Thursday, January 8, 2015

Blogging the GOEs, Set 6: Closing it out with Axios*!

[Disclaimer:  You know, Crusty can be serious at times (well, often, actually) and here is a very special message from COD:  These  blog postings are really about me arguing with the questions, and are not intended to be any kind of GOE forum.  Crusty welcomes comments and feedback, but please DO NOT discuss answers in the comments section, since the GOEs are a double-blind process -- readers aren't supposed to know who you are, God forbid any of them should stumble across this site.  While Crusty thinks the GOEs need some pretty substantial if not radical revamping and restructuring, he's also a firm believer in them, or something like them, and feels we need to follow the process in place while having discussions about what changes might be needed.]

The day finally came when OCOCOD (official child of Crusty Old Dean) asked to see his comic book collection.  OCOCOD has been mainly introduced to superheroes through the Marvel superhero movie onslaught of the past decade or so.  Knowing a lot about superheroes has been one of the places Crusty has had some street cred with OCOCOD.  Anyway, down we went into the basement and COD unearthed the boxes with his comics from the 1960s and 1970s.  COD isn't a collector; the only comics he has are the ones he read as a kid, and they show the wear and tear of actually having been read again and again.  COD hadn't looked at his comics in years, and, thumbing through them, there were issues and titles he had completely forgotten about.  One was "Marvel Two-In-One," which
Oddly enough, they teamed up more than once.  Ugh.
featured The Thing teaming up with a different super-hero each month.  Sometimes this was awesome, as characters who would never interact in the Marvel multiverse had some cool adventures (like the ones with Daredevil, Scarlet Witch, Guardians of the Galaxy); it also had the potential to be extremely lame, with featuring characters in the spotlight that I didn't even care about; sometimes so lame even a 9-year-old could tell it was lame (Morbius the Vampire who wasn't even the coolest Marvel vampire; Golem; Moondragon). As we looked through them, OCOCOD said, "Wow, you were kind of a comic book nerd."  COD replied, "Kid, Crusty was geek before it was chic."  And lo and behold COD then found the box with his vintage 1978 complete collection of Dungeons & Dragons manuals.

COD had the same trepidation when he found out they were combining two canonical areas for this GOE:  Theory and Practice of Ministry and Studies in Contemporary Society (though this is oddly always shortened to Contemporary Society while the other canonical areas are referred to by their titles, even when they're kind of long).  Would this GOE Two-In-One be cool, like The Thing teaming up with Guardians of the Galaxy?  Or lame, like The Thing teaming up with Man-Thing (not once, but twice)?

Hey, say what you will about Crusty, he's always willing to admit when he's wrong (on the rare occasions that happens).  When he found out they were combining two of the canonical areas, he said (literally to no one in particular), "They better come up with a damn good question."  And lo and behold, they did:

Set 6: Contemporary Society
and Theory and Practice of Ministry
You are a priest in a city that, like most cities, has both economically privileged and economically struggling neighborhoods. One group of your parishioners wants to raise funds for a trip to Haiti to
support the building of a school there. Another group asks, “Why should we raise funds for Haiti when we have struggles right here in our own city?”

1. Write a 500-word essay that identifies and analyzes a tension present in this situation. Include in your analysis four key issues in contemporary society (such as political, economic, cultural or other social concerns) that could contribute to or exemplify the tension. Two of the issues should focus on the congregation and two should relate to the wider society.

2. Write a 500-word article for the parish newsletter that addresses the dilemma of this situation and provides a pastoral framework for the congregation to move forward. You may include thoughts or content from your first essay where relevant or important to your response.

Axios*!  Let is be shouted! decrees Crusty.

What's not to like about this question?  It deals with a real issue that most clergy will have to deal with, if they haven't already as church-going Christians or as seminarians:  Why should we help those folks over there when we have needy folks here?

One quibble with essay one is "four key issues in contemporary society," and then listing four examples.  If you want people to incorporate those four examples, go right ahead and ask them to.  Otherwise, readers need to be OK with what students identify as an "issue in contemporary society" since you don't define any parameters.

Another quibble is why the Axios!* ranking comes with an asterisk, indicating that this is a conditional Axios! ranking.  A concern Crusty has with this question comes around the setup to the question: there is hardly any context given for the place where you are ministering.  You are a "priest" in a "city" with "parishioners."  The assumption here, COD presumes, is that you are a Rector in an urban congregation -- though that is nowhere stated.  Another presumption Crusty has, since your parish is talking about raising money to build a school, is that you are rector (as opposed to an associate or curate) in an affluent congregation, since it has the ability to undertake fundraising for international mission projects.  But these are all "ifs", and COD certainly hopes that if no context is specifically given, the GOE readers are willing to let students shape the context to suit their responses.  This is why this Axios*! is conditional.

Then, after analyzing the situation (the "studies in contemporary society" portion), the student is then asked to suggest a pastoral way forward in a parish newsletter article (theory and practice of ministry).

My only beef with essay two is that, like the liturgy question, this exercise of ministry seems to take place in a vacuum.  What is the role of any committee structure in place in the church, or lay
Don't you dare contradict Ralph Wiggum, grammar police.
leadership?  Some mention of how this "pastoral framework" you're suggesting emerged from engagement with lay leadership would seem to be crucial here.  There's nothing to prevent someone from doing this, naturally (though the context of a parish newsletter article would require some verbal gymnastics to demonstrate process, though not unpossible), but COD would like to see it required, since the practice of ministry is exercised in cooperation and collaboration with lots of other groups in the church.

And that's all Crusty really has to say about Question 6.  Though he has a few quibbles, it is not enough to knock it down from an Axios! rating.

Results for #GOE2015:

Two Axios! questions [albeit one with is an Axios*!],
Four "Meh" questions,
And, happily, no WTF! question.

This is, without parallel, the best scoredcard in my four years of blogging.  Give credit where credit is due!  Well done, GamesMakers of the GOE, in your Quarter Quell.  There's still areas to improve, to
COD doubts GOE GamesMakers have facial hair like Seneca Crane.
be sure, but let the General Board of Examining Chaplains feast tonight as they receive their grades from Crusty.

Some other thoughts:

Crusty was, overall, pleased with the changes instituted in the GOE Quarter Quell.

--He thinks the "open resources" aspect was, overall, helpful -- but it will also depend on how this impacts readers' evaluations.  Having "closed resources" for everything but liturgy and Bible, as in years past, a) severely limited the scope of questions that could be asked, and b) had the potential to hamstring students who may not be as familiar with what is being asked. He hopes students didn't feel the pressure to write perfectly researched papers, and hopes the readers do not expect them.  "Open Resources" should serve to lower the anxiety, not raise it.

--He was pleased with what clearly seem to be efforts to ground the essays in a context of engagement with real people, issues, and concerns that will emerge in ordained ministry.  No "think pieces" this year, and a consistent emphasis on students' providing answers in the context of ministerial engagement -- newsletter articles, etc.

--There still seems to be a tendency, at times, simply not to be clear what is being asked, evidenced this time around by the church history question.  But, given some previous exams past, there is, overall, a marked improvement, though there is still room to grow in this area.

--It's abundantly clear to Crusty that we need to revamp the canonical areas as outlined in Title III.  Since the exam needs to reflect the canonical areas, a way to get a better exam is to revise the canonical areas.  There's been lots of changes in church, the world, and higher education since the last time they were revised.  If we're going to be serious about competency-based education for a future church, we will continue to be limited by the current canonical areas, and COD would rather revise them than have the GBEC, in effect, do so on their own.  Then again, as Crusty has said repeatedly, the General Convention, the only entity capable of revising the canonical areas, hasn't given a rat's ass about theological education for almost a generation now.

COD repeats his wish from last year: that the GOE would address perhaps two of the most critical issues in North American Christianity, on which it has been silent for years: for one, the issues of diversity and globalization in 21st century Christianity and how it is impacting the Episcopal Church; for another, anything theologically or ethically the church might want to say about the most significant economic meltdown since the Great Depression and the staggering economic and income gaps that are only increasing in our society.  Can the Church speak to these massive, society-changing issues?  If not, why study history or theology or ethics?

Well, friends, it's time for Crusty to ride off into the sunset on this year's GOE blogging, or at least downstairs to the GOE After Party.  Thanks for joining me for the ride, though COD is continually perplexed as to why anyone cares what he thinks about anything.

And despite what you may think, and what Crusty has been accused of by some people, COD is not opposed to the GOEs.  Crusty loves the fact the Episcopal Church has always had a competency-based system, ever since the Course of Ecclesiastical Studies introduced by William White.  There's never been a single standard, unlike, say, the PCUSA or ELCA or Roman Catholic Church where degrees are normative, even written into polity in some cases.  With a competency based system, we have an inherit flexibility -- should we ever choose fully to embrace it -- in how we train persons for the ordained ministry.  Crusty thinks something like the GOE is an essential component of a competency based system for training people for the ministry.  That said, we need to admit where current aspects of the system need overhauling.  We put a lot of time and energy in writing, administering, and assessing an exam when, in the end, it's the diocesan board of examining chaplains and local bishop who make the call.  COD has suggested before that the GBEC simply write the exam and let dioceses administer and assess it, since they're the ones whose opinion matters in the end.  But there clearly needs to be a broad discussion, with broad input, other than complaining about the same old system every year.

And Crusty freely admits he's had some hard words for how these questions have been posed at times, both this year and in past years.  He doesn't apologize.  People who have little agency in this system -- the students taking this exam -- are the ones whose processes towards ordination hang in the balance.  COD doesn't think students should be the ones holding the bag for poor questions.  Part of Crusty's reasoning for blogging the GOEs is to provide at least some transparency in what is an opaque process.  Opaqueness in a process benefits those with the power; transparency benefits the process as a whole, and especially those without agency in that process.  One of the reasons Crusty started blogging the GOEs was because taking the GOEs was one of the loneliest and dis-empowering things he ever had to go through: get question, walk home, write question, hand in question; repeat.  Spend evenings nervously wondering that you were the only person that wasn't sure about your answer.  Then get an envelope in the mail and everyone was afraid to share their results, either ashamed they didn't do well or guilty they did do well.  Crusty swore that if he could one day make the GOEs a less opaque, anxiety-inducing, dehumanizing and lonely experience, he would do it.  And yea, it came to pass.

[BTW Crusty had the last laugh...he was deemed "nonproficient" in Liturgy, Theology, and Church History -- which are, of course, the three areas he has taught the most as a professor!  When Crusty finally made it far enough along in the ordination process to talk about demonstrating competency in the canonical areas, it was 2009, or fifteen years after he'd taken the GOEs.  The bishop said, "Well, you need to come up with a proposal for how you will remediate the three non-proficient GOE areas."  COD replied, "OK, how about I submit all the syllabi for courses I've taught in liturgy, history, and theology, and we can discuss those with the diocesan Board of Examining Chaplains?"  The bishop said, "I think that should work."]

As for saying some hard things; well, too bad, sunshine.  Crusty has worked for over 15 years full-time in the church, and drafted documents and resolutions and concordats and proposals, and has had people say worse things than anything written here.  Crusty's been told he doesn't understand Anglicanism, that's he's a raging liberal, that he's a brain dead conservative, that "he has sold the apostolic heritage of Anglicanism for a mess of Protestant lentils," and so on.  Crusty's always been willing to be held accountable for what he has put before the church, and expects nothing less from others.

So be good, people.    Remember to stay grounded in prayer, Christian discipleship is hard and the only way to make it is to develop and cultivate a life of prayer.  Exercise regularly, it's the only free and 100% effective way to avoid numerous health problems. And have at least one minor vice to show the world you're human.

Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine; Glory to God from generation to generation in the church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever.


  1. Thanks for blogging these. Interesting and fun to read the questions and think about them, and then give thanks that GOEs are in the past.

  2. I love your blog, especially your GOE posts. They actually kept me sane last year when I was taking the GOEs (7 questions! 5 days! 1500 words! No open sources! And a technological whammy on the first day that drove us all insane! And somehow I got ordained!). Now I'm especially delighted to know that you, Dean, are a Marvel Zombie as I am. Thank you.

  3. I almost completely agree. This is the best question from the last two years. I have almost no complaints about it (which is shocking considering how fundamentally flawed I think the GOEs are [even though, like you, I think some form of comprehensive exam is a good idea]).

    I also want to thank you for what you do each year: blogging, analyzing, and occasionally ripping apart the questions. You are absolutely right about how GOEs are the most disempowering thing one does during their discernment process. As students we were completely and totally at the mercy of others, whether our diocesan boards of examining chaplains or the GOE readers, with no chance to defend our answers. Your blog provides some much needed perspective, either helping us deal with the fact we just got screwed or confirming our gratitude with having been asked a legit question. I disagree with only one ranking this year (history should have been a WTF), but in any case, your writing on this helps seminarians know they're not alone in dealing with the questionable executed crapstorm that is the GOEs. Thanks for the analysis, thanks for the critique, and looking forward to seeing you judge how next year's class got judged.

    Thanks again,


  4. Ditto to the comments and I too have boxes of Marvel comics in a closet in Savannah GA and I remember having to sell X-Men 1-10 to pay for school books one semester in college. Let the OCOCOD know about the potential financial benefits of being a geek.


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