When an M.Div. from Princeton isn’t Enough…

Now that this post has “gone viral” – many of you may be arriving here for the first time. I know many of you are coming from Tony Jones’s BeliefNet postings, from Christianity Today’s Out of Ur blog and most recently from the CHURCHandWORLD Presbyweb site. If you’re interested in more of my writings about my ordination experience, you can find them here. But I do want to welcome you to Pomomusings. You can find subscription information on the right (RSS and Email Updates are available). You can read my bio here; please stay awhile and check out some other posts.

gradWhat was I thinking in this photo taken on my graduation day from Princeton Seminary? Well, probably many things, but one of them was definitely, “Four years of seminary done – no more school for me!” It was a great feeling.

However, in the next phase of my ongoing attempt to get ordained, it seems that I may not actually be done with my coursework, at least according to an email I received today from the Presbytery of San Francisco.

Let me first say that I have had the privilege of working with some really wonderful people from the Presbytery of San Francisco. Last summer, and into the fall, I was able to work with them as I redesigned their website. Since moving to this area, I’ve been able to get to know some of the ministers and others within the presbytery, and I’ve been looking forward to working with them as I begin the process of transferring to this presbytery.

Transferring as a Candidate

Transferring as a Candidate in the PC(USA) ordination process is not something that is recommended, and I think I am beginning to see why now. Granted, I understand that trying to transfer as a candidate is hard for the Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM). They have no idea who I am – and I am asking to come into the process midway. So I can understand a CPM’s desire to get to know the candidate and make sure they know what they’re getting into.

The Presbytery of San Francisco is known for having very high standards of their candidates, and I was given fair warning in the beginning that I would need to meet their requirements, including educational requirements. This makes sense to me – but having received my M.Div. from a PC(USA) theological seminary (including an M.A. in Youth Ministry), as well as passing all of the ordination exams on my first try, I didn’t think I was going to have much of an issue. Because of Princeton Seminary’s required course load and previous requirements from Kendall Presbytery, I had only taken one exegesis course (in Hebrew) and was prepared that I may have to take a Greek exegesis course to fulfill this presbytery’s requirements. But I was not prepared for what I learned today.

Four Years of Seminary Isn’t Quite Enough

After reviewing my transcript, the Education Subcommittee has made a preliminary decision that I still need to take the following courses:

  1. Old Testament Biblical Studies
  2. Greek Exegesis
  3. Class covering Gospels
  4. Class covering Paul
  5. History of Christianity 1
  6. History of Christianity 2
  7. Confessions

I was shocked when I received the list this afternoon. It looks like I may be able to petition the Confessions class with information from my systematics courses and polity syllabi and exam, and there is a slight chance I might be able to write a Greek exegesis paper for the Paul or Gospel class…but while this is preliminary, it doesn’t sound like there is going to be a lot of room for conversation.

While I was expecting the Greek exegesis class, I am very surprised by many of the others. I took both OT101: Introduction to the Old Testament and OT315: Sin & Salvation in the Old Testament, but those don’t count toward the OT requirement. I took a course at Columbia Seminary called Gospel Parables, but that doesn’t count toward the class covering the Gospels. Princeton Seminary doesn’t have a specific “Pauline” literature requirement, but I did take an intensive senior-level course my senior year at Whitworth entitled “Paul’s Letters” but that wasn’t able to count toward their requirement.

However, the most confusing requirement are the two History of Christianity courses. At Princeton, that was one of the most often-waived courses by students coming from schools like Whitworth University or Calvin College. There was an understanding by Princeton that the quality of education on those topics received as a Religion major from schools like those was good enough to waive them at Princeton. I submitted detailed syllabi from my classes at Whitworth to the committee, but they were unwilling to count my undergraduate work.

Now, I have my own issues with Princeton Seminary, and I’m not one to pull a “Princeton” card out of my wallet often, but…this committee is essentially telling me that while Princeton Theological Seminary, one of the most academically rigorous of our Presbyterian theological institutions, has reviewed and decided that my education on the History of Christianity from Whitworth University is comparable to graduate-level work, the presbytery still won’t accept it…?

An Impossible Request

I shared with a PC(USA) pastor the list of courses that the committee has said (in a preliminary review) I will still need to take, and they said, “Where did you go to seminary? Was it a bible college?” They couldn’t believe that my degree came from Princeton; it was shocking to them that the presbytery would still require so much more.

Needless to say, this has left me very frustrated today. I don’t know where this leaves me in the process. The most frustrating of all is that this is really an impossible request. The committee, if they finalize these recommendations, is essentially asking someone who is a graduate of four years of seminary education at a PC(USA) institution, who passed all four ordination exams the first time, who works in full-time ministry, to go back to school for what would be the equivalent of nearly another academic year. I would have thought someone on the committee must have at least been thinking to themselves, “But…there isn’t really any way for him to be able to do this…”

This is unfortunately just not doable: it is financially unfeasible to expect that I’d be able to sign up for and pay for 7 more seminary courses after graduating with significant student debt. But it is also unfeasible in terms of the time it would take me to complete this. If I was going to work on completing seven courses while working full-time (and not killing myself), this would take years!

Hoping for Creative Solution

Like I said above, I have really enjoyed meeting and working with people from the Presbytery of San Francisco. And I can understand why the CPM would feel the need to take their time with me and get to know me. That’s part of the process and important. And I am more than willing to meet with them and have conversations on some of these topics (Gospels, exegesis, the history of Christianity). I am even willing to read a few books and write a few papers (heck, it would make for some good content for this blog).

But, asking me to take seven additional courses just isn’t something that is feasible for me. I am hoping that through conversations with the CPM, we will be able to arrive at some creative solution that satisfies their needs and responsibilities as a CPM and honors my current call to ministry and time commitments. Here’s to hoping…


  1. says


    This is not my usual snarky, smartass comment. This is honest and sincere: What will it take for you to get the message that denominationalism and ordination are bruising, sinful institutions? What will it take for you to hear the message that God is sending you?


  2. says

    As a former CPM moderator, I know from personal experience that CPMs (especially of a big presbytery like where you are transferring) have a tendency to get very detail oriented rather than individually oriented. They have their requirements that are set up for all of their candidates and if the pegs don’t fit into the specific holes, then they don’t really have the time, people, or ability to make exceptions on an initial review.

    That being said, my recommendation would be to detail each of the requirements they are asking of you and describe (with accompanying documentation, such as something from PTS that shows why they felt you could waive the church history classes at PTS for example) how you have or could plan to meet each of the requirements.

    Again, speaking as a former CPM moderator, I would say that based on what you shared of your course experience, that the two areas that are missing are the Greek Exegesis as you noted and the course on Paul’s letters. Its one thing for PTS to allow a student to waive a course such as Church History because of previous qualified course experiences, but since a class on Paul isn’t a specific requirement at PTS, I can understand why they feel your undergraduate work in that area does not qualify. Re the Confessions course, I hope that can work out in that way and that your syllabi and ord exam.

    What will also help with the committee is that you come to them with a plan where you are willing to meet them somewhere between the initial request they have made and where you might be feeling that you have satisfied all/most of these requirements. A creative option might be to meet the dean at SFTS (probably soon since the semester is nearly done) and see if you could audit some classes (that is with minimal tuition) and do all the work of the courses (specifically a greek exegesis and a class on Paul) and submit that to the CPM for their review. It might not be for a grade per se, but you would be getting all the course information. If you were able to do this (and definitely get SFTS’ approval before suggesting it to the CPM), it might be something that clearly tells the CPM that you are willing to constructively and creatively work with them to move your process forward.

    I’d be happy to share some more thoughts about your situation if you would like to dialogue further.

    Prayers ascend. Hang in there. God has called you to ministry and you are doing God’s work. Don’t let the processes we humans have set up derail you from the call that you have.

  3. says


    My reason for posting is this – to ask a question. What is it that you want from becoming ordained? Why are you attempting (and striving so desperately) to complete this ordination process? And I suppose more globally, Why do you do / want to continue to do what you are doing as a minister?
    I mean this as a sincere question, anticipating an answer.

    Grace & Peace


  4. says

    I had a similar expericen as yours 10 years ago at this very time of year. I stayed on at PTS for a ThM thanks to a felllowship in practical theology. After I graduated, again, I went through about a five year dark night of the soul and found God waiting for me not in church, but in the woods of central NJ with my wife and dogs. I really did lose my faith in the denomination and in people in general.

    It was the right course for my life, I am sure, but I have always felt that I am not living my calling. That’s the important piece. A calling cannot be confused with a denomination, people, or really what anyone tells you. I am looking into trying to kick the door in one more time, but being 10 years out from my ordination exams and PTS days, an after an ordination candidacy process that drained me of myself, we shall see. But after 10 years since my MDiv, I am still being called, and I can’t deny that no matter how much people will continue to deny me that obligation.

    One more thing, it’s not about what you know, it’s a political process. To end, Tony is right, it is a process fettered with sin. Although Presbyterians abhor the word “bishop” the same structures exist. Unfortunately young, energetic, bright ministers of the Gospel (which you are regardless of what a presbytery tells you) are the once who get hazed and discounted. This is about power, people claiming power which is really not theirs.

    I hope that some day we can meet face to face, have a beer, and look back on this draining process starting with “remember when?…”

  5. Tim Marvil says


    DuBuque – they have really acclerated their online degree programs. It might be helpful. I know you are frustrated – but I also sense your independence of thoughtand belief is going to be difficult in a Presbytery that is not nearly as liberal as their geographical location would lead you to believe. San Francisco is one of only three presbyterys that require three internships – did you get through that issue with them?

    PTS did not do a good job preparing me for Worship in the Reformed tradition. Goodness know Intrductory Systematics there didn’t place much emphasis on it. PTS did do a wonderful job getting me to think critically. I am praying for you my friend. But take heart – the COPM of San Francisco is taking their job seriously – and I am sure they will take your gifts of ministry seriously too. Asking for relief from a standard is never easy.

  6. says

    Um, let me repeat myself: this process is a sin against you. And those of you who leave comments trying to help Adam negotiate the sinful, dehumanizing system are complicit in the sin.

  7. says

    I’m a United Methodist Pastor who had similar difficulties with our ordination system being “detail-oriented” rather than “individual-oriented.” I hear difficult stories of friends and colleagues who go through struggles at all levels of the denominational checklists. I’m sorry for to hear troubles exist in Presby’s as well.

    One thing that I was told early on by a mentor was that I would have to compromise my integrity and my values to get through the process. Echoing Tony’s comments, if ordination was a pig, wrestling with it only gets you dirty and makes seeing your call harder and harder. But I’m happy to say that is does not have to be true: I refused at all levels to compromise who I am and “say what they wanted to hear” and am now pretty far along in the process…probably at the equivalent level that you are.

    My advice? Pray, choose what your values and integrity looks like, and walk with that. No matter what happens, no matter how sinful the structures, no matter how petty the people, you will emerge with a clear understanding of who you are and a very clear understanding of where the Church is. If the two meet in the end, great. If not, then you kept your integrity, and I think that matters more to God than hands being laid on you.

  8. Tim Marvil says

    Drew – You are right about the “Bishop”status – only it is worse because instead of one individual with have several committees of individuals to traverse.

    I know a former CRC minister who tryed to gain ordination into the PC(USA). After a year poking around he decided to go to a indpenedent episcopal denomination where he was able to be ordained by the bishop in less than a year.

    Adam, I think you have to recognize that part of the purpose of why the COPM is putting you through this is that they are trying to discern if THEY are called to approve you to be examined before Presbytery – because you will need to do this also. You are working in a church – but it is a Methodist Church and that is another issue. If you were working in a non-ordained position in a Presbyterian Church would it be a different story?

    By the way – didn’t we just change the Ord exam standards on language? Or does that need to wait until Juse 2010 to become effective?

    I agree with Tony Jones I think perhaps you need to use this time of trial as a discernment for God’s intention for you. I won’t go as far as calling it a sinful denomination. I hope that comment was hyperbole. I would think there is room in post-modern theology for many roads.

  9. Tim Marvil says

    Tony I should amend my snarky comment – I am a sinner – I’m just not so sure I sinned against Adam by trying to help him.

  10. ssb says


    Praying for you as you discern next steps. Have you spoken to your liason? I found that when switching from the CRC to the PCUSA after seminary an honest conversation with my liason was helpful. He suggested I ask mentors to write letters on behalf speaking about my previous ordination process. I also advocated for myself, writing out a detailed defense similar to what Tim suggested and ended up getting the 3 year ord process down to 2 years. Again, it wasn’t until I spoke to CPM in person that this request was even heard.

    That being said, my situation was a bit different as I was starting the PCUSA process. But, following some of the suggestions outlined here and keeping your liason in the loop could be a place to begin. Also, perhaps finding a PCUSA pastor in the Presbytery who you can trust and who is well seasoned might be wise…Keeping you in prayer.

  11. says

    Bro that sucks. I am so sorry. My story, I took all the classes required by my Presbytery and then after it was all said and done they decided not to pursue me for ordination. They made up same lie about witchcraft or something, but I didn’t have time to listen because I was looking for eye of newt.

  12. says

    And I am in a seemingly endless holding pattern in the ELCA, where an M Div from Yale, Lutheran seminary year (so 4 years of seminary), and a year of full-time pastoral internship with one of the most highly-respected urban ministers in our church does not seem to be enough. I refuse their closet, but others are getting ground down for other reasons. It has got to stop.

    Adam, we should start our own denomination. A new reformation is in the works, with all these dying systems fighting to assert control of many kinds in order to feel like they are about to stave off inevitable demise. Well, if these structures are failing their people and the ministers they purport to call, something new is needed. I have felt that this reformation is necessary within my own denomination, and that my resistence to the closet has been a very necessary, if quite lonely, part of this work.

    Maybe the time will come that we need to throw off these denominational associations altogether, have a funeral service for our time with our denominations, and just start fresh. There is too much talent, too much spirit-led commitment, that is going to waste, that is rotting and perishing in the fields where the problem is not that the workers are too few, but that they are not even recognized as workers, and not given their due. Jesus said the worker deserves his pay. And although my denomination is correct in saying that ordination is not a right, but a privilege, the means by which they are controling those who are being ordained are keeping workers from their work, spoiling the gifts that God has cultivated, frustrating the attempts of the Holy Spirit to minister to those in need, and making atheists of some of its best and most committed seminarians and parishioners, who cannot believe that God would support a church that treats its seminarians this way.

    Change must come soon.

  13. Lisa Carlton says

    Our family attempted the ordination process and it almost killed us- seriously. I’m with Tony- perhaps there is a real message here. All the ideas are “good”, but be careful and step back and listen. It is so easy to get caught up in the “plan”. I have followed you blog for a while and so sorry that you have had such a tough time in this process.
    Lisa Carlton

  14. Steve says

    While those of us who have helped to educate you may not be taken into consideration in this crazy-making process, please know that we would be willing to help if you think that our intercession with the committee could be of use. Seminaries are constantly working to offer the best preparation we can for pastoral (and other) ministry, not only to satisfy the various requirements imposed by the CPMs around the country but to squeeze as much as we can into the little time that we have for this part of preparation. If anything, the greatest complaint that we hear from pastors is that they did not receive enough practical theology, mentoring in leadership, and spiritual formation.

    Sadly, the financial implication of all of this is creating a serious dialog now about whether the church can even “afford” an educated clergy anymore, since students are graduating with so much debt that they cannot accept calls at churches who need them but who cannot pay enough to help them with a living wage plus handling their school debts.

  15. says

    This is unbelievable.

    I find it hard to believe that a Princeton Seminary degree isn’t acceptable anywhere. Yes, that sounds Psnooty, but it’s a tough school.

    I also have to wonder if this is a further symptom of the breakdown of trust in the PC(USA).

  16. says

    Sin touches all of us. It’s in the Mainline Church’s denominations – and it’s in the Emergent Church movement. But thankfully redemption also touches all of us.

    Transferring as a candidate is not recommended, as you know. This makes someone accountable to new people with different requirements. But it sounds like you had no other choice. Sorry this had to happen to you, Adam. I hope you find redemption in this soon.

    Have you considered seeking ordination in the UCC or ELCA? The “Formula of Agreement” (relationship of full communion) would allow you to still serve a PCUSA congregaion. Just another option.

  17. says

    Having been through the process, I’m quite aware of how frustrating it can be. What is particularly crazymaking is that you are completely right. You’ve taken the coursework. You’ve passed the ords. Things should be free and clear, but for the pesky fact that you still have well-meaning human beings to deal with.

    It’s gut check time, I fear. You can take the route Tony encourages, and bail on the process in frustration. It’s a compelling option, in it’s own way. Easy is always tempting.

    Problem is, this isn’t the last time you’re going to encounter groups of human beings who are in positions of power and can’t seem to bring themselves to do the right thing. If you plan on having any sustained leadership role in any church, be it denominational or nondenominational…other than being an unaffiliated freerange author and consultant….you’re going to have to deal with crap like this from here on out. You actually have to know how to graciously persuade people, and how to develop working relationships with people that effect change.

    Here, you have the advantage of being completely in the right. You also have the right instincts. A pastor’s instincts. You want to open up dialogue, and to point out the manifold reasons that the committee’s recommendation isn’t practical, fair, or reasonable. This post is a good place to start. So…do. Go with your gut. Do it with prayer, grace and a wee bit of righteous wrath.

  18. says

    I don’t think the petition posted by Tony Jones was helpful or practical. There needs to be ethical/theological accountability for ordained persons. It can’t just happen through an online petition. It must be done through a community. Please let me offer an alternative vision.

    The attempt to understand and work with the idea and practices of ordination is one issue for Christians people to address, especially when it touches someone so individually. The priesthood of all believers, the value and need for the ministry of all Christians, is the context for the more particular step of ordination for some folks. There are a variety of important ways that people are dedicated, blessed, commissioned for their work in partnership with people who carry the yoke, responsibility, weight, privilege, etc. of ordination. The whole team has to be in the scene, some doing their part even without any special recognition by the group as a whole.

    Ordination (or commissioning, blessing, etc) is something that the community grants/bestows upon a person: reflecting trust, expecting responsible fulfillment of tasks/activities, offering support to the ordinand, putting in place ways to have accountability, acknowledging special/specialized gifts/training, recognizing publically that person’s “call of God,” invoking the holy spirit to be with ordinand and community in their shared life.

    This is more complex than a “sinful” hierarchy/bureaucracy established by a head guru for a self-serving end. In my denomination, the UCC, this is bottom up in nature, not top down. And it is carried out and carried forward as Christ centered and God blessed, which keeps the playing field level for all in the community, including the ordained person. “Authority” moves back and forth, held by community, given to the ordained, ultimately belonging to God. What does that mean for structure? Clearly there are as many “structures” as there is human imagination.

    As to the usual understanding of an ordained pastor and “job” expectations, this example of “ministry” generally involves a wide variety of tasks/activities/skill sets in a (often more than) full time situation. In that way it is different than the valued ministries of all folks in a community that are usually particular (SS teacher, choir director, potluck coordinator, etc.) but not necessarily so all inclusive. And there is the expectation that the pastor is facilitator, encourager, trainer, supporter, educator, coordinator, communicator, uplifter, highlighter, etc. of folk in the community so they are able to grow in their capacities to minister in many/new ways. It can be that the size of the job is taxing/scary/overwhelming – a different issue entirely than whether ordination reflects some kind of false hierarchy that is problematic.

    Issues with granting authority are not just present in the church. Versions of granting authority or authorizing “ministry”/responsibility happen in every human institution, sometimes better and sometimes less well. Pick anything. Education, the legal or justice systems, medicine, science and research, community life in towns, nursing homes, camps, etc. Utopian communes are intriguing and sometimes thrive for a time, but human institutions abound (and need fresh air and reform regularly).

    Good luck to you as you work to keep denominations/organizations faithful, fair, just, and effective. As in most groups, individuals are expected to pull their own weight, make a contribution, respect the team effort (allowing for the caring of those unable to do so themselves). Transformation within is a powerful way to “be the change you want to see in the world.”

    Godspeed on your ordination journey, Adam! Yes you can!

  19. says

    I think a number of people here have given you some good options to pursue in this process. I hope you will listen more to them than to comments like Tony’s. While Tony may be correct, his comments aren’t helpful. It sets you up (or any of us up) for believing that everyone else is wrong and you are the only one with the truth that matters.
    Of course the PCUSA ordination process has some issues, to put it kindly. I had my own hurdles toward ordination, but the imperfect situation is no reason to walk away from the gifts that come with the process.
    I hope that some of the above ideas will be helpful for you. I also hope that Princeton Seminary is in contact with San Francisco Presbytery so that, for you and for future Princeton grads, they are better prepared to get their graduates ordained. I can think of a few Columbia grads who wouldn’t be ordainable in San Fran because of undergraduate classes that CTS accepted in place of church history.
    Blessings to you.

  20. says

    I agree with Mark. This is really unbelievable. And discouraging. I teeter back and forth about denominationalism, this would be a reason why. My thoughts and prayers are with you Adam.

  21. Adam mclane says

    Or you could take a PT job at a baptist church and get ordained this weekend. Just saying…

  22. says

    This blows me away that Presbyteries don’t have to abide by some denominationally agreed standards. If each individual Presbytery has their own specific course requirements, then what does having a seminary recognized by the PC(USA) even mean?

    It sounds like you need someone within the Presbytery of SF to be an advocate for you. I had some trouble in my ordination process, but had people who stood with me and allowed me to keep my integrity and still walk with some humility and grace. But without the people next to me, I would have probably packed it in. I am so glad that I did not.

    I’m praying for you.

  23. James says

    Point 1 – On the surface of it I think having a good foundation in Church History, Greek Exegesis, and New Testament Studies at the graduate level is a good standard and makes sense.
    Point 2 – However, this is no reason to bar you from ordination and with the financial and personal stress of a year of graduate school I can’t understand what they are up to or what they expect you to be able to do.
    I am a big proponent for education, but in ways that complement ministry, not as a way to exclude people from it.
    That being said, I do hope you will try to find a solution and that the committee will come up with a plan that is workable for you.
    As a member of the PCUSA, I would hate to see you leave. Your blog and work on presbymergent have kept me in the denomination and hopeful for what things could happen in the future. On the other hand, if they continue to be unreasonable, I would happily sign some sort of petition toward the committee or our denomination to get you ordained. It sounds to me like they simply read off a list of requirements and weren’t very discerning on your other talents and abilities. Sorry to be complicit in the sin Tony, but I need all the help I can get in the PCUSA.

  24. Joe Carson says


    Are there job vacancies in the presbytery? You may be viewed as an interloper to the powers that be, who may have family members in the pipeline for existing/expected vacancies. You can see/read the demographics for the PC USA churches in SF and elsewhere.

  25. says

    With apologies to Tony, I think David makes a few good points.

    Having gone through the process, with a few bumps along the way, I concur there is sin within the process, there is sin without the process. We’re all marked by it, the grass isn’t greener no matter where you landed – ordained, non-ordained, PC(USA) or non-denom “community” church – even “unaffiliated free-range author/consultant” – which sometimes sounds tempting to me.

    That all said, I hear 2 things loud & clear: 1) This is a PRELIMINARY assessment. It’s not final. There’s room for movement on their part. If there wasn’t, they would’ve just sent you a letter saying, “if you want in – do this & call us when you’re done.” They didn’t.
    2) They don’t KNOWyou from…Adam. You’re letters & numbers on a page that don’t add up to their expectations. You transferred in (red flag). You were denied ordination when you were on the verge in another presby (red flag). You work in a UMC church while seeking ordination in the PC(USA) (Red Flag) – and if they “know” you at all, they’ve found you’ve got buzz on the inter-web (red flag). I hear them saying “if he wants in, let’s see how much he wants it” – which honestly, isn’t a bad INITIAL thought by them. Don’t forget, they’ve agreed to begin the process with you.

    Getting right down to it, this whole process is and SHOULD be about relationships. When we run off to a school that’s 2500 miles away from our Presbytery, those relationships get stunted and we suffer (I certainly did). When we transfer mid-process, the relationships suffer. If you’re serious, and feel seriously called to the PC(USA) – which, beyond Tony’s (sorry Tony) MOSTLY unhelpful comments, it seems you do feel, then you need to be willing to foster those RELATIONSHIPS with SF Presby & the CPM. If you do, if they see you’re serious about showing them who you are – NOT just your syllabi from PTS & Colombia, your grades, your stats (which, they already have), I think they’ll understand.

    This was way longer than I meant, but if you hear anything, I encourage you to foster those relationships. After all, ministry is all about relationships. Without them, ordained or not, pastor or not, our ministry isn’t worth the time we put into it.


  26. says

    I hope and pray the Spirit gives discernment to both you and the CPM as you go through this process, and that you know when to say “enough” if it needs to be said.

    Grace and Peace.

  27. says

    Creativity is not impossible here among us. I wouldn’t give up hope, nor would I take a polarizing line-in-the-sand approach to the CPM. I’ll be an advocate for you. I made a mistake in my journey of 6+ years of Seminary for MDiv quality of ramping the conversation, with another presbytery, up too quickly. L is a good resource too.

  28. Tyler says


    Simply a word of encouragement. We met a few years back in Louisville at the Company of New Pastors gathering in 2007. I sat with you and another Princeton student at dinner on the first night, representing UDTS (Dubuque Theological Seminary) at the table. I have been silently following your blog since then, and hoped to catch up with you at the gathering in Denver this past year, but you weren’t able to be there.

    My words are this: I realize the call to look outside of the PC (USA) is tempting and alluring, but I encourage you to keep with it. We need voices like yours in the PC(USA). For the brightest and most discerning minds to keep moving away from the denominational system is a self-fulfilling prophesy of the death of denominationalism, but not one that needs to be so. People within the denominations need to have insightful, challenging, faithful, and discerning leadership as much as anyone. The emergence does not and cannot simply occur outside of that realm.

    To encourage other than that is rather like saying “Christianity is dead in Europe, let’s go where it’s alive.” God is at work even in spite of the foot dragging and schism in denominationalism. And we can use you.

    I completely understand Tony’s feelings on the issue, and in a lot of ways, I agree with him. Yet I still see that as a reason to stay and persist more than to leave – at least at this point.

    Now clearly, if you sense God’s call to a ministry outside of that system, clearly that is where you need to be, but don’t be discouraged by the hurdles in the mean time. If we are to be the body of Christ, the church universal, then we need discerning leadership in denominations as well. I hope and pray (both for your sake, and selfishly for mine) that you are willing to persist, so long as God is leading you. There is a mission field within the PC(USA), as with every mainline denomination, and we need leaders and missionaries here as much as anywhere.


  29. says

    5 Thoughts for You:

    1. You got screwed. I’d be pissed if I were you. I’m sorry to read that the process unfolded this way.

    2. I pray you don’t see this setback as a referendum on your abilities as a pastor. You are a gifted individual who has been called by God for the purpose of ministry. That work will continue, regardless of when / how / if the ordination process continues.

    3. The system you entered into is no more sinful than any other human work.

    4. On the whole, denominations (like the PCUSA) that have existed for a long time have done so with the best interest of the whole church in mind. I know that some of your friends believe denominational structures only exist to provide barriers to ministry. It doesn’t mean they’re always right…but it also doesn’t mean they’re always wrong.

    5. Denominations need articulate, intelligent, gifted people (like you) to work for positive change in the organizations — not jump ship. Your work at Presbymergent is a testament to that. I believe that your role in PCUSA is not accidental…and that your network of connections and blog exposure (1000+ subscribers !?!?!) can help to shine a light on some of the problems of the ordination process. If you leave, you’re likely to be perceived by the “good old boys” within the PCUSA as just another malcontent who couldn’t handle authority.

    All of my opinions aside, my prayers will be for God’s will to be done…and for you to be at peace in the midst of these turbulent waters of doubt and frustration. All the best…

  30. Πωμω Βρυισινγς says


    I agree with you that it is a bit surprising that they would request that you do this extra work.

    I assume that there are interviews as part of this process, and they aren’t simply looking at a paper summary of you. If that’s correct, is it possible that something didn’t go right in the interviews? Perhaps you were asked questions about the God, the Church, Scripture, etc. where the committee ended up thinking that your answers were not in line with their denominations answers. The emerging movement as well as a good bit of what goes on on this blog in general would probably be considered fringe if not downright in error even by some of the more liberal mainline protestant denominations.

    As you say, it’s hard to believe that they don’t realize that this is a near impossible request. And maybe that’s precisely what it is. A means of indicating that they do not think you belong as a minister in their church, ideologically speaking. Given our contemporary legal climate, they may even choose this route as a means to say no to you and to avoid the possibility of the litigation that could ensue were they to tell you straight up that they think you don’t belong (although I certainly don’t mean to suggest that you would resort to litigation). But then again, maybe they really do think that your education is deficient in some way. It will be interesting to see whether you are able to find a creative solution as you say. Perhaps the answer to whether this is possible will shed some light on the motives of their decision.

  31. says

    Ouch. Times have changed. I wonder if we are in a time in which there are more candidates than calls and that being sticklers for particular requirements is a way of handling supply and demand. My guess is San Francisco is pretty competitive. You apparently don’t have a call pending in SF presbytery, I take it. Your previous CPM certified you as ready, right? Hey, we have a couple of positions open in my presbytery!

    The PCUSA definitely needs you (even as you may wonder if you need it). I hope it works out for you in SF, but seriously, if you are not stuck in that location there are congregations elsewhere that would be blessed to have you.

    Unless, I continue to ramble, there are not. When I was ordained there seemed to be more positions than candidates (or at least enough). I do wonder if the supply/demand ratio is changing.

    Sending prayers.

  32. says

    I’m sorry Adam. I can’t say I understand why ordination within a denomination in this way is important to you but it must be for you to have gone through all the hell you have for so long. I pray discernment and while I agree with Tony and think you should chuck the whole PCUSA ordination process – I ultimately pray that you find a place of calling that fulfills the yearning of your heart.

  33. Annie says

    I don’t know the ordination process in your denomination, but I have seen friends go through it in the episcopal church. in transferring from place to place, there is always some negotiation of requirements because, academic reputations aside, seminaries are different. Individual bishops and such often prefer to send candidates to particular places. It also really strikes me that although Princeton chose to waive your history of Christianity requirement, they may not feel that was an appropriate decision. I certainly don’t agree with it because the history of Christianity cannot possibly be taught in an undergraduate context the way it can and should be taught at the graduate level. I think it would be worth putting on a little humility here, just in case they have a tiny bit of a point.

    Now. Getting to what I do know, academic requirements are institutionally idiosyncratic. You cannot assume that the reputation of your degree means, well, anything. Again with the humility. What was good for Princeton is not necessarily going to fly elsewhere, whether or not Princeton is “better” or “tougher.” It kind of just doesn’t matter. I mean, clearly. Let that sink in. Just because you went to Princeton means nothing. Start there. It should be an excellent exercise in humility, which is the chief Christian virtue.

    After that, NEGOTIATE. Just because this is what they’re saying doesn’t mean there isn’t room for movement. They haven’t drawn a line in the sand–as least it doesn’t sound that way from what you’ve written here. They’ve made a series of suggestions. Take them as suggestions and push back, gently.

    I would suggest you come back to them with syllabi and course descriptions–with supporting documentation from the relevant faculty if necessary–and make an argument as to why the courses you’ve taken do indeed meet their requirements. Before you do that, make sure you understand clearly why they are requiring these things. Do not assume. Ask. Clarify. Make absolutely sure you understand what they think you’ll get out of each course. It may be simple lack of having it on your transcript or they may suspect you’ve learned it according to an approach they don’t find helpful. You don’t know. Ask. Then you can address their concerns line by line, and make a case for why what you’ve already done (or some of it) should count.

    You can’t do this in a spirit of desperation, defeat, or hostility. It must be done with humility backed by conviction.

    Once you’ve made your case, if there are still requirements outstanding, let them know precisely what your financial concerns are. If the situation is truly impossible, make that clear and make it clear why it’s impossible. If it is only “impossible” because it’s inconvenient, you’ve got some serious thinking to do. An extra year of classes doesn’t sound like a lot to me. An extra couple of years on the ordination track doesn’t sound impossible to me. It sounds monumentally crappy, but that’s not the same thing.

    Don’t turn tail and run. You’ll miss the lesson here.

  34. says

    Just a word of encouragement … it can be done! I am in the process through the UM church and they are requiring me to take 24 hours on top of my M.A. and I work a full time job at a homeless transitional housing program (meaning more like 60 hours, than 40 :). I was able to do 9 hours this semester, it was CRAZY, but I finished it and I signed up for summer and fall and will be done by Jan. So, it will be crazy, it will be hard, you will feel like you never sleep. But, God will give you the strength you need to complete this, what is impossible for us, is always possible with God. :) Hope that helps!

  35. says

    Tony is right. denominationalsim and its current process of ordination is just wrong. It is God who ordains. Not man. I too was denied ordination within my former denomination (Foursquare) and it took me 6 years to realize that there is deep rooted politics, good ole boys networking and downright ass kissing involved in getting a license or ordination in that denomination. I still love the theology of Foursquare but the denomination is headed toward certain death if they continue to operate the way they do.

  36. says

    PTS? But that’s not SFTS! :)

    Yes, I am being a big snarky, but also a bit serious. I don’t know the SFP attitudes, but in various presbyteries around here there are some serious seminary biases, some involving PCUSA seminaries and some involving non-PCUSA seminaries. And we have had some candidates under care of our presbytery move to other presbyteries because, say a spouse got a call there, where the new CPM found their preparation completely unacceptable. You are not alone by any means.

    And this is not even bringing in the boogie-man of “scrupling” which could raise across presbyteries even further.

  37. says

    Adam, all i can say is i am so sorry and i will pray for you. Maybe you can come and help me and Katryna when we are back in Sacramento with what we want to start. We can’t pay you but we will buy you a beer! :)

    It’s shit like this that makes me scream and want nothing to do with churches. Yet, i admire your tenacity and what i see as you wanting to be a part of bringing good changes to this denomination. Maybe Tony and Makeesha are correct and it is G-D pointing the way out. Maybe you are supposed to stay in the process because you are supposed to be a part of bringing this change. i don’t claim to have any answers. i will pray for discernment for you and peace and guidance.

    Take care and don’t let it get you too down.

    Much respect,

  38. says

    Just in case anyone is interested, below is a list of the courses that I *did * take while at both Princeton & Columbia Theological Seminaries.

    Coursework completed for my Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Youth Ministry from Princeton Theological Seminary
    Cumulative Credits: 120

    Fall 2004
    CH235: The Spirituality and Theological Legacy of the Pseudio-Dionysian Forgery
    ED349: Communicating the Gospel to Youth
    OT101: Orientation to Old Testament Studies
    OT151: Introduction to Biblical Hebrew 1
    PH330: Paradigms and Progress in Theology
    SC101: Speech Communication in Ministry 1

    Spring 2005
    NT365: Cultural Hermeneutics
    OT152: Introduction to Biblical Hebrew 2
    OT315: Sin & Salvation in the Old Testament
    SC102: Speech Communication in Ministry 2
    TH221: Systematic Theology 1

    Fall 2005:
    ED353: Advanced Studies in Youth Ministry
    GM104: Field Education
    HR355: Introduction to Islam
    OT400: Introduction to Hebrew Exegesis
    PR201: Introduction to Preaching 1
    TH222: Systematic Theology 2

    Spring 2006:
    CH441: American Churches and Public Engagement
    CM320: Worship in the Reformed Tradition
    GM105: Field Education
    PC202: Theory and Practice of Pastoral Care
    PR202: Introduction to Preaching 2
    TH491: Revelation in a Post-Modern, Post-Holocaust, Post-911 World

    Summer 2006 (at Columbia Theological Seminary)
    PE021: Summer Greek School

    Fall 2006 (at Columbia Theological Seminary)
    B662: Gospel Parables
    HD372: Christian Ethics
    I620: Narrative of Self & Other: Men in Ministry
    P322: Introduction to Christian Education

    Spring 2007 (at Columbia Theological Seminary)
    I618: Presbyterian History & Polity
    P534: Pastoral Care of Couples & Families
    P617: Paradigms in the Practice of Evangelism
    P626: Youth & Young Adult Ministry

    Summer 2007:
    GM123: Summer Field Education – Clinical Pastoral Education

    Fall 2007:
    ED456: Forgiveness and Reconciliation
    IS000: Independent Study on Prayer with Kenda Creasy Dean
    PC305: Poetry and the Care of Souls
    PC360: The Self in the System
    TH336: Calvin and the Renewal of the Church

    Spring 2008:
    ED322: Faith, Film and Spiritual Formation in Young Adults
    ED382: Gender Studies and Spiritual Guidance
    IS000: Readings in Youth Ministry
    PC203: Pastor as Person
    TH372: Theology of Paul Tillich
    WR812: Chapel Choir

  39. elliemac says

    Tony… I’ve never had a visceral reaction against the emerging church before, and have been a supporter of it, but i feel sick when i read your responses. they are dangerous and hurtful statements. You are right, the PCUSA is sinful… as is the emerging church. Are you saying the PCUSA is irredeemable? There’s no celebration of diversity in your statement, just judgement; dangerous and hurtful…

    Adam… get a good advocate, have some conversations, one on one, with people in the decision making quarters of the church. This is not the end of the process. Don’t feel you have to justify the path you’ve discerned to those who don’t understand why the PCUSA is your home. And peace to you in this sad and confused time.

  40. Jason says

    The fact that a post like this — one publicizing an extremely personal and significant problem — even exists is your first problem. Adam. Think before you post, man. Some things are not meant to be dealt with via the blog. Some things take personal work that circumvents the internet and all its sexy pseudo-fame appeal. Resist the demons. Fight this if you will, but fight it shrewdly — and quietly.

    Personally, I think it wouldn’t be too soon for your own good if this post were deleted in the next five minutes.

    But that’s just my two cents. . . .

  41. says

    Elliemac, I couldn’t agree more.

    i have been following the emerging church for a few years now and have plans to plant one when I get through Div school here at Duke. However, I have to say that I am deeply disappointed by the attitudes and judgments by someone who many if not most consider a “bishop” within the emerging church.

    Tony, ALL systems are flawed. You of all people should recognize that. It is very odd to me that people who profess a gospel of inclusion (which I am happy to preach every Sunday) are comfortably in doing so right up until the point they encounter something they do not like. Tony’s reaction, IMO, is identical to the reaction I am sure he, along with many of us, encounters among hard-right fundamentalists decrying homosexual relationships.

    This idea to ordain someone, anyone, via the internet is absurd. While I am sure Adam is a wonderful, gifted, called man of God it is not my place to sign a petition to ordain him when I myself have never even met the guy personally. Whatever we say about ordination or the process certainly we can AT LEAST agree that it should include a vital sense of community, discernment, prayer and sharing.

    If there is a “sin” here, Tony, it is the desire to place our ego’s and our own desires before that of the people Adam has no doubt prayed for and has believed are called of God to be in the positions they are in. As a UMC ordination candidate who has many times considered going it my own way I have used such times to evaluate whether this could in fact be my flesh telling me to screw the system. I have found grace at such times and have learned humility and patience, two virtues I don’t always appreciate having to be taught.

    Adam – God’s grace and peace be to you and yours.


  42. David says

    You’ve probably already run across it, but I would direct you to John D’Elia’s excellent response to Tony on beliefnet- I agree with him completely. That said, it sounds as if the SFP is trying to beat you into submission, like they’re not sure you’re “one of them.” They used to do the same to Fuller graduates until recently. The fact that you’re working in a UM church probably contributes to their suspicion. Seems to me the high bar they’re setting is designed to test your loyalty, commitment, and certainty of call.
    They’re far more likely to easily ordain a person of mediocre talent and experience who plays the game right from the start.

  43. says

    I’d like to answer Jason.

    The days of the powers-that-be being able to stifle criticism of their actions are over. Today’s up and coming generations (Y and the Millenials) value authenticity over perfect “image”.

    While I agree that it probably won’t help Adam’s cause to have posted this, I can’t say that I fault him for doing it. He is simply explaining his situation and giving his opinions. He never says that the presbytery is wrong. The closest that he gets to that is saying that he’s surprised that a major PC(USA) seminary’s requirements aren’t acceptable to a presbytery, or that the list of requirements that he’s expected to meet may not be feasible. But he doesn’t make a direct judgment about the presbytery or CPM. Others may bring that to the post, but I don’t see it.

    It’s time for the Church to learn that controlling image is ultimately making them look worse in the eyes of the younger generations, and that it’s time to open up and be human in front of others.

  44. Πωμω Βρυισινγς says

    Oh come on Mark. Look at the title of this thread. Look at how he posted his entire transcript. You really think Adam is just showing some genuine surprise at being told to go back to school? Or might it be obvious that his point with this thread was to stir the pot a bit? I agree with Jason. if Adam wants to be ordained with this group it was a bad idea that his first move was to start an internet flame fest.

  45. Karen says

    All I have for you is loads of compassion & prayers, and a bit about what I’ve come to believe about ordination in my 1+ years of seeking my first ordained call.

    My theology of ordination has completely changed since I graduated from Columbia a year ago. In my last semester, I was in a panic, comparing myself to everyone around me, and desperate for ordination to be awarded. I took all the classes, passed my ordination exams on the 1st try, and put in all the time in the world. I deserved the stamp of approval. But that’s just where I’ve come to believe my problem was. Ordination is not a prize. No one deserves it. No one can earn it. Not even Jesus received the privilege and title of high priest. What Jesus did receive was God’s blessing. Ordination is a gift from God, and it only comes/happens on God’s time and terms. That’s not to say we humans don’t do plenty to get in the way, because we do. And the process still sucks in a multitude of ways. Yet at the same time this major shift in perspective has given me much more endurance, faith and patience as I wait out the flawed call process. It has also helped me to claim my identity as a pastor without the official stamp from the PC(USA). If someone asks my vocation, I am a Presbyterian pastor seeking a call in the church, currently working at Target to pass the time. Adam, YOU are a pastor. Regardless of what any process, person or denomination says, you have been a pastor for years and will be for many more years to come. I can only hope that what I’ve learned can help you in some way. And I wish you peace and joy!

  46. says

    1. How frusterating re: SF Presbytery.
    2. How disappointing re: Princeton Seminary.
    3. What an opportunity to highlight the frequent absurdity of our system, as you have.
    4. What a risk you’ve taken being so open about your experience.
    5. Is there some pleasure in the telling of this painful saga?
    6. What an opportunity to (re)develop a theology of ordination.

  47. Deanna says

    Adam, I really feel like God is at work here. This is so crazy there is no other explanation. Something needs to be reformed and it looks to me like you are in a good position to help with that. Blessings!

  48. katie says

    holy cow. i’m saddened about this, and agree with deanna – God’s hand is in this, and hopefully some healing for the system and all people involved will result. blessings, friend.

  49. Austin says

    I just had my final assessment at SFPBY this last week. I’m graduating from PTS this next week. As difficult as your situation sounds, unfortunately, it is nothing new. I’ve heard very similar stories from friends of mine and the process has been very difficult for me as well. I know one guy who graduated from PTS in 07 and is just now getting ordained because of SFPBY hold ups. Unfortunately, the CPM is usually pretty firm with their decisions…

  50. says

    Adam, you have some good friends with good advice on here. I thought about this throughout the weekend, (I just put into words on my site as it was lengthy and led to a few rabbit trails) but here is really some of what I think:

    … Adam’s case demonstrates an obvious problem – the ridiculous behavior of those with too much power and not enough sympathy over an issue of great importance. My personal opinion is that they simply do not want Adam to be associated with their denomination. Which is a real sad statement to make but I am simply unwilling to believe that a group of reasonably intelligent people reviewed his application and came to this unsympathetic conclusion. Given the story is as I read it, they have thoroughly investigated the matter, they know our friend, and for a set of reasons, determined that they will make it next to impossible for him to obtain this ordination from them and are hoping that he gives up and proceeds in a different direction, likely the Methodist Church as this is the tradition he is currently serving in.

    Prediction: Having won the lottery, Adam could go back to school to obtain the completion of these classes and achieve the highest grades a student has ever received. Mark my words, new issues will have arisen detailing why he cannot be ordained or what he needs to do next in order to be ordained. It may be something simple like, “We have too many men so we need you to undergo an operation” or it may be something completely impractical like, “We need you to read all the Left Behind books and believe that they are based on the Bible and write a paper on that too. We’re curious…”. As surely as Calvin watches from heaven hating the acrostic TULIP, this presbytery has foreordained Adam not to be admitted.

  51. Mackenzie says


    I am sorry that you are frustrated with the process. After you posted your transcript, I wanted to note a few things for you from someone who works in higher education and who is continually learning about how courses and course equivalencies are created.

    Looking at those course requirements you were asked to fulfill, I see three survey classes (OT, Paul, and Gospels) that are missing from your graduate study. The two topics classes you took in OT and Gospel are great, but would not be considered a curricular substitute for the breadth of study required. I’m guessing the Orientation to the Old Testament might have been a little too wide to count. The history classes are a dicey matter. I know that no ordained candidates get by without graduate level history classes in my synod no matter how good their college was.

    My creative solution to propose for you would be to find out what curricular outcomes and objectives they want you have addressed through those classes. If you have previous coursework that can attest to having met those outcomes, have your professors write letters to the committee specifically noting how the outcomes were addressed. Otherwise, try testing out of as much as you can. Have them convene a panel to give you a comprehensive exam.

    However, you may just have to accept that they do not want to set a precedent with you. They may have gotten burned by someone else. I do know that many ELCA (my synod) candidacy committees would be even less likely to play ball after being the subject of a major blog posting. They might see it as a red flag for how you would treat a congregation or presbytery you would work with.

    I’m not saying it is right. I pray that you receive God’s peace and wisdom as you travel on your journey.

  52. Jason says

    I do know that many ELCA (my synod) candidacy committees would be even less likely to play ball after being the subject of a major blog posting. They might see it as a red flag for how you would treat a congregation or presbytery you would work with.

    Exactly. Which is why you should DELETE THIS POST.

  53. Pheobe says

    Dear Fellow Commenters,

    The hitch in the whole process is that Adam switched Presbyteries in the candidacy phase. This was a mistake, but seems to have been his only option (aside from apologizing like mad) and a mutual decision based on the fact that his home Presbytery would not certify him ready to receive a call. His home Presbytery could have left it at that but they were gracious enough to let him transfer membership. So Adam transferred to the most anal Presbytery in the country: San Fran. For better or worse this CPM micro-manages the coursework of its students, so it is not a surprise that they presented Adam with a laundry list of coursework. This has nothing with Adam being liberal (there are plenty of ordained clergy in this presbytery that support gay ordination, just look at the vote on Amendment-B) and everything to do with a CPM that places very specific demands on its candidates.

    So please people, let’s not make this a “the PC(USA) can’t handle Adam because he’s too progressive/emergent/postmodern/etc.” thing. It can. This is all about a process that trusts committees to have a large role in determining whether or not someone is prepared and suitable for the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Adam’s home presbytery would not certify that he is, now SF is making him prove to them that he is up to their standards.

  54. says

    Important to remember is that all human beings are social animals. All social animals build social worlds with structures. Living without some kind of implicit or explicit organizational structure is the same as saying that one is not a normal human. Those who do not negotiate with the sinful are not complicit with sin, even Jesus had dinner with sinners and washed their feet. For if we are all sinners, we are all complicit.

    David Williams is wise and correct. Running from one sinful human organization will lead you into the bosom of another. Organizational change happens from the inside, not the outside.

    Again, this is your calling. Listen to God and discover where God is pulling you. You and your wife will know what is best for you, and no matter what anyone else says, God might want to do something very different with you. Remember that you are a minister already.

  55. says

    @Phoebe: I appreciate your desire to clear things up but your facts aren’t right.

    I was certified ready to receive a call by my presbytery of care, but could not finish the process because I invited my friend (who also happened to be gay) to preach at my ordination service and things transpired after that. You can read the details here.

  56. says

    @Drew – You and David Williams are so spot on and i like how you stated this: ‘Running from one sinful human organization will lead you into the bosom of another. Organizational change happens from the inside, not the outside.’

    Thanks for stating that!

  57. says

    I know the saga of your ordination, however I was unaware that you were certified ready to seek a call. Did they then resend the certification or is it a matter of the ordination service? If that is the case, why did you go through the process of transferring? Why didn’t you have the ordination service somewhere other than the church that rejected your friend? Have you ask the question, what could you have done to make this situation go more smoothly?

    I have had my own frustrations with the ordination process and ultimately when I realized that it was actually MY actions that were holding up the process not the actions of others, things changed. I had to do “extra” steps and at first they were frustrating, time consuming, and financially burdensome, but they led to real growth on my part and have helped me immensely in my life as I wait to receive my first call.

    Also, a less serious thought. Looks like you should have just gone to Union-PSCE all of those courses are required for MDivs. :)


  58. Amy says


    This continues to make me so sad, and so angry. I fear there is nothing I can say to heal the wounds from all these horrible things that are being thrown into your path. I am realizing more and more how insignificant the “obstacles” I faced in ordination actually were… and I think I will seek to be more and more understanding now that I serve on CPM in Southern Kansas.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you. I know God has called you to something great, and I trust that one day you will show us all how big a difference you can make.


  59. says

    An irony in all of this is that Adam could be a good ways into a D.Min. degree before SF Presbytery says he’s ordainable. This also brings up the interesting polity/theological conundrum of presbyteries ordaining on behalf of the whole church, but with their own (relative) standards.

    FYI, Luther Seminary in St. Paul also has a good amount of online courses. Let me know if you’d like to speak to someone in the know.

    Re the recent comments questioning Adam’s openness, I’m a huge believer in openness in all systems, especially the church. The best way to deal honestly with each other when considering questions of ordination is to do so openly. If the folks on his committee don’t want their decisions to see the light of day that’s really disturbing to me. Instead, if they believe they are right, they should want to share their wisdom with the church and suggest how other CPMs can do likewise.

  60. Jonathan says

    I just want to say how grateful I am for this post. I’m someone who by all objective accounts had a pretty easy ordination process, and yet I also felt abused by the capricious requirements of my CPM.

    I think so many of these committees present an accretion of of requirements. I don’t think this is ideological; it’s just that each person for the last 25 years has contributed their pet requirement to the process.

    How much extra gatekeeping do we really need? Isn’t the MDiv, ordination exams, field education, psych exams, and CPM /COM interviewing enough? Just because you found [languages, CPE, preaching classes, mission trips, denominational seminary, theology of Karl Barth, etc.] necessary to your preparation does not mean it will be essential for our ministry.

    This is also a heavy-handed, fairly authoritarian process, with little room for appeal, objection, or dissent. I am so glad that some of this is coming into the light. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Committees need to know that they can not do whatever they want without accountability. Reformed Christians are proud heirs to a pamphleteering tradition, and we should be allowed to debate these questions in public.

  61. Whitey Bird says

    Assuming that you still believe in the essentials of the Christian faith why don’t you just get away from this dying denomination and get on with being a minister for God in another church or ministry that is concerned with presenting Jesus to people and their needs instead of how much education you can aquire? You already have way more education than you will ever need to tell people about Jesus. Get on with it! He promised to return and that may be soon. If so let Him find you about His business instead of arguing with religous bureaucrats.

  62. says


    Are we to just jump ship whenever things don’t go our way? And if it is indeed, “dying” as you claim it to be than what better reason is there to stay?
    If Christ looks upon the Church as his bride, how might that metaphor help us who are “married” to a denomination handle difficult times? Should I leave my wife because we are having hard times?

  63. says

    In all fairness, this is nothing new. I know that doesn’t help you in any way, however, organizations that grant ordination/credential/etc. have been playing this “game” for far more years that even I have been around. Example–a teaching credential, even from a state with a sound reputation, will not transfer automatically to some states. The candidate, even one with years of experience and a credential, may have to take more coursework. Finally, and this is the human weakness in the equation, committee’s change membership. Subjective opinion plays a large part of this process. And that sucks but it is reality.

    What to do? I wish I could provide you with a substantive answer. I do believe strongly that Tony Jones’ suggestion comes from his personal issues as opposed to what is right for you, despite any well meaning on his part. I don’t need to tell you to use the system to your advantage (I would assume many others have made the same suggestion), at least in as is possible. One possible solution, as heart-wrenching as it may be for you, would be to consider a different denomination. I work in the UMC, not as a pastor, and know pastors who left other denominations for very good, ethical reasons. I cannot say what is involved but I would assume your good credentials and history will certainly help. Would that be a theological leap for you? Only you can decide.

    Best of luck, I know this is a tough time for you.

  64. says

    I’m very confused by those who compare the Bride/Body of Christ to a denomination – a denomination is NOT the Bride. The Bride may be a part of a denomination at times but you are not showing commitment to the Bride by committing to a denomination.

    I respect deeply those who stick with their tribe even through very hard times. I don’t understand it but I respect it. But don’t for a minute think that your behavior can be compared to what Jesus did for us or what martyrs did for their faith or what a husband does for his wife for that matter.

  65. says

    To be sure I was not drawing a link between the bride of Christ (the Church universal) and any denomination. I was simply pointing out how the metaphor is helpful.

    I do think it is instructive for all of us to evaluate what it is about the denomination that irks us. Is it authority? Is it being expected to stay within certain guard rails? Is it the fact that they require of me certain things, things which often require sacrifice on my part?

    What message are we sending to a watching world when we cut ties with a community of faith because they require more education from us as pastors? How do I stand up and preach a sermon about unity or about love or about submission when I refuse to submit to an ordaining body? In this way it is very much like marriage. My wife is not perfect. A denomination (or any church) is not perfect). For myself, I have been baptized, raised and nurtured and affirmed in my calling within the United Methodist Church. Part of learning to be a follower of Jesus is learning what it means to walk in covenant with others, others who may not be like us or even like us very much. Fortunately, my wife likes me (today at least) :) Fortunately, I have not yet faced the obstacles Adam is facing in his ordination process. However, I hope that in those times where my wife dislikes me or I feel my denomination dislikes me that I can be faithful not only to Christ but those whom I have pledged covenant fidelity with as brothers and sisters, particularly in our vows at baptism.


  66. john w says

    This is a little ridiculous. What indicates that your taking these courses would make you “more qualified” to be a pastor in the PCUSA? You have passed the ords, graduated from a Presbyterian seminary, been very flexible in working with two Presbyteries.
    But rather than complain, we all need to problem solve. I wonder if they would accept you “reading” with a couple of pastors in SF Presbytery in the areas mentioned. You could read several books and have conversations about the reading. This is a tried and true method of education, centuries old, better than seminary classes, in my opinion. If there is anyone we can write in SF Presbytery, please let us know.
    I am not a good pastor because I have a PhD in theology. I am a fairly good pastor because I have been doing it for 35 years. Experience matters. They need to let you get started so you can grow your skills. May God open their minds and strengthen your resolve.

  67. Joseph Cejka says

    I am confounded and angered beyond words by this damn foolishness on the part of the CPM of SF Presbytery. Dear Christ, have mercy on us, for we do to others what we would not want done to ourselves.

    I am rendered nearly speechless by this, but am not surprised. I have my own battles for teacher credentialing in Tennessee, but it looks bright and shiny compared to this.

    I’m out of the old PCUS. I recall giving my exam committee my NT exegesis paper, which was written mostly in Greek. I know they could not understand it, and they knew they couldn’t understand it. I appreciated their kudos and compliments on its brilliance and insight. Pity it only got a Pass in the class. As to my theology thesis, that’s a story for another day.

    I wonder how many of these good folks could pass an exam I write for them on those topics, the courses they prescribe for you? But, with thoughts of vengeance and humiliation aside, Godspeed young friend.

  68. Whitey Bird says

    I believe that people have the right to belong to and support any denomination they choose. They have the right to choose none as well. However I can’t see membership to a church denomination as a good metaphor to my marriage. My marriage was a sacred promise and covenant agreement with my spouse and Lord not to be seperated until “death do us part.” This could never be the same to me as a membership to a church denomination. My faith is a covenant agreement between myself and Christ. He saved me by His Grace and will keep me by His Grace and I will accept His gift as long as His Grace allows me to believe. Denominations will come and go, “kings will surrender their crowns” but Jesus is the only one worthy of worship. Most the Methodists I know believe that I just can’t resist a good blog debate.

  69. says

    I agree with the overall sentiment of your comment. Perhaps I should not have brought the marriage metaphor up. I, however, find it instructive.

    The bottom line is that this is up to Adam. Maybe he can shed some light on why he is staying (or not). The point I was trying to make is that in the same way the institution of marriage is not inherently corrupt, evil or “sinful,” the same is true for denominations. If Adam chooses to leave it is for his own reasons and hopefully not because he felt coerced by people like Tony. If he chooses to leave because *he* wants to be in *that* presbytery but is unwilling to do what they require than I am sure he will agree that he is leaving not because denominations are sinful or corrupt but because he was unwilling to do what was asked of him and chose to go another route.

    Adam, have you considered that maybe God is closing the door on the SF presbytery because God desires your gifts to be used in another place within the PC(USA)?

    Why must everybody jump to the conclusion that just because a door gets closed or a process is not a smooth as we would like that the whole system is “sinful”?

  70. Brian E. says

    Adam, as your friend and someone who has supported in you in the mess with Kendall Presbytery, I’ve sat on my hands since you posted this and as numerous people have rallied to your frustration over the last several days. I do support you, and I’d like very much for you to be ordained as a minister in the PCUSA. But I think this post and its comments have gone badly off track.

    What I’d really like to see in your post, both here and on the blog, is some reflection on the theology of ordination. Your commenters have issued attack after attack on the denomination’s system for discerning who is called to ordained office, but no one has really articulated what the PCUSA (and the Reformed tradition) believe to be true about ordination.

    A few questions for reflection:
    What is ordination about? Is it a right? How is it different from getting an M.Div. or passing an exam? Why does a presbytery get to set standards and exercise this kind of discernment? Are the actions of the CPM really just about bureaucracy and barriers, as many of your commenters have either said or implied? Do you think the brothers and sisters in Christ who serve on the CPM set out to torment you, or might they be seeking to strengthen the church? Is ordination about the person being ordained or is it about the church? Is ordination a mark of how much one is loved by God or called to serve God, or is it an identification for a particular type of service in the church? Does the church have the right to ordain who it will, or not?

    I think the misunderstanding here is in the title: “When an M.Div. from Princeton isn’t enough.” I assume you mean “isn’t enough for ordination”… and my response is, “Of course it isn’t.” It never has been. Ordination in our tradition is not an award given upon completion of a degree. Indeed, no matter how many forms one fills out or boxes one checks off or classes one takes, it is still not something to which one becomes entitled. It is an act of the church, deciding that one’s character, skills, gifts, theology and calling demand that one be set aside for a particular role of service. Ordination often involves sacrifice, expense, humility, submission, hard work, loss. It’s not for everyone. And God loves, uses, calls and equips people who aren’t ordained. But if one seeks it, one seeks it from a church–the body of Christ–charged with making the hard choices about who to ordain as its leaders. And one accepts the church’s authority to ordain or not ordain.

    None of this denies the poor quality of how you were treated in Kendall Presbytery. You were certified ready to receive a call there. They should have examined you for ordination and let the full presbytery decide. I share your frustration at that process and at all that has followed. But the process, flaws and all, is not broken or irredeemable. It is the church continuing to be the church.

  71. says

    @Brian E. – of course I appreciate your opinion and input as you are a good friend. Thank you for your thoughts, and I’ve told you before, I appreciate your friendship and respect your commitment to the denomination.

    I will be posting some more in the next few weeks about issues related to all of what is going on, theology of ordination, etc. These are all good & important questions and issues.

    I did want to just address on of your points. The title of my post may be a bit misleading, as you alluded to. I did not mean to make it sound like I meant, “When an M.Div. from Princeton isn’t enough…for ordination.” I don’t think that just because I completed my studies at Princeton that I should automatically be guaranteed ordination. That would be presumptuous of me…

    My point with the title was saying “When an M.Div. from Princeton isn’t enough…for educational requirements.” I think there are some interesting discussion points in my situation re: national/local standards, etc., but I do still think that after passing ordination exams, studying for four years at one of our denomination’s theological institutions and fulfilling other field education requirements….one should be able to be viewed as prepared academically for ordination.

    Certainly one is never fully prepared for the ministry – but any pastor would tell you that the real learning takes place while in ministry – not while taking Greek Exegesis and History of Christianity (especially for a second time)…

  72. Jason says

    Any pastor? Or did a committee of pastors just tell you otherwise?

    What Adam meant to say was “any pastor except the pastors that told me I had to take classes would tell you that the real learning takes place while in ministry – not while taking” classes. But then again, what pastor would really posit that kind of an antipathy between theoretical and practical knowledge? My guess: only an extremely anti-intellectual pastor. And therefore, not many pastors in the PC(USA).

  73. rebecca says

    I’m not sure I understand Jason’s post. Is he saying that most PC(USA) pastors value the intersection of theoretical and practical knowledge or that most do not?

  74. says

    Blessings brother! What a blow. While I certainly sympathize and it sounds unfair. (O my! seven more courses!) I do want to give you a cautionary note: CPM’s dont take well to candidates responding “Impossible request”. Just consider there may (I realize it is a stretch) be a deeper reason for these requirements.


  75. Al says

    Adam, I just read your troubles as I linked over from Presbyweb. Obviously, I don’t know you from Adam (I’m sure you’ve heard that before) and know only what you wrote. I am generally sympathetic to candidates with CPM issues, since I also transferred PBYs near the end of my ordination process and found a new set of standards to meet in the process. I would suggest that what you may be asked to do is not entirely without reason.

    Reading your transcripts, my first reaction is that it is an odd collection of classes with major holes in the course of study if PCUSA ordination was your goal. There is very little Biblical study, a critical core of seminary education. Only two OT courses and two NT courses (and one of those in Revelation). Frankly, I’m surprised your academic advisor from Princeton nor your advocate from your previous CPM warned you this was a problem. This would be a big red flag for me and asking you to take classes in both OT and NT is, IMHO, reasonable.

    Second, skipping Church History should only have been done if your PBY CPM specifically gave you a waver. I took church history from University of California, Santa Barbara as an undergraduate. They have a internationally known program. But I took a historical theology series in seminary to meet the requirement. I knew it would be a problem if I didn’t.

    You have to remember, a Princeton MDiv is not specifically designed for Presbyterian ordination requirements. Just having it does not mean you completed a course of study designed for PCUSA ordination. Some years ago, we had a PTS grad on the floor of my PBY for examination and when asked to talk about his concept of “Reformed Theology” he admitted he had never heard the term and was unfamiliar with it. Really.

    Confessions? That’s a little over the top, given all the other demands.

    I know this is not happy news, but you have the GTU in your backyard. You can ask the PBY for some financial assistance. You need to take some responsibility for some classes that somehow you missed that are normally a part of every seminary education and are clearly expectations for PCUSA ordination. I think someone at PTS needs a kick in the pants for letting you get this far with some of the core classes missing from your studies.

    Try to meet CPM somewhere in the middle. They are not being entirely unreasonable.

  76. Andy says

    Good points. And you’ve stumbled on exactly the problem with Princeton Seminary: There are no advisors. Zip. Zero. None. You’re on your own as an M.Div. student to figure out how to negotiate the process. Further, Princeton has few required classes — even fewer since they changed their curriculum this past year. It used to be possible to graduate with major holes, and the potential for holes now seems even greater.
    IMHO, Princeton = rigorous, but not well-rounded.

  77. says

    @Andy – you are mostly correct re: advisors at Princeton Seminary. It’s something that I was frustrated with initially when I got to Princeton – because it did seem like they sort of just left you to figure out things on your own.

    However, if you are a Dual-Degree student, as I was, then we were lucky enough to have a close, mentor/advisor relationship with Kenda Creasy Dean. However, it wasn’t a relationship where she was going to be standing over my shoulders making sure I did everything right…

    And I’d just like to point out – that I *did* do everything right. I wasn’t cutting corners, trying to get out of stuff. I took all the appropriate courses that both PTS and Kendall Presbytery required of me. Not that this is a card I’m trying to “wave” around either, but my academic preparation did prepare me very well for the five PC(USA) ordination exams (Bible Content, Theology, Worship, Polity and Exegesis) – and prepared me well enough to pass each exam the first time – getting 4s and above on each exam.

    Again – there is clearly much more necessary to prepare one for ministry than scoring well on exams (even though the ordination exams really should be the primary “litmus test” we use if there is going to be a national standard). But if you look at my transcript, there is definitely an emphasis on pastoral care courses, which deals with issues and situations that pastors will encounter on a daily basis…

    I know Presbyterians are all about having an educated clergy…but I think you can take that a little too far.

  78. aaron twitchell says


    I am praying for you and your family. I pray for wisdom and direction for you over the next few weeks as you try to figure out what to do and where to go. I pray for peace in your heart and mind.

    – fellow PTS student

  79. says

    It is clear that the COM is acting arbitrarily in your case. If they can do so without inpugnity with you, then they can do so with anyone. This is not how the system is designed to work. It is easy to say the system is broken, but it appears that more likely the wrong people are in leadership on this committee. This is an issue of ethics as much as it is a question of process.
    If I can be any help to you, please ask.

  80. says

    Hi Adam,

    I don’t know, it would be interesting to meet you assuming you live up in San Fran and I live in Santa Cruz.

    If you feel that the process is being unfair and you took the risk of seeing it derailed by having a gay friend speak at your ordination, then the consequences are what you have to live by.

    It is hard to complain about a consequence that was brought on by your own actions. If you desire to be progressive or liberal in your theological interpretations, then why not get ordained with the Metropolitan Community Churches? Asking a presbytery to change simply because you don’t like the response given back to you and then publicly blogging about it to gain a grassroots movement would cause more division in my mind than closure to your situation.

    They have their requirements and at this point the decision is either you change and do what they want if you really feel that this denomination is where you want to sow your wild oats or find another one that would be more happy to accept your views and desires.

    Hope to talk to you more about this and maybe meet if the possibility arises.

  81. Nathan says

    Dear Adam,

    Your frustration is understandable. The increase in academic debt seems insurmountable, and the time commitment while working full time likewise seems hard to comprehend. There’s no question that it’s unfair. You’re like Jacob who has labored for seven years for the hand of Rachel and have, at the end of it, been told that you’ve actually married Leah. And now you’ve been informed that you must take seven more courses to gain the hand of Rachel.What did Jacob say to Laban? “Hey, you can’t do that!” And what did Laban say? “Look kid: my country, my rules.” Sounds a little like the SF Presbytery. And by the way, where’s God in all this? Giving in to the schemes of Laban may seem like the wrong thing to do. But Jacob did it, and no one could argue that God wasn’t with him every step of the way.

    You have probably already concluded this since your initial posting, but taking those extra courses while working full time is not as incomprehensible as you may think–it’s a feat you could accomplish in two years easily. As a father of three working full time, I earned an *entire degree* in nine years—and I could have done it in seven, but I took a couple of breaks.

    Taking another two years to complete those seven courses while you work full time may seem like way too much on your plate on a daily basis and a crazy long amount of time. But you’ll blink and they’ll be over. “So Jacob served seven years (courses?) for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her” (Gen. 29:20). Now that I’m pushing 50, I wish that all kinds of processes in life took only two years! You have my sympathy and prayers. Peace be with you.


  82. says

    What did you eventually do or conclude? I am very curious about this. I, too, graduated from a top seminary, yet the ordination requirements seem daunting…

  83. William says

    Here’s the dirty little secret that that all the mainline churches don’t want you to know (I am a bi-vocational Episcopal Priest): All mainline denominations have TOO MANY clergy. That’s the bottom line. The reason you get treated so badly in the ordination process is they don’t need you………..literally. What is needed is more congregants not more clergy. In addition there is an endless supply of clergy, to include retired clergy, that will preach or celebrate the Eucharist for peanuts. Usually the ordination process in most evangelical churches is far easier……but the salaries are far lower. So keep your day job or get a degree in another field. The available parish slots are shrinking and the money is drying up…….

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