Thursday, January 3, 2013

Blogging GOEs, Question 2: Let the GOEs' Enemies Be Scattered!

[Hello all:  beginning with a disclaimer.  Crusty seems to have touched a nerve with a previous 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.]

Crusty noted previously that Morning Prayer began with an auspicious Psalm for GOE takers:  "Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered!"  COD called for an allegorical reading, in part because the allegory can always change according to context.  To whit:  Let the GOEs' enemies be scattered!  After a Set 1 Question that left Crusty perplexed, they have come roaring back with an intriguing Set 2 Question.  To whit:

Set 2: Theory and Practice of Ministry
Thursday, January 3, 2013, 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

For three years you have been the clergy person in charge at St. Christopher's Church, a congregation in a populous community. You receive a phone call from a chaplain working with one of the local hospice programs. She shares with you that a 12-year-old girl has been admitted into the hospice facility with a terminal disease. She is being kept as comfortable as possible but is approximately a week from death and is unresponsive.

The family has indicated to the chaplain that they are members of St. Christopher's. They say they have been inactive at St. Christopher's for at least five years and do not know the clergy person there, though they still consider it their spiritual home. You do not recall ever meeting the family. The chaplain tells you that she would be willing to continue to minister to the family but also feels it important to at least let you know of the situation.

In an essay of approximately 1,500 words, clearly identify and explain the theological, pastoral and practical issues that inform what you choose to do or choose not to do. Include in the essay any other people or resources you might consult to help you reach your decisions.

Very interesting question, in that it captures in many ways the complex nature of some pastoral interactions.  When Crusty was a young seminarian, doing his required clinical hospital chaplaincy rotation, he encountered an impossible pastoral situation -- he won't go into it, because all clergy have similar stories, but it's one that makes the one above look placid by comparison.  The next day, debriefing with his supervisor, Crusty half-huffed in exasperation, half-moaned from feelings of inadequacy, "You kno, I didn't ask for this!"  To which his supervisor replied bluntly, "Nobody asks for these things.  Unless you want to deal situations nobody else wants to deal with, get into a different line of work."

This question, in Crusty's mind, is an good one in terms of asking for demonstration of competency.

1)  For one, it touches precisely on those impossible situations which drop form nowhere and at the most inopportune times.  As F Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "In a real dark night of the soul, it's always three o'clock in the morning."  (I will leave it to you to figure out what it says about COD that the Fitzgerald book he loved the most and read over and over was not Gatsby or Tender but The Crack Up, a series of essays chronicling his personal and emotional breakdown.)  To be more true to pastoral form, the question should have read, "You get a call at 11 am on Saturday just before your 9-year-old son's birthday party" or "You get a call on 4 pm on Sunday just before kickoff," or "You get a call on your cell phone from the parish administrator while you're drinking a martini at your favorite bar," in order truly to capture the reality of pastoral emergencies.  All too often they seem to crop up at inconvenient times, out of nowhere.  But hey, Crusty is still in this line of work, so I'm not complaining; I made my peace with this line of work a long time ago.  All COD is asking for is a little more verisimilitude.

2)  It captures an important dynamic in shifting pastoral realities: people may affiliate with churches in ways different from previous generations -- Crusty is intrigued by what different understandings of "inactive" might mean.  Maybe this family doesn't come every week and fill out a pledge card and have the Mom on the Vestry and the Dad teaching Sunday school.  Does that mean they can't consider it their spiritual home?  Besides, just because the clergy person doesn't remember them doesn't mean they haven't come at all; the questions says "in a populous community"; doesn't say how large the congregation is; and the clergy person has only been there three years.  COD served as interim of a Lutheran congregation, and it took me nearly 6 months just to get all the weird names I'd never heard of before straight (Orpha and Orlan and Harlan and Merlin were a sampling).  Besides, their daughter may have been terminally ill for the five years of "inactivity." That kind of thing can take up a good chunk of one's time.  So "inactive" doesn't necessarily mean "irreligious."

3)  It also exemplifies the great statement from the (in COD's opinion) greatest Anglican theologian of all time, William Temple:  "The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members."  Just because you might not remember them, and even if they only have a passing relationship with your church, they have reached out and claimed a connection, so of course you provide whatever pastoral care you can, in conjunction with the hospice chaplain.  There's no right or wrong answers, especially to these "Practice of Ministry" questions (well, there are some wrong ones, Crusty would not want anyone to use the "Heaven is getting another angel" line) -- rather than there is a holistic and integrated pastoral identity, and one that is sensitive to pastoral complexities.

4)  It also speaks to the way in which the pastoral office is not connected to the person; it's not you, or St Christopher's, or even the Episcopal Church.  Rather, in the end, it is how you represent God's grace and love which transcends these temporalities.  Crusty was serving as interim of a church in a denomination not his own when, on his second day on the job, the patriarch of the congregation dropped dead suddenly of a heart attack.  The previous pastor -- the congregation has narrowly voted not to renew her 3-year contract -- was living only 20 minutes away.  The patriarch had been one of her biggest supporters and bitterly disappointed the contract had not been renewed.  As Crusty sat with the stunned family, he gently said, "You know, Pastor X is only a few minutes away, and I knew she and Mr Y were close.  If you'd like her to take a lead in the service, I will be glad to work with her."  His widow looked up and said without thinking, "His grandfather built the first church building here.  Mr Y built the current church building with his own two hands.  He led the fundraising drive to rebuild it when it burned down.  You're pastor of this church.  You're doing the funeral."  It wasn't about me.  It was about God, and about community.

GBEC, Crusty is giving you the 80s-movie slow-clap salute.


  1. I am intrigued that there was no mention of ecclesiology or some such in the question. It's the place my brain first went, since my Priest-in-Charge contract ended and there was a serious issue with a family just as the new Deacon took over.

    In my own view, "What does the Bishop say?" plays a significant role in this. But perhaps that's the trick question, and they're supposed to insert a sentence like, "Having checked with the Bishop, I . . ."

  2. AMEN and AMEN to "Unless you want to deal situations nobody else wants to deal with, get into a different line of work"! Nobody can predict, plan, or adequately expect the realities of life, which quickly become the realities of pastoral ministry.

  3. There is one answer, and it ain't 1500 words. "I would go, post-haste, because it is the kind, decent, humane, and pastoral thing to do. Full stop." As I just blatted on FB, I am glad a complex of circumstances not of my making pushed me away from ordination in the Episcopal Church (although I have an MDiv that was hard-core academic in structure and not fluffy, and I took the GOE's back when they had some substance). If the potential colleagues who wrote this lame question think it has more than a twenty word answer, something is deeply amiss in my church.

    1. Thank you for speaking the truth.

    2. "That which you do..." Amen. And, yes, how to convey such a simple thing in 1500 words.

  4. I suspect that my answer to this question, after 22 years of ordained ministry and facing similar issues with inactive families over the years, would be quite different from the answer I would have given as a seminarian (or in my own case, someone recently completing a course of independent study). My concern with such a question, as a seasoned educator and as a pastoral supervisor, is how a reader is to grade the answer. Each of these situations in my experience has been so unique that even framing some sort of generic answer seems a ridiculous idea.

  5. @ERIC: and, gentle eric, you have just touched upon the fundamental issue -- that of "how a reader is to grade the answer." Perhaps the current board of readers is sufficiently well-read and wise; that has not, however, always been the case.

  6. I don't know, Crusty, I'm with Jackie here. What's the question? If they need pastoral care, you provide it. I hope all the exam-takers resoundingly beat down the irrelevant "inactive" question under their feet. And I hope they have been adequately prepared by their pre-ordination training to have their kid's birthday party interrupted. If not, no written exam is going to clue them in. The only interesting question I see here is a leadership question. What kind of pastoral care situations should the priest reserve to her or himself, and what kind of situations should she/he be training a trustworthy and competent team of lay pastoral caregivers to take on? In my judgment, the situation described is one for the priest, with no delays and no fulminations about the family's church involvement, and with respectful integration with the work of the hospice chaplain and the family's desires. It would take a lot of unnecessary high-school-style expansion of verbiage to stretch that answer to 1,500 words. Thank God I'm already ordained and the GOE police can't come choke more hi-falutin' multi-syllabic theological justifications out of me.

  7. Agreed, Susan -- note Crusty's ramblings are more about breaking down the questions, and how they relate to demonstrating competency in canonical areas, not bird-dogging potential answers.

  8. Based on my experience, one should first check to see if the family has a history of disciplined giving or any potential for doing so. Accompanying a family through the loss of a child offers a profound opportunity for making weaker personalities into followers (disciples). If it turns out they are penniless, you can always foist the matter off on the chaplain by interpreting something the bishop once said as forbidding interference outside one's jurisdiction. If nothing else, there is the opportunity for being left unobserved to pick the dead girl's pocket. Now I know what you are thinking. Who the hell would think of such a thing? People clever and sociopathic enough to have no problem with GOE questions which have next to nothing to do with academic accomplishment and everything to do with evaluating character ... which should have already been done.

  9. Last year, a woman in hospice care called the church requesting pastoral care and I went that day. She had attended a long time ago, but had no current connection. I saw her regularly and took her Eucharist and prayed with her and officiated at her funeral. I was part time and it took a lot of my time and it was the best use of my time. I asked for her to be on the prayer list (with her permission) and the funeral (not at the church per her request) was open to the congregation. It was healing all around and in a way was pastoral care for the whole congregation.

    Now that one about an emergency call right before the nine year old birthday party--that is harder. That's right up there with, "it's 9am on Christmas eve, you are expecting 400 people at two services that day, you are the only clergy person in three counties, and your whole family is puking." Those two scenarios basically sum up why I'm out of substantial parish ministry until my kids are older.

  10. The names of the members of the General Board used to - and may still - appear on the certificate sent the GOE Candidate and the diocese. The GOE readers advise the Board members. In time past each pair of readers was supervised by a member of the General Board. At the General Board meeting when the questions were developed the Board also prepared a guide for readers to spell our what sort of response was expected. The readers received the exam responses in time to read them over and met to compose a draft answer. That was reviewed with the supervising chaplain and revised. The revised readers' comments were reviewed again by the supervising chaplain and by the chair or executive secretary of the Board.

    Readers were suggested to the Board by bishops, by other readers, and by others in the church. The Executive Secretary of the Board recruited readers with a view toward incuding all parts of the church. Clergy and lay readers were paired to provide fair and clear judgments.


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