Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Blogging the GOEs, Question 4: The Mawwiage Trap[door]

[Disclaimer #1:  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 stumbleacross this site.]
[Disclaimer #2:  Last year for some strange reason Crusty was elected to the General Board of Examining Chaplains. To prevent any appearance of conflict of interest, Crusty has recruited Dread Pirate Crusty to fill in this year as GOE blogger.  While COD is allowing Dread Pirate to remain anonymous, rest assured the Crust is strong in DPC.]

Greetings, Crustaceans! Our GOE test takers are taking a well-deserved break today for Epiphany. (Way to go! You’re over halfway through!). As much as Dread Pirate Crusty may whine, moan, and critique the GOE questions, it should be noted that DPC has infinite respect for those kick-ass folks who are taking the examination this year.  The GOE breeds its own paranoia - and often, the clergy who have gone before aren’t of that much help. Candidates go through seminary hearing constantly about the traumatic experience of the GOE, how it is a hazing ritual, how this or that person was abused by their readers, and so on - and that re-enactment, before their eyes, of a trauma not their own only heightens anxiety as the exam happens. So if you’ve been wondering the best way to support GOE test takers this week - just give them a shout out. Remind them that they’ve got this. Give them your confidence and your love. Give them high fives, buy them dinner, tell them you care about them. And when it’s over, help them celebrate. To any GOE test takers who may be reading DPC’s rambling treatises on the questions they’ve had to answer: DPC salutes you. And not only that… you’re almost done.  BTW, DPC also respects the GBEC and the difficult task they have been given, especially since no funding was provided at General Convention 2015, despite the fact this is a canonically mandated commitment of the church.   All of the critique here is in the service of hopefully strengthening future iterations of the process.

But, DPC, you ask, don’t you have a question to eviscerate with your laser eyes approximately 12 hours ago? Why, yes. Yes, dear reader, there is another question. We just wanted to make sure you had something to feast on during the GOE day off.

Set 4: The Practice of Ministry

You are a recently ordained priest in a rural diocese. Your bishop appointed you Priest-in-Charge of a pastoral-sized parish with an average Sunday attendance of 80. The parish is in a small town with a population of 500 in a county with 15,000 people. A veteran priest, who serves a 45-minute drive away, is your mentor. Your bishop is headquartered a five-hour drive from you.

Soon after you arrive, a newly retired same-sex couple, who are Episcopalian and have recently moved into town, approach you with the request that you preside at their wedding. No such liturgy has previously been performed at your parish. The couple quotes a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision as inspiration for the request. Your bishop has issued a pastoral letter indicating that General Convention has authorized such rites in The Episcopal Church, though, in accord with our canons, a priest can decline to solemnize any marriage.

Construct a pastoral response to this situation in a 1,000-word essay. Explain how the practice of ministry interplays with a theology of marriage in The Episcopal Church. Refer to the appropriate canons of The Episcopal Church and/or resolutions from General Convention that will guide your pastoral response. Identify the key parties involved, and tell how you would engage those various parties in this situation. Include what considerations you might give to those who hold different views.

Dread Pirate Crusty notes that if you didn’t expect this question to come on this year’s GOE, that DPC has a nice, big, beautiful bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. GBEC loves to take a “hot” issue - whether in the church or the world at large - and get it into the exam each year.
This question is a dream within a dream.
Andcertainly, mawwiage, er, marriage, was among the big developments in both the church and the United States over the past year. Mawwiage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam. With those two stwains bwought togethew, thew was wittle douwt that GBEC would use mawwiage somewhere in this year’s GOE. DPC hopes that test-takers felt very prepared as this question appeared.

GBEC’s prompt places the test-taker as a newly ordained priest in a rural diocese where the bishop has authorized same-sex marriage, in a parish of 80 in a town of 500, where an retired same-sex Episcopalian couple approaches you to marry them. The parish has never celebrated a same-sex wedding before. GBEC wants the examinee to construct a pastoral response to the situation.

All in all, Dread Pirate Crusty is quite pleased with this question. So pleased, in fact, that DPC wishes to dispense with the negatives first, so that we may dwell togethew in the positive.

First, Dread Pirate Crusty must rail against the greatest, grossest implausibility present in the question. A newly ordained priest gets to be PIC in a parish where 16% of the town’s population attends their church on Sunday? Where is this parish, Colonial Virginia? I mean,
Scram.  This is an Episcopal town.
that is one freakin’ impressive ASA figure over and against the general population. DPC would kill for that sort of attendance figure, if only because it would mean there would now be something like 1,600 people attending DPC’s parish on Sundays. (But when that’s the worst implausibility of the question, you’re doing alright. Well done, GBEC.)

Dread Pirate Crusty has often been castigating GBEC for not including necessary details to provide sound answers to the questions. In this case, though, GBEC could dispense with lots of details that are distracting, or are likely to lead to typecasting. The ASA example is one piece of that.

Here’s another: why stereotype our rural dioceses as examples of places that haven’t had to wrestle with the emergence of changes in our understanding of marriage in church and society? It wreaks of the worst sort of assumption - that our rural congregations are places that are just now receiving word - possibly by carrier pigeon, telegram, or Pony Express -
Maybe Errol from Harry Potter delivers to this parish.
that GLBT Episcopalians exist, and what’s more, they’re in love and interested in getting married! Puh-lease. Dread Pirate Crusty is willing to sell a few more bridges, this time in the Bay Area, if it isn’t equally true that there are plenty of urban and suburban churches that haven’t wrestled with marriage and human sexuality as well. This isn’t a “practice of ministry” question that’s confined to our rural parishes. Don’t stereotype our rural parishes as backwaters unaware of what’s happening in society and the church at large.

GBEC could reframe the supporting information quite simply, and avoid some of the typecasting:

You are the newly ordained priest in charge of a congregation of an ASA around 80. For the next three months, your Bishop is on sabbatical, but you have been paired with an experienced mentor whom you trust, and who is reasonably available to you.

But beyond GBEC’s loathsome typecasting of our rural parishes, the rest of this question itself is, in Dread Pirate Crusty’s opinion, solid, with one major caveat, which DPC will discuss later.

First major congratulations: the test-taker is asked to explain how their pastoral response interplays with “a theology of marriage in The Episcopal Church,” not with “the theology of marriage in The Episcopal Church.” They are given the Book of Common Prayer, the Canons of the Church, and General Convention Resolutions as suggested sources. (DPC does wish that scripture were listed as a resource, as well, but it’s open resource.) As the preceding years and numerous blogposts have made clear, we don’t have a single theology of marriage. Many Bishops in our church have authorized marriage rites for same-sex and opposite-sex couples equally; many Bishops in our church have not and will not authorize them. Some bishops are trying to find middle ground with varying degrees of success.

We don’t have one theology of marriage - we have tons of them. And the question, as GBEC writes it, recognizes this reality, and leaves it to the test-taker to respond appropriately. DPC hopes that tired test takers were able to note the choice of an indefinite article here. The question was well crafted in making everything licit in the hypothetical, but leaving the choice to proceed in the hands of the test-taker, and the test-taker alone. No person is asked to violate the boundaries of their conscience in answering the question, or defend a theology that they cannot hold personally. But the question expects that the test-taker’s response is given roots, and is not flippantly held. All in all, DPC perceives this to be a good thing, indeed.

A second plaudit for GBEC: the situation is entirely practical. DPC notes that the couple seeking to get married cites the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, and not their life in the church, as the impetus for their marriage. While it may not be this exact motivating factor for all couples that come into DPC’s office for marriage counseling, on the whole, 95% are inspired to marriage for reasons outside their lived Christian faith. As such, priests will have to construct a pastoral response to every day to engaged couples for every potential marriage - regardless of whether they are same-sex or opposite-sex, because they have to communicate what marriage means in the church, not just what it means in society writ large. Bravo, GBEC!

A third huzzah for GBEC: it does realize that there are plenty of parishes that haven’t encountered this specific situation before, and that presents challenges that the candidates will face in their ministry (the fact that they seem unaware that this is equally a rural and suburban/urban issue notwithstanding.) When Dread Pirate Crusty began parish ministry, DPCM (Dread Pirate Crusty’s Mentor) gave DPC one big piece of advice: “don’t move the
You're growing on me, Question 4.
furniture without talking to the congregation first.” By furniture, DPCM meant anything from the actual furniture, to the liturgy, to the landscaping. People need to be prepared for big changes. Dread Pirate Crusty is a full-throated supporter of marriage equality in the church, and yearns for the day that we don’t have to write about “same-sex marriage,” and can just say “marriage.” But for many people beyond the couple themselves, this would be a big change, and one that no priest would be advised to try and “sneak by,” hoping that nobody notices. Some would laud the change; some would hate it; all are part of that priest’s flock, and need to be responded to pastorally. The fundamental skills at work in this question apply even if the issue isn’t marriage - there will always be some big change requiring a thoughtful, grounded, theologically astute practical response. It’s a real dynamic present in parish life, and the test takers are asked to be prepared for it.

So Dread Pirate Crusty was prepared to give this question an AXIOS. Dread Pirate Crusty wanted, yearned deeply to give this question an AXIOS. But this does not happen at this time. (I say that because you’re looking a little nervous, and I don’t want you to be worried.) One reality, outside of the bounds of the question itself, prevents full plaudits from being awarded.

That reality is rooted in the sticky spot of being a seminarian, not yet given the canonical protections afforded to those in Holy Orders, and being constantly judged and evaluated by Bishops, Standing Committees, Commissions on Ministry, examining chaplains, and Rodents of Unusual Size. This question may be an unfortunate trap door.

Consider a hypothetical. A seminarian from a diocese where the Bishop has declined toallow for same-sex marriages to proceed is acutely aware of the requirements of their bishop, and the scrutiny of the Diocesan examining chaplains, and so constructs an answer
The only marriage traps we like have Hailey Mills.
in which they decline to solemnize the wedding. They know the watchful eye of their Bishop is upon them, and as such, construct an answer in which they decline to solemnize the marriage. (An answer in the affirmative could, hypothetically, lead to their dismissal from the process, a student loan debt of $100,000 for seminary education which they cannot use in ordained ministry, and a quick trip back to square one.). A reader from GBEC doesn’t like the answer - and marks them as non proficient - not because it isn’t sufficiently supported, but because of the choice itself. The person without any power here - the seminarian. The question, as written, allows for a pastoral response where the answer is “no.” But the graders may not look upon that decision generously, and mark it down. (The past experience of many has shown that GBEC readers are not as impartial as we might want them to be on less “hot” topics.) Hello. My name is GBEC reader. You hurt my feelings. Prepare to die.

Or consider the converse: A seminarian from a diocese where the Bishop has authorized same-sex marriages writes an answer laying out their plan for the couple in a parish. But there’s a few people on the Standing Committee, or the Board of Examining Chaplains, or the COM, etc., who oppose same-sex marriage in the church. Upon reading the answer to the question on marriage, they are unwilling to even think about the the rest of the candidate’s answers. The answers were thoughtful, theologically astute, and (in the Standing Committee members’ minds) wrong. COM and Standing Committee and diocesan Boards of Examining Chaplain members are not bound by the rubrics that the GBEC has set up for itself for evaluation responses.  They can interpret the answers by any metric they deem fit, regardless of what the GOE readers say.  So they vote against endorsing the ordination. And, in doing so, the candidate is unable to proceed in the process.

These are hypotheticals, but sadly, they are more real than DPC would like to admit. There are remedies - a COM could (and often do) ignore the GBEC Readers’ evaluations altogether; the Bishop can go to bat for a candidate with a COM and push them through (it happens), a Standing Committee may not be provided with GOE answers/summaries (I think very few are, but again, hypotheticals.).

But regardless, we shouldn’t be putting our seminarians - at a particularly vulnerable point in their processes - through such turmoil. GOEs are stressful enough - we don’t need our candidates squirming that their Bishops and COMs will use their position to determine their aptitude, rather than their response to the question itself. It is as if GBEC stands in a doorway, waving merrily to the test-takers, telling them “Have fun storming the castle!” while knowing full well this is still a subject that the whole church has yet to calm down about. Dread Pirate Crusty rates the potential political squirming for test takers as a WTF.

DPC’s crustliberations (like deliberations, only crustier) gives this question is a MEH. It’s the average of the question on its own merit (AXIOS!) with the potential consequences to already stressed our seminarians (WTF!).

DPC really does find this to be an excellent question. But DPC also remembers what it was like to be in the position of a powerless candidate for ordination, stuck between a rock and a hard place, where it only takes one jerk to derail a vocation. Because of this, the average prevails.

Question 5: Bringing Sexy HistoryBack.

Dear Dread Pirate Crusty,

As William Faulkner, the famous drunken Southerner, once said, “The past is another country.  They do things differently there.”  He also once said “My mother is a fish”, but in this former instance, he
Or, what Malcolm said.
was correct.  We, in the church, study history, not only because that history shapes and informs who we are today, but also because we can learn from its mistakes, and differentiate ourselves from it.  We can do things differently.  The question is, however, what on earth do we understand to have happened in that far-off past land in the first place?

This being said, gird your loins, because here comes the Church History Question.
Set 5: History of the Christian Church

The decades 1640-1650 and 2000-2010 were periods of turbulence in the Anglican worlds of their day, turbulence that arose in part from conflicting views over the nature and sources of authority in the Church. In an essay of about 1,000 words, identify one or more important issues generating the conflicts in each decade. Describe ways in which those issues were disruptive, and ways in which they were addressed and resolved (or not) in each era. Conclude your essay by addressing how knowledge of these historical conflicts and the issues underlying them can help us to understand persistent disagreements about the role of authority within Anglicanism more generally.

Pour a drink, or an equally appealing non-alcoholic alternative.  This is going to be a long one.

Look, GBEC has done a good thing by taking a relevant issue and placing it front and center.  The strife in the Anglican Communion and TEC in the past decade and a half is a real thing, and it behooves clergy to ponder it, rather than ignore it.  DPC knows plenty of clergy who, when these recent fights were at their worst, consistently ignored them, and it led to broken churches, and disillusioned congregations.  It turns out that really everyone can use the Googles!   I see what they’re trying to do here, and it makes sense.

But by Grapthar’s hammer, the problems in this question are so many as to stamp out any good
Up there with "By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!"

Let’s start with the curious equivalence that the question assumes.  The test taker is asked to compare nothing less than the English Civil War and the recent period of time here in The Episcopal Church where people were mad about an openly gay bishop.  Look, I’m not saying the recent turmoil in the church has been fun, but so far as I know, it hasn’t resulted in a body count.  Queen Elizabeth II seems alive and well, and the rest of the English royal family continues in such good health as to be unimpeded by whatever shenanigans our bishops get up to over here – unlike King Charles I… and the 200,000 people who died during the English Civil War.  

Which leads to the next problem – if there is any sort of consensus as to what exactly the issue was from 2000-2010, WHAT IS IT?  Was it a conflict over authority?  Over the interpretation of scripture?  Over rapidly changing sexual mores?  Over the continually evolving place of women and people-who-aren’t-straight-old-white-guys in the church?  Did we just get bored?  

And for that matter--ARE we talking about the conflict strictly here in the Episcopal Church or should we also discuss the conflict that spread throughout the wider Anglican world?  Because if we are--then we also need to consider the backlash against colonialism and western imperialism, not to mention a conflict between several different missionary styles present around the Anglican world finally coming to the surface.  As well as the interplay between regional politics and religious forces in various places, including England and sub-saharan Africa.

So, as the Facebook page of any tween would tell you, it’s complicated.  But not ONLY that.  There
Cartman's best Scott Stamp.
is yet another problem. It looms before us like the incessant beckoning of Scott Stapp’s arms in a Creed video.
Exactly HOW were these conflicts settled? I can see that a case might be made for the English Civil War being resolved fairly cleanly (It’s a simple enough process: Kill the king, rule by Puritans, realize you miss fun, take back the whole thing.)

But if the church has arrived at some generally-agreed upon resolution to the turmoils of the past two decades, then someone’s keeping a pretty good secret.   If someone knows what that resolution is, then they need to spill.   This joyous news should not be confined merely to the boring annals of a GOE answer!  It should be printed in the newspapers!  It should be strewn about the pages of blogs everywhere!  Twitter needs to light up!  And certainly, someone should call the primates, because I do believe they are meeting at Lambeth AS WE SPEAK to resolve this very issue!   

Seriously, you and I both lived through that unpleasantness, and both as active, albeit very young, church pirates at the time.  But for as much clarity as anyone has, you might as well answer this question by citing the great battle in America fandoms between ‘Nsync and Justin Timberlake as a solo artist, which also continues to rage.  

This question, inasmuch as it succeeds in doing something other than making me want to cry Justin his river, promotes the viewing of history in a very shallow, un-nuanced way--even that history which we are still living.  That’s nearly the worst thing you can do with history, in the Episcopal church,
You can't un-see this.
which does love tradition very much – more even than Justin and Britney love denim.  And they loved them some denim.


I’m bringing SexyBack,


Dearest Dread Pirate Crusty,

Oh, ye of little faith. As a cradle Episcopalian, I remember 2000 - 2010 quite well. On New Year’s Day, 2000, I was waiting to return home from a youth gathering at Kanuga, all of the tender age of 15. At least among the teen Episcopalians I gathered with in 2000, I know what the chief conflict in the church was. It was whether primacy of pop idoldom belonged to Britney or Christina, second only to concerns about whether my friends liked me, whether my zits were too obvious, and whether I was normal. (Also, to be clear, TEAM BRITNEY, NOW AND FOREVER.)

This is a question where I truly don’t know where to begin, so I’ll begin with about the nicest thing I can say: I think there’s a kernel of a good question here, or rather, a good intention: to challenge candidates to concisely summarize complex historical events in a concise and historically defensible way. This will happen in parish ministry: “How was the Bible formed?,” “Aren’t we really just Roman Catholics without the pope?,” “Why are there deacons, priests, and bishops, anyway?” – all these are questions that could form the core of a long book, but that you’re expected to answer as a priest
When you're done with Nickelback, explain Coldplay.
in 3 minutes or less in coffee hour. But, finding that kernel of a good intention in this particular prompt took me a lot of digging. It was like trying to understand why Nickelback was able to get some number one hits from 2000-2005 - it’s gonna take a lot digging to come find the underlying good intention therein. (And I refuse to concede there’s any affirming virtue to Nickelback. Not no way, not no how.) You rightly noted that we have two really deeply layered conflicts, with lots of angles to approach them from. GBEC does acknowledge this, somewhat, in the question, by asking candidates to identify “one or more of the important issues” generating each conflict. I can grudgingly appreciate this.

1640 - 1650, as you noted, is an era in Anglicanism largely dominated by the English Civil War. But what, at the core, was that conflict about? I think you can give a very historically defensible answer in just a sentence as to what the English Civil War was about: “The English Civil war was a conflict, at its root, about the limits of authority held by the English Monarch and the English Parliament.” Yes, you can get into more detail - but all in all, that’s a good summary. But this question specifically asks about the issues in Anglicanism during this decade, which, quite simply, cannot be separated from the political issues of the day. To describe 1640-1650 in Anglicanism, you have to discuss the tensions of the previous decades since the Elizabethan Settlement, the conflicts of Puritanism vs. High Churchmanship, the growing dis-ease over Episcopacy and the temporal and spiritual powers implied therein, and, as especially relevant to this time period, and I suspect, this prompt hopes, the failed imposition of a new Book of Common Prayer in Scotland. But you also can’t talk about William Laud without talking about how he freaked people out not just because he carried what Puritans saw as shades of “popery,” but because it also stoked fears of arbitrary political governance; you can’t talk about about the Puritans without talking about the prerogatives of the Parliament; you can’t talk about Scotland without talking about 1640 Recall of the English Parliament to raise taxes to pay for Charles’ misadventure there. Every single church conflict paralleled political conflicts of the day. Period.  No matter how much people may want to say that Charles I was executed for defending episcopacy, he also died because he was a jerk to parliament with far less political savvy with his father. To describe Anglicanism from 1640-1650 is to also describe English politics in 1640-1650. But the prompt confines the discussion to the church.

That last paragraph is 323 words. I’ve gotten into very little detail. And GBEC wants me to cover this, in historically defensible detail, in approximately 500 words? It’s not possible. And note what I haven’t done - I haven’t talked about the resolution of the issue. (Although, I don’t think it’s as clean as you imply - pretty damn unsatisfying in my book. Richard Cromwell wasn’t an inspiring leader, lost the army, Charles II was far more politically astute, and the parliament essentially decided to pretend the last 18 years of English history hadn’t happen. “We did all that - for what?!?!”)

You see, this is where GBEC’s intent and the realities of ministry diverge. I can give a short, three sentence answer in coffee hour about church politics from 1640-1650, and say that they paralleled the larger political conflict, and then give my one-sentence answer on the political conflict. Most of the time, a parishioner would be happy with that answer. But much like the Black Eyed Peas, I Gotta Feeling. I gotta feeling that GBEC wants details, and with this complex a topic, I don’t think a historically defensible synopsis can be crafted in 500 words. (Granted, I don’t think Fergie and Will-I-Am are big readers of GOEs or the English Civil War. They were to busy spendin’ up their money, maybe from a bequest like in the earlier question?)  I want to be clear - unlike some of the other questions, I actually tried to write the answer to this within the limitations provided by GBEC. I couldn’t write one that was concise and historically defensible.I couldn’t right one that was concise and historically defensible. DPC mentioned this prompt to DPCFWADIEH (DPC’s friend with a Doctorate in English History - specifically in the English Civil War era), who immediately replied: “Oh, ffs! That’s a doctoral dissertation! You can quote me on that.” And quote I shall. Thanks, DPCFWADIEH.

Now that we haven’t resolved the English Civil War in 500 words, it’s time to turn to 2000-2010, summarize and resolve that in 500 words. And if DPC wasn’t steamed up already, best get ready, because like Nelly warned us, it’s about to get Hot in Herre. (Keep your clothes on, though. Safe Church.) Again, GBEC wants a discussion of conflicts over authority - which one? Do they want to talk about the issues of human sexuality, and the authority or lack thereof held by some indeterminate entity - be it scripture, canons, General Conventions, provinces, Instruments of Unity, etc. - to the autonomous yet interdependent Anglican provinces to ordain GLBT persons to Holy Orders (especially the Episcopate), and allow GLBT persons to get married? Do they want to talk about the authority or lack thereof granted to the Primates Meeting or the Lambeth Conference, as interpreted throughout varying parts of the Communion? (Also, why is the question crafted in such a way that the 1998 Lambeth Conference is not in the time frame? Surely, for either of the preceeding, you need to discuss Lambeth 1.10). Do they want the candidate to discuss the breakdown of colonialism that made provinces in the Global South able, for the first time, to speak with a louder voice than had been allowed in Anglicanism since Britain’s Empire dissolved?  And how has any of this been resolved? Like you noted, The Primates’ Meeting is going to happen soon, and all of these issues are still in play. We still have court battles going on over property. Seriously, they may as well ask the candidate: “In no more than 75 words, please conclude your paper by solving what has ailed the Anglican Communion from the time of Bishop Colenso to the present day in no more than 75 words.”

(And in a further shade, this question, like the question on marriage, can put candidates in a seriously sticky position, should their bishop, standing committee, or COM try to use the candidate’s answer on 2000-2010 as a litmus test of their position on issues around human sexuality, authority, and other issues. Methinks GBEC has a few hangups this go-round.)  

You see, history is like an ogre, which is in turn like an onion. It has layers. And yes, occasionally it
Something we all can agree on.
stinks, and not everybody will like it. Like Avril Lavigne reminded us, it’s Complicated. A fair treatment of history requires time to draw out and explicate some of the nuance. Pick one, specific issue. Then give enough room to answer the question, maybe in not as much detail as one can, but enough to accurately convey the complexity of the issue. When we reduce complex issues filled with nuance to short polar extremes - well, that’s how wars begin.

Ultimately, this question tries to do too much, and gives the taker too little guidance, and too few words to write it in. A good answer, for each of the time periods in this prompt, could be a doctoral dissertation. GBEC gives a tired test-taker 1,000 words. Like Snoop, GBEC needs drop some portion of this question like it’s hott.

I think we’re on the same page for this question. It’s a clear WTF, mate.
This s**t is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S,

P.S.  Way to set us up on the 2000-2010 Pop Culture References. I’ve been playing all this music non-stop since I read your response. (Except Nickelback. Who do you think I am, a barbarian?)

Blogging the GOEs, Question 6: Hot, Crusty, and Axios!

[Disclaimer #1:  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 stumbleacross this site.]
[Disclaimer #2:  Last year for some strange reason Crusty was elected to the General Board of Examining Chaplains. To prevent any appearance of conflict of interest, Crusty has recruited Dread Pirate Crusty to fill in this year as GOE blogger.  While COD is allowing Dread Pirate to remain anonymous, rest assured the Crust is strong in DPC.]

In the bowels of Penn Station, there’s a small bakery called “Hot and Crusty.” That store’s name would also substitute as a generous summation of the collective opinions of Dread Pirate Crusty’s two constituent parts after the ungodly crapstorm that was the Church History question. But with that... thing... - DPC refuses to call it a question - completed, we’re down to the wire with the final GOE question of 2016. DPC knows the readers are full of questions - will GBEC get an “Axios!” on a question this year? Is DPC too depressed after the last… thing - nope, still not calling it a question - to have opinions on the final question? Has DPC been driven underground into DPC’s despair?

Dearest reader, Dread Pirate Crusty shall not fail thee. DPC has lots of opinions. ON TO LITURGY!

Set 6: Christian Worship
Open Resources
You are preparing to instruct a group of parents whose children are to be baptized during a Eucharist on a day that the Book of Common Prayer designates as especially appropriate for Baptism.
In an essay of about 1,000 words, provide a written teaching on the major liturgical and theological dimensions of Baptism to send to an out-of-town sponsor who cannot attend the preparation sessions.
In the essay:
Explain how the words of the Thanksgiving over the Water (BCP 306/307) inform our understanding of Baptism;

Identify one of the lectionary texts for the occasion chosen and how it relates to Baptism;
Describe how two or more ceremonial actions in the baptismal liturgy express our understanding of Baptism; and
Identify a hymn of your choosing and how it is significant for Baptism and the Propers of the day.

DPC is pleased with this question. We’ve got a real scenario that will happen in the course of ministry - sponsors absent for pre-baptismal counseling - and their absence doesn’t discharge the clergy from their duty to provide baptismal instruction to godparents to live into the promises they make on behalf of the candidates for Holy Baptism. Given the number of parents and godparents that do make those baptismal promises on behalf of a child, and never darken the door of a church again until it’s time for Confirmation or Marriage, this duty becomes even more important. This is a big chance to invite people into the life of the church. It is ignored at the cleric’s - and the candidate’s - peril! What’s more, while DPC has previously excoriated GBEC about the right length of response to some other prompts, 1,000 words is very likely about the attention span available of an out-of-town sponsor. Well done!

DPC is abundantly pleased that to answer this question, candidates are driven back to the Book of Common Prayer, and not just the parts the congregation would look at during a baptism. Marion Hatchett once wrote that the great mistake the Rubrics Committee made in framing the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer was assuming that “clergy can read italics, and that they will read slowly and carefully the rubrics printed within the rites and the "Concerning the Service" sections which precede the rites and the "Additional Directions" sections which follow them.”

To pass this question, the candidates must have read those sections. They must know from the
Where stuff on comes from...
Additional Directions that “Baptism is especially appropriate on
at the Easter Vigil, on the
Day of Pentecost, on All Saints' Day or the Sunday after All Saints' Day, and on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (the First Sunday after the Epiphany),” and that “it is recommended that, as far as possible, Baptisms be reserved for these occasions or when a bishop is present.” They must be able to find the appropriate proper (which may seem trivial, but one would be surprised how many clergy are dependent on a pre-printed calendar or The Lectionary Page in order to find them.) In short, they must know the Book of Common Prayer. Excellent!

Then candidates need to have a good one-on-one with the Thanksgiving over the Water, which, for DPC’s money, is the most perfect three paragraphs of the Book of Common Prayer 1979. It is masterful theology, evocative poetry, and prime text for preaching and instructing from. DPC has to work very hard to keep from crying at Baptisms for a multitude of reasons, but the Thanksgiving over the Water, especially, chokes DPC up. No discussion of baptism is complete without it. Excellent!

From there, test-takers are asked to connect Baptism with the proper of the day. Considering they should do this anyway in their sermon, this makes perfect sense. It also makes a good point, rather subtly, about worship. Often in liturgy, the Episcopal Church is especially guilty of believing our ritual
Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, where Jan Huss preached.
actions can carry the weight of the service - and our preaching, especially, is left to die on the vine, and can be rather weak. Going to the propers is a reminder that good liturgy entails more than following rubrics and a well thought-out ceremony - it also requires thoughtful preaching. A Baptism is
the time, bar none, to preach the Paschal Mystery and its importance to the life of the baptized. Excellent, indeed!

However, there is one caveat on this portion of the question. In fact, it’s DPC’s only critique of this question. Given that the rubrics designate the Bishop’s visit as “especially appropriate for Baptism,” and, in ministry, clergy don’t control the date of the Bishop’s visit - it could be any day of the year - it does open the proper of the day up to be... anything in the lectionary! After all, the rubrics state expressly that “the lessons at the Principal Service on a Sunday or other feast are properly those of the Day,” on pg. 300, and only on other occasions - ferial days - may they be drawn from “At Baptism.”). The Proper of the Day could thus be anything in the lectionary, other than the Various
That's ferial, not feral.
Occasions that aren’t “At Baptism.” DPC recognizes this is pedantry in its purest form, and owns it as such--but what are the GOEs if not extended exercises in Whose Pendantry Is Better? Most, if not all, GOE takers will choose one of the major feasts listed, rather than the Bishop’s Visit. But it is still an option, given the way the prompt is written, and does create a problem that I’m not sure the question authors envisaged. (It would become particularly significant if the candidates decide to use the Bishop’s visit in order to avail themselves of ceremonial actions surrounding the Consecration of Chrism). DPC hopes the readers are ready to read a response on just about anything in the Lectionary, because GBEC’s prompt legitimately opens the door to it. If GBEC would change the word “day” to “feast” in this prompt - thereby eliminating the Bishop’s visit as a possibility - this problem is fixed. They could have the Bishop show up on one of the other days, anyway - perhaps the only time in their life in the church they’ll get to make a Bishop appear on a whim! Anyway, with that pit-stop in pedantry complete, onward!

Candidates are asked to use their knowledge of the rubrics and apply it. Candidates must condense the rubrics and theology of the Book of Common Prayer into a short summary that’s accessible. They need to explain how they plan to ritually enact that theology by outlining a ceremonial and explaining why they’ll do what they do. They have to choose specific actions - full immersion or pitcher? Child naked or clothed? Chrism as a simple anointing or pouring the oil over the head? - that they’ll also need to prepare the parents for. Simply saying “this is the way I learned in school” is not enough. Not only would GBEC dislike it, but parents also dislike that answer. There is a fine line between over-explaining our symbols and ritual actions on the one hand, and not letting them speak for themselves on the other. The question appears to recognize this, and its word limit, means that candidates simply won’t have time other than to link the symbol, and move on. DPC finds this praiseworthy. Bravo!

Finally, the candidate is asked to pick a hymn. While this probably wouldn’t make it into an average pre-baptismal session, there’s no reason it couldn’t. The Hymnal is an incredible, theologically rich resource, and clergy should know it, top to bottom. Hymns reinforce the theological points made in the liturgy, and at baptism, this is acutely important. In point of fact, DPC always uses Hymn 296, “We know that Christ is raised and dies know more,” at every Baptism at DPC’s church. A member has noted to DPC how the hymn has given them a deeper insight into what is happening in the liturgy at each baptism - and they made their point was after that hymn was scheduled at a funeral. Don’t discount the power of the hymnal to do catechesis!

DPC notes how much praise has been lavished upon GBEC for this question in the previous paragraphs. There’s one problem with the question, which as DPC has previously noted, is present, but not likely to create deep issues for anyone other than the readers, provided GBEC grades the examination appropriately. 

And so, after six topics, DPC is finally pleased to cry, “AXIOS!” This is a good question, superbly relevant, and worthy to be praised.

Well, friends, it's time for Crusty and DPC to ride off into the sunset on this year's GOE blogging.  Thanks for joining me for the ride, and special thanks to Dread Pirate Crusty for ably filling in this year.

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. 

At times DPC has had some hard words for how these questions have been posed.  Crusty doesn't expect DPC to 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.  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.

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.