depressing.

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  5. I would just like to point out that on my GOEs, I lost points for mentioning that Psalms could be interpreted "allegorically, in good Origenist fashion."
    God forbid.

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  6. GOEs are a ridiculous concept to begin with. If receiving an M.Div. from an Episcopal seminary does not bestow sufficient knowledge to pass a GOE, then the seminary is at fault -- and should be fixed (so that its diplomas mean something) or closed.

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    1. Two problems with that -- what to do about non-MDiv people (an MDiv is not required)? And what to do about a test that is written (General Board), assessed (General Board), and interpreted (bishops) by everyone other than seminaries? Graduating from an Episcopal seminary is great preparation for ordained ministry (I went to one and have taught at three other ones) but not necessarily passing one's GOEs.

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  7. The answer is easy: just sneak a peak at the 760-page "Book of Blessings" put out by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (and confirmed by the Apostolic See), and substitute in a few prayers from the BCP. They don't seem to have a problem blessing just about anything including "Centers of Social Communications" (whatever that is) and seeds at planting time.

    It's interesting that the "nature-oriented" liturgies in that book contain provisions for them to be presided over by a lay minister or deacon, as well as a priest.

    But God forbid that something as sacred as blessings carry over into ordinary, non-crisis parts of our lives.

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  8. I find the requirements to only use written material ridiculous. I haven't prepared a liturgy in years without using the Rite Brain or other on line resources. I have a whole bunch of services from Iona that are wonderful and they are all PDFs. Just cut and paste.

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  9. In my diocese there are no persons being ordained priest who don't have MDiv's. Zero. Not one. Ever. From that perspective the GOE is a tool in search of a purpose. Preparation to become a Canon 9 priest in those dioceses that do them is a different topic.

    But my objection to the GOE is more fundamental than that. The church and candidates collectively spend megadollars on MDiv's. Do we not have a reasonable expectation that graduates will be suitably trained, educated, and spiritually formed? One of the basic principles of Quality Control in industry is that checks are better early on, not at the end of the process. That's too late; money and effort has already been spent, or wasted in the case of persistent failures. Always put QC at the front end, and then do spot checks to see if the rest of the process is working like it's supposed to.

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    1. It's also a relic of the days when there were no seminaries; having a standard of competency people are expected to fulfill comes from the very first canons, and reflects an era in the 1800s when people apprenticed and read for orders.

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    2. But there are a lot of us who are ordained and took the GOEs without an MDiv. I took the GOEs in 1990 and passed all seven sections following a course of independent study with tutors. I was ordained a deacon and then attended a residential seminary for one year (getting a "Certificate of Anglican Studies"). As seminary education gets more expensive, and candidates are increasingly drawn from those changing careers, those with families and debts who cannot afford a three-year academic course, there are likely to be more people like me. Insisting on an MDiv and having no national standardized test of knowledge and competence would fail to serve those potential ordinands or the churches where they would minister.

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    3. And, by the way, there are no longer "Canon 9" clergy - that was abolished several years ago. The canons have never "required" an MDiv, simply a "course of education" and demonstrated competence in the seven areas tested by the GOE.

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    4. I hear the "Canon 9" term used even if it's a relic.

      I said that I didn't intend to dig into the topic of ordination to the priesthood without M.Div. --where it takes place. But in places where ordination to the priesthood requires an M.Div. because either the bishop or the Standing Committee or the Commission on Ministry sees it that way, I argue that the GOE is pointless.

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  10. This in my humble opinion is a question that asks too much. some might 750 carefully chosen words to justify a liturgy as described in the question appropriate. I do not. I have sat at planning sessions for liturgies in the EDS chapel that included more than 750 words! Too detailed a response will lose points; too little will lose points. I do like the idea of a liturgy for the blessing of a blog.

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  11. Oh my, COD, I just fell a little in love with you. A brilliant piece making clear the ridiculousness of the entire exercise.
    Fondly,
    a priest who failed almost all of her GOEs yet hasn't destroyed the church with her incompetency yet.

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  12. Three Words: Rogation Day Procession. As you said, "This puts the 'Occasional' in 'Occasional Services.'"

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  13. I am not a fan of the GOE for this and other reasons. Primarily, there seems to be little in the "fit to purpose" test. Passing (or failing) the GOE seems to have little diagnostic or prognostic value in terms of how well (or poorly) one will exercise parish (or any other) ministry.

    I do not think the GOE passes this test, and should be retired. It seems to be more of an elaborate form of hazing than anything practical or useful. But perhaps I'm just being crusty?

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  14. I served on the staff of the GBEC 1900-2002. In my time the members of the GBEC were elected by the House of Bishops and included 4 bishops, 6 seminary faculty, 6 parish clergy (frequently former seminary faculty), and 6 lay people (usually present or retired seminary or college faculty.) The GOE was part of the 1970's effort to break up the old boys network - along with the ordination of women and the Church Deployment Office. The 7 areas in which GOE candidates were to "demonstrate proficiency" were set by General Convention: Holy Scripture, Christian Theology, Church History, Christian ethics and moral theology, Liturgics, Studies in contemporary society, and Theory and practice of ministry.

    In my time it was always difficult to write a good liturgy question. Generally the choices were either "plan a service and give a rationale" or something in liturgical history. This year's question is not one of the best, but I remember worse ones.

    I once did some statistics on GOE results. About 2/3 of the GOE papers demonstrated proficiency in 6 or 7 areas. The problem area was frequently Christian Ethics. About 1/4 of the papers demonstrated peoficiency in 3, 4, or 5 areas. Another tenth demonstrated proficiency in 2 or fewer areas.

    We used to look carefully at the papers that demonstrated proficiency in 2 or fewer areas. About hslf of them were problem papers - either incomplete because the writer took too much time to look stuff up and had too little time to write - or sometimes because the facts presented were not true or occasionally because the writer was unable to write a coherent paragraph. About hslf the time the paper simply did not answer the question asked. The office every year got a few letters from faculty complaining that a student who had done well in seminary did not do well on the GOE. In every case I checked the paper simply did not answer the question asked. Frequently it made some reference to the topic but then went off on a tangent.

    On a 16 year running average about 80 per cent of the areas were passed. In that time every Episcopal seminary was above average at least once and every one was below average at least once. The range was about 5 per cent - from 77 per cent to 82 per cent.

    When I started in 1990 the male/female ratio was about 60/40 but papers written by women were better than those written by men. In 12 years the ratio evened out, and women wrote as many difficult papers as men.

    I think the GOE was invented after looking at the Presbyterian and Lutheran church systems because there was a perception - true or false - that some bishops were prejudiced against some seminaries, and that an anonymous exam taken by all would be fairer than a system of diocesan canonical examinations.

    I'd be happy to correspond with others interested in the GOE. Tom Rightmyer trightmy@juno.com

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  15. I served on the staff of the GBEC 1900-2002. In my time the members of the GBEC were elected by the House of Bishops and included 4 bishops, 6 seminary faculty, 6 parish clergy (frequently former seminary faculty), and 6 lay people (usually present or retired seminary or college faculty.) The GOE was part of the 1970's effort to break up the old boys network - along with the ordination of women and the Church Deployment Office. The 7 areas in which GOE candidates were to "demonstrate proficiency" were set by General Convention: Holy Scripture, Christian Theology, Church History, Christian ethics and moral theology, Liturgics, Studies in contemporary society, and Theory and practice of ministry.

    In my time it was always difficult to write a good liturgy question. Generally the choices were either "plan a service and give a rationale" or something in liturgical history. This year's question is not one of the best, but I remember worse ones.

    I once did some statistics on GOE results. About 2/3 of the GOE papers demonstrated proficiency in 6 or 7 areas. The problem area was frequently Christian Ethics. About 1/4 of the papers demonstrated peoficiency in 3, 4, or 5 areas. Another tenth demonstrated proficiency in 2 or fewer areas.

    We used to look carefully at the papers that demonstrated proficiency in 2 or fewer areas. About hslf of them were problem papers - either incomplete because the writer took too much time to look stuff up and had too little time to write - or sometimes because the facts presented were not true or occasionally because the writer was unable to write a coherent paragraph. About hslf the time the paper simply did not answer the question asked. The office every year got a few letters from faculty complaining that a student who had done well in seminary did not do well on the GOE. In every case I checked the paper simply did not answer the question asked. Frequently it made some reference to the topic but then went off on a tangent.

    On a 16 year running average about 80 per cent of the areas were passed. In that time every Episcopal seminary was above average at least once and every one was below average at least once. The range was about 5 per cent - from 77 per cent to 82 per cent.

    When I started in 1990 the male/female ratio was about 60/40 but papers written by women were better than those written by men. In 12 years the ratio evened out, and women wrote as many difficult papers as men.

    I think the GOE was invented after looking at the Presbyterian and Lutheran church systems because there was a perception - true or false - that some bishops were prejudiced against some seminaries, and that an anonymous exam taken by all would be fairer than a system of diocesan canonical examinations.

    I'd be happy to correspond with others interested in the GOE. Tom Rightmyer trightmy@juno.com

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  16. Back to the actual question, I think it can be interpreted more and less charitably. To start with the latter, the question will appeal to the mistaken notion that "liturgy" is indeed something one can "create" rather than a mystery that itself creates the Church. It doesn't, as some comments imply, give sharp enough focus to the interesting and important problem of how occasional offices/services as forms of corporate worship stand in tension with the liturgy more strictly speaking. Here "liturgy" is a sort of religious drama with (yuck) "choreography".

    On the other hand the challenge put by the question and its envisaged scenario are fair and real. There are such occasions. They may require or deserve ritual and communal expression and celebration. You do have to think about movement and space and hymns.

    It feels (of course?) like Eliot's "last temptation" all over again - saying the right office for the wrong reason...

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  17. Since my own ordination is still about seven weeks out, I hesitate to say anything critical. When I read a question like the one posed above, I once again get the sense that the Episcopal church, that I love, is still European-centric.

    How much cultural diversity is represented on the Board of Examining Chaplains? For example, why not ask those we are going preparing to shepherd our flocks to meet a liturgical challenge of crafting a liturgy that incorporates what they have learned from the Anti-Racism Training "Seeing The Face of God in Each Other?" or Social Justice and Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery. The question presented above is so "abstract." It would seem more timely to ask a question about making worship concrete and relevant to the lives that real people are living every day. I believe that assessments can be instructive by stimulating students to assimilate knowledge. While aslo administered by the Board of Examining Chaplains, the exam I took as a Postulant to the Diaconate was different. I pray that the exam for the seminarians will be a meaningful experience.

    Clearly, I am only a beginner and this is a thought from someone who only took her own written exam eight months ago. I am sure my senior colleagues will find many flaws in my thinking about these weighty matters. At the same time, there may be something to gain from hearing from those of us close to this experience.

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  18. Emmetri -- no flaw - the questions are Euro-centric -- and reflective of "privilege" -- not much use in this day and age. Since you are already asking the right questions- I think you will be an asset to any church you serve.

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  19. 62% of American households have pets, according to the ASPCA (almost as many as have ever been married - 70%). So a question about pet blessings is hardly irrelevant to most peoples' lives.
    And the GBEC is elected by GC, from a pool of nominees. If you want more diversity, then get people nominated and lobby for them at GC>

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  20. I didn't say it was irrelevant, and note that I say issues of creation are important and have a long history in our tradition, and there's been outstanding work done is these areas. I love pet blessings and do them every year. My disappointment is from making this the grounds for competency.

    It's not just a question of nominations, it's part of a larger issue of the way we are structured can inhibit participation. Unless you're clergy or academic faculty, can people take personal vacation time to go to a readers' conference? I am not against the GOEs or GBEC and have defended them in numerous places, and will continue to do so, I just think they need to be reworked.

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  21. No points for putting Origen's name under a mosaic of St John Chrysostom from Hagia Sophia. Do not pass go, etc.
    Making up a liturgy as you go along? What's wrong with that? Where's the clown makeup?

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