Wednesday, January 13, 2016

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. 

1 comment:

  1. This is the result of someone just writing a question about baptism without trying to be anything but a GOE question about baptism.


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