I’m guessing that most people who have gone through the PC(USA) ordination process (and likely, many other mainline processes) can relate, to some degree, with the photos above. Regardless of what anyone says about it, or what it’s supposed to be like, many would agree that it can be a depressing, lonely, frustrating, soul-sucking process. A great journey for folks who are going to be spiritual leaders of communities, right?
Unless you’re new to Pomomusings, you know about my own struggle through a 7 year ordination process. If you’re new to that aspect of my story, you might want to check out these posts:
- Ordination Update
- When an M.Div. from Princeton Isn’t Enough
- Transparency in the Ordination Process
- National & Local Ordination Standards
Now, it’s easy to say when you’re on THIS side of the ordination process, but I think it is in serious need of reform and rethinking. I know there are a lot of people who are rethinking theological education, and that’s a good thing. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have a process which people go through to get ordained, as opposed to just going online and doing it. But when the process itself can turn away people who are gifted and talented for the ministry, and when people describe it as an endless series of jumping through hoops…there has to be a better way.
I ran across a post today, “Rethinking the Ordination Process in the PCUSA” by Fuller M.Div. student Laura Terasaki. She begins:
Anyone who has attempted the ordination in a main-line denomination (especially in the PCUSA), knows what an uphill battle the experience can be. One’s call is tested many times and significant financial, relational, professional, and theological challenges abound.
In her post, she offers a few thoughts of her as she was brainstorming what we might be able to do to change the process. These are a few of her suggestions:
- I recommend that the PCUSA offer these classes online for a fee several times a year through the PCUSA and not through the seminaries. This will make the classes much more accessible to the students and ensure that all PCUSA candidates are receiving the same training. Or, I recommend that the CPMs (Committee on Preparation for Ministry) offer these courses as weekend retreats or intensives so that students can work them in to their schedules and meet other people going through the process. Additionally, I believe that all presbyteries should have the same requirements in general for MDIV coursework and not have them vary from presbytery to presbytery as transferring is a common practice.
- I strongly recommend that seminary internship stipends be regulated and disbursed through individual presbyteries so that poor and wealthy churches are receiving and training seminarians and that seminarians are not indirectly financially punished by serving in a smaller or poorer church. Also, I strongly recommend more flexibility for internship locations so that seminarians are not spending too much time in their cars just to get between internship site, home, school, and home church in a given week. Let us avoid burning out our seminarians.
- I recommend that PCUSA testing be condensed and offered more frequently throughout the year. Additionally, I suggest that testing be available in many more languages so that our ESL/ELL candidates are given a fairer chance at passing the tests and becoming ordained leaders in our generations.
I think these are some great suggestions. Here are a few that I would add:
- CPMs should focus on the process as a unique time of spiritual formation and discernment. Each CPM should help connect every inquirer and candidate with a spiritual director, someone who can assist each person in their discernment and journey through the process and/or seminary.
- CPMs should take full advantage of today’s technology and do annual consultations over Skype/FaceTime/Google+ Hangouts (there may be some presbyteries that are already doing this). I just remember how much time and money it took to get back to Idaho for an annual meeting when I lived on the east coast, and it didn’t feel like good stewardship of money, resources or time on anyone’s part.
- I just want to emphasize part of Laura’s first point. Course requirements should be standardized across presbyteries. I think it is absolutely ridiculous that this hasn’t happened yet. I came from Kendall Presbytery, who didn’t care what I took, or how many courses I took as Pass/Fail (when I attended, most of my professors at Princeton Seminary encouraged us to take as many of our classes as Pass/Fail as we could). I took full advantage of that, but then was penalized and given a very hard time while trying to transfer into the Presbytery of San Francisco because of the amount of Pass/Fail classes on my transcript. This isn’t necessarily a critique on the Presbytery of San Francisco, but on the vastly different requirements presbytery by presbytery.
I think it’s going to take those of us who are younger, and are now on the ordained side of this process, to get into the necessary positions to change this process. Though, I fear that we won’t make the changes. I remember many times talking with friends about the whole process before we were ordained, and all of us said “as soon as we’re ordained – let’s fix this damn thing!” Now, many of us are ordained, and getting caught up in the busy-ness of day-to-day life in ministry…and I fear that we’ll forget there are still so many people still stuck in the process, getting more and more frustrated by the denomination.
Well, what about you? What changes would you make to the PC(USA) ordination process, or the process for your denomination? What do you think will it take to make it a helpful, spiritually-energizing process of discernment?