Monday, January 6, 2014

Set 7: Show Me the Money!

At times the GOE tries to be the hipster GOE, smoking clove cigarettes and growing a throwback 80s Tom Selleck mustache, wearing a pork pie hat and only using locally sourced free range whalebone knitting needles.  Two years ago, the question for theory and practice of ministry was to write a social
Flanders' beatnik dad: "We've tried nothing and we're out of ideas."
media policy for your congregation.  Last year, they had one on "ashes to go."  Crusty didn't say this to the students at morning briefing today, since they were still grouchy from the Set 5 question on Saturday, but he feared that one of the questions today might be this year's Hipster Question.  But this is, apparently, the year without a Hipster question.

In fact, the GOE closes out strong. Crusty just can't quit you, GOE.  Just when he thought you were saving the best WTF Hipster Question for last, you come up with an Axios!  On the last question.

Set 7: Theory and Practice of Ministry

During your first year as the only clergy of a parish, you discover the parish has dire budget problems and the very survival of the parish is at stake.

The congregation is slowly growing but you know that even parishioners giving more generously would not be enough to make a significant dent in the church's financial outlook. There is a small unrestricted endowment.

Write an essay of 1,500 words to explain how you would approach this dilemma theologically, pastorally, and practically. Your answer should include how you would use this as an opportunity to engage the congregation and wider community in mission-oriented ministry.

Crusty got no major beefs with this question.  You certainly can't accuse the GOE of coming up with a scenario that's implausible: this is something that is all too much a reality for many of the church's congregations.  COD does grumble a bit about "discovering" the "dire" budget problems that have the "very survival of the parish at stake."  If you're truly unaware the place had budget problems until after you arrive at a new position, then there are other issues involved, too.  Either you didn't ask the right questions or they didn't provide you with the proper materials during the search process.  COD hopes no one would take any position without knowing full well the reality of the situation.  Crusty knew damn well what he was getting into by moving into theological education at a small, stand-alone Episcopal seminary at a time when seismic ripples are moving through higher education and the church is also going through substantive changes.  You can read more about COD's thoughts on that here, in Chapter 6.

But that aside from that beef:  That'll do, Set 7.  That'll do.  You asked a question that is assessing the current reality in many churches, unlike some of these other questions.  The response calls on the student to address the "theological, pastoral, and practical" responses.  This is exactly what needs to be done to
I've never been good at goodbyes…So that'll do, Pig.  That'll do.
walk a community through a process of transformation and renewal.  Crusty served as interim college chaplain for a chaplaincy that had major financial problems.  He told them, "We have to find our mission and our passion first, and decide what kind of chaplaincy we need in the 21st century, before beginning with any problem solving."  Over 18 months COD worked with the diocese and the Board to help bring about a major restructuring of the chaplaincy which has placed it on solid financial footing and a clearly defined role and mission.  The pathway forward for many financially struggling communities must include a combination of pastoral, theological, and practical thinking and processing.  It can be long, hard work, but transformation can happen, if it is grounded in a renewed sense of mission, discipleship, and purpose.  COD also likes that they don't give you any other ways out -- increased giving from current members and the endowment will not solve the problem.

Well done, Set 7.  You receive the ranking of:  Axios!  for a question that actually assesses something clergy in the 21st century will need to be able to do.

So, to recap, for our 7 canonical areas.  We had

--one ranking of Axios!
--one ranking of Axios*!,
--four rankings of "Meh"
--and one memorable WTF! ranking.

An interesting trends in this year's GOE of asking students to apply interpretation of concepts from these canonical areas to practical issues, albeit in varying degrees of success.  Set 6 had a kind of forced and contrived congregational component, Set 7 an all-too-real one.  [It's too soon for any additional
We do not speak that set's name.
comments from COD on the Set-That-Must-Not-Be-Named.]  COD wishes 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 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, this blog came about mainly to spare CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife) from rolling her eyes as he pontificates on the state of the church and the world.  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.  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 of what Crusty believes has been, at times, poorly worded questions and at other times ridiculous questions to be the basis on which to determine competency in a particular canonical area (Crusty's looking at you, Set 5).  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.  As for saying some hard things; well, too bad, sunshine.  Crusty has worked for over 15 years 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. Well put. Glad we finished with a decent one! I thought this was an excellent and fair question. It was really nice to end on a question that asked something reasonable, was clear in its expectations, and gave us the opportunity to show an understanding of a problem and respond to it with appropriate pastoral, theological and intellectual sensitivities. Agreed, this is the first Axios question we've gotten, and there's really nothing to complain about with it.

  2. Tom - Thanks for doing this; it keeps those of us involved with the GOEs on our toes. And I'm sure that there are plenty of readers and GBEC members who read this blog.
    In response to your suggestion that GOEs be administered and assessed locally, I think you would run into some of the same problems that arose with the face-to-face exams: capriciousness and bias. In some dioceses, anonymity might be possible, but the vast majority of dioceses have barely a handful of candidates each year. In a small diocese, I would know in an instant whose exam I was reading. Some dioceses have only one or two candidates.
    - Anne LeVeque

    1. True, Ann -- but how is bias in assessing people for theological competency any different from the bias in assessing their discernment and call to priesthood? When I went through the process I had people on my parish COM and the diocesan COM who didn't like me and gave me a hard time and said weird things based on any number of things, from the parish I attended to the fact I worked with PB to their own projections and so on. Do we want to introduce at external assessment process for discernment for ministry in addition to the processes in the local diocese because of rife bias and capriciousness?

  3. Thanks for posting the questions and some good analysis as well.

  4. A good discussion. I have done a lot of work in the area of testing candidates for the diaconate, and what we came up with, in my diocese at least, is an evaluation along the lines of CPE (no longer used, alas). The main problem we found in testing was that most people, once they are out of college, loose their writing skills.

  5. Thank you, Tom. This is always an interesting and very thoughtful conversation. I hope General Convention will empower a hard look at what the competencies entail in the 21st century. I too am skeptical about GC's ability to create any movement in a forward direction, but one must have hope. See you there.

  6. Things may have changed in the past 11 or so years, but when I wrote to all the GOE candidates who had been judged proficient in 4 or fewer areas (about 25% of that year's candidates) to ask them to tell me what and how they were doing and what remedial work the diocese required I found that only one person had not been ordained that spring. He had failed to demonstrate proficiency in any area. He retook the GOE next year and was then ordained. In about half the cases the diocesan bishop and committees reread the exam and disagreed with the evaluation of the GOE readers and chaplains; in about half the diocese required a retest, sometimes written, sometimes oral, and then passed the candidate.

    I think the GOE provides an opportunity to see how a particular GOE candidate measures up on that test in that year with that particular group of students. That may justify the expense of the readers' meeting and the anonymous evaluation on a national basis. Local evaluation of a national exam would certainly be less expensive, but it would not offer the benefits of anonymity and a national evaluation.


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