The GOE is dead; Long live the GOE?

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This being the first full week of the new year, Episcopal Church senior seminarians are hunkering down to take the GOEs. Don’t know what this means? Well, the GOEs are the General Ordination Exams which have been administered each year since 1972 by the by the General Board of Examining Chaplains to those who are in the ordination process for the priesthood.


If you want to raise up the blood pressure of your (otherwise docile and “pastoral”) Episcopal priest, just ask their opinion about the GOE. Or, if you are courageous, ask them how they scored on the 7 areas of proficiency.

Some priest bloggers this week have offered their thoughts on the GOE, from Scott Gunn’s testimony of support for them, to suggestions from “Oscar Late” for a decidedly Anglo-Catholic series of questions. What about you, what do you think of the GOEs? Are they an effective assessment of one’s fitness for ministry? Are they merely an effective hazing ritual? Are they in need of revision? Are they just fine as they are, thank you?

We at The Episcopal Cafe continue to pray for all those who are taking the GOEs this year, and for the GBEC and the examiners.

Here is Scott Gunn’s take on the GOEs:

Of the General Ordination Exam

There are three reasons why I think the GOE is still a good, if imperfect, idea. First, it requires potential priests to write lots of material quickly. That’s an essential skill for a priest. If you can’t write quickly, you certainly are not going to do well in parish ministry. There are sermons, newsletter articles, notes for vestries, leaflets for the church school, newspaper bits, and on and on. Fr. Matthew covers this topic nicely. Sure, the content won’t be the same as a GOE, but the skill is similar.

Second, the GOE encourages potential priests to synthesize an enormous amount of material. Almost three years of seminary education are expected, and students have to prepare to show knowledge on the whole of the Bible, not just on a series of particular classes. Again, this is useful in parish ministry. When someone initiates a conversation at coffee hour — or in the market — you can’t put them on hold while you consult class notes. No one expects priests to be walking encyclopias, but the level of knowledge required for a GOE is about right for day-to-day parochial work.

Third, the GOE can be stressful. I personally do not think the GOE approaches the level of stress of a real hazing ritual, but I do think it gives a good “crunch” that one can learn from. If the GOE is unbearable, your first Holy Week is not going to go well. The GOE is a cakewalk compared to preparing for an annual meeting as rector. Learning to get through GOE week (self care, relying on the good will of friends) is outstanding preparation for plenty of stressful times to come.

And here is an excerpt from Oscar Late‘s suggestions:

A better General Ordination Exam

My parish, being a thriving place, has several people in the ordination process. So this week, I am praying for my parishioners who are taking the General Ordination Exam. Of course, we have a special votive mass every morning at 9 a.m. to pray for our own examinees and others around the country.

The GOE is a rite of passage for everyone who seeks ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church. Whenever I go to diocesan clergy events, my colleagues express their dismay at the test. They seem to consider it too hard or even irrelevant. Being a Cardinal Rector, my opinion differs from theirs. I think the GOE is a good idea. However, I do think the questions could be refined a bit. Here are some ideas to get the General Board of Examining Chaplains going.

The Holy Scriptures. Cite several instances of the Biblical use of chanting, incense, and ornate vestments. Explain why elaborate liturgy is the most biblical liturgy. Resources: The Holy Bible and works of Percy Dearmer.

Church History, including the Ecumenical Movement. Explain how the first Book of Common Prayer (1549). continued the development of the Sarum Use, generally considered the apex of Western Liturgy. Give several reasons why our ecumenical partners might benefit from our superior liturgical tradition. For bonus points, you may take swipes at the prayer book of 1552. Resources: Open.

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28 Responses to "The GOE is dead; Long live the GOE?"
  1. I survived a similar trial in 1987 when I was preparing for ordination in the then-Lutheran Church in America. It seemed to be a question of turf (i.e. the seminaries vs. the judicatories) more than anything else, although there was an element of hazing (which I would define as "I had to go through this and so do you") as well. I understand Scott's rationale, but if you've passed all the coursework for the MDiv and still aren't suitable for ordination, I don't think this is the tool that will sort that out.

    M D Harnois

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  2. The canons simply state that candidates for ordination are to "demonstrate proficiency" in seven canonically required areas. I would think that, as the 30th anniversary of the GOEs is coming next year, we could perhaps come up with something better than a week-long writing marathon.

    Rather than four or eight hour tretises (which I don't think any parish priest writes), perhaps things like "there has been a suicide at a local high school where many of the members of the youth group of the church you serve attend. Write a newsletter article about this." or "Your church is in the midst of grappling with the cultural changes of a post-Christendom world. Write a series of 6 weblog (blog) posts regarding the practical implications for your congregation." might be more appropriate. I would also think things like "Prepare a 6-week study on XYZ ethical issue" or something similar would make sense.

    I guess what I'm saying is that rather than dumping the GOEs and finding some equally mind-numbing way of testing for proficiency, why not be creative and see how we can connect things to actual parish ministry tasks?

    Though I'm not sure toilet plunging or garbage emptying fits into a canonical area...

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  3. It has been ten years now since I took the GOE's and I must confess that I do not remember a single question that was required to answer. I think I did well on all but one or two...can't really remember. It was truly an experience of how well I could perform under pressure, as is much of the ordination process. If you are a good performer, you will navigate the process well. Do the GOE's make a person a better priest? Of course not.

    Currently I serve a church part time and am a CPE Supervisor full time. Part of the process of becoming a supervisor was writing three theory papers, a Theological Position paper; a Personality Theory paper, and an Education Theory paper which included a group theory. These papers could only be five pages long and had to be congruent with one another. They were sent off to readers who determined whether they met standard and if not, I had to rewrite them.

    I cannot say enough about how valuable this writing was to my personal, professional, and pastoral identities. It was an exercise in integrating a working theory that was/is congruent with my practice of ministry. Once these papers passed, I then had to demonstrate integration between theory and practice with a committee. I'm not suggesting that we duplicate this process, but it is worth exploring the paradigms out there. The church is missing an opportunity here. If the goal is to truly form spiritual leaders, the current model of GOE's is not working.

    In Christ,

    Tammy

    Tammy, please sign your last name next time you comment. thanks ~~ed.

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  4. It's been 21 years since I took the GOES, and 28 years sine I sat for the Bar Exams in the states of Nevada and California. I consider the two to be equivalent and believe they have value in the same way and for the same reasons. I no longer practice law and when I did I was a specialist - nonetheless I had to take and pass an examination on all areas of the law including many areas I never again looked at. Similarly the GOE required me to answer questions about areas of theology, liturgics, etc. that I may never have encountered in parish ministry. So what? What the examination did was require me to demonstrate basic fundamental competence in the field, an ability to synthesize an argument from what I had learned, and quick-wittedness. The Bar Exams were three days long (one day of the so-called "multistate" exam which is a multiple choice format, one day of substantive essays, and one day of professional ethics questions) not too dissimilar to the GOE. I found the GOE easier, but that might be simple because I had the prior experience of writing the Bar exams.

    In any event, I believe that an examination of basic professional competence and knowledge is a good thing. What seems to be lacking is consistency from year to year and a uniformity of practice in the way bishops and Commissions on Ministry use the results of the GOE. Is there a minimum passage requirement? Is anyone ever refused ordination because of low scores on the GOE? Are they simply diagnostic for continuing education? And if so, how is that CE undertaken and evaluated?

    The GOE may need reforming in several ways, but it should not be abandoned.

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  5. I currently serve on the Examining Chaplains of our diocese. Historically we used oral canonical exams and not the GOEs. A few years ago we revised the entire process. We have begun to focus on formation rather than a simple pass fail exam. We now have the seminarians take the GOEs but they are also read and evaluated by the Examining Chaplains. We have an annual seminarian retreat for every year of seminary. It is an opportunity for us to get to know our future priests and for them to begin to establish collegial relationships with us even before they are ordained. Over the course of three days we have small group conversations about the canonical subjects, establishing a life of prayer, family and self-care, as well as the practice of parish ministry. This gives us some indication of how the seminarian is progressing year to year not only academically but also in their life of prayer and priestly formation. Our conversations are very practice oriented. We want to learn how the seminarian is integrating what he or she is learning with actual practice and application. We use this, in part, to learn where people are struggling personally, spiritually, and academically. We can then offer mentoring or guidance in overcoming the struggles. We want to grow competent, academically qualified priests who pray. The GOEs are one part of the overall process not the sole determinant. The feedback on this process from both seminarians and the chaplains has been very positive.

    Peace,

    Mike+

    Michael K. Marsh (looked it up at your blog)

    Mike - please sign your last name next time you comment. ~ed.

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  6. Tom, the GOE's are certainly more than 30 years old. I took the GOE's 31 years ago this week, and there were questions from previous GOE's for us to drill with.

    The GOE's have changed a lot. When I took them (in the dark ages before word processing), the questions were very application oriented. For example, questions like outlining an eight-week adult class on discrimination, including lessons for Evening Prayer. My favorite was about the woman who came saying that she was hearing voices, and who wanted to know what the Church had to say about that, and how might we help her. We received three questions like that, and had 48 hours to research, write, and have a typist produce in fair copy our answers. (Fortunately, we did have a photocopy machine, so typists didn't have to continue to use carbon paper.) With three sets of such questions, a day of multiple choice and short essay tests, and Sunday off, it all came to 9 days.

    I'm not sorry that it's shorter these days, or that it's more academic in its focus. However, one way or another I think there is a discrete body of knowledge that an Episcopal priest ought to have a grasp of. All seminaries are not alike; and not all clergy are prepared in seminaries, much less in Episcopal seminaries. To maintain some consistency in the preparation of, and the teaching and liturgical ministries of Episcopal clergy, some sort of examination, some sort of "quality control" seems not only reasonable, but necessary. We can discuss the form, but we need something.

    Marshall Scott

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  7. Dump them. No question. I took the GOE in 2003, and did great on them. Do I think that means I'm a great priest? No, it means I'm good at organization and tests structured like the GOE. But even for me, someone who happens to be suited to the GOE format, GOE seemed like either misguided desire to "weed out" those who can't analyze, synthesize, and type quickly. Or, frankly, like ecclesiastical hazing. And the snide comments some test-takers received from the reviewers proved my sense was correct.

    After I got my scores, I wrote a 5-page advice guide for subsequent GOE-takers, a guide that was pretty well-received (it's still floating around online somewhere).

    Such a guide should be unnecessary. No examining process should use a format that produces such angst and stress. I took the bar exam, and found it a much more humane test, if still somewhat stressful.

    Surely the accredited Episcopal seminaries, while not teaching exactly the same information, each convey a comprehensive base of knowledge. And if the faculty believes a candidate knows his/her stuff sufficiently well to graduate, and endorses the graduate's ordination, that is a much more relevant assessment of his/her suitability for ordination than any exam. If there are any lingering questions raised prior to ordination, a review and oral assessment with competent diocesan examining chaplains would address any concerns -- including setting up any remedial work.

    I just can't see making the ability to write fast, especially on complex theological issues, a critical factor in determining whether someone is really called to be a priest. Is it a helpful skill? Of course. Is it essential? No. There are ways to cope with deadlines.

    Can you tell that even after 8 years, this process remains a sore spot? The memory of the physical, emotional, and spiritual toll is part of the annoyance. But what really continues to bug me is the result bad grades and snide comments had on some of the most gifted, pastorally-sensitive people I've ever met. Fortunately, they were ordained despite the exam...which rather begs the question of "why GOE in the first place?"

    Julie Murdoch

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  8. Marshall on the date question...,

    The General Board of Examining Chaplains' website lists the following for the history of the GOEs. Unless, perhaps, their dates are wrong, they state that the first test was administered in 1972 - 29 years ago.

    _______

    History and Purpose

    What is the General Board of Examining Chaplains?

    The 1970 General Convention of The Episcopal Church established by canon (III.15) the GBEC to standardize the process of examination for ordination. The GBEC administered the first GOE in 1972 and has given it annually since.

    http://www.episcopalgbec.org/history-and-purpose.htm

    Peter Carey+

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  9. Perhaps, saying this might make you question my competence in being a priest, but I rather enjoyed taking the GOE's. I liked being able to see how much I actually learned in my seminary education. I liked stretching myself, and thinking creatively about the questions. Over all, I did pretty well on them. At Seabury, we also had really great chaplains that prayed for us and did nice things for us while we were taking them.

    I don't think it's a process that should be scrapped, but I do think it's a little ridiculous to deny someone ordination, or even hold them back based upon a bad week. I also know that there have been some questions (i.e: Caroline Divines, Premillenial Dispensationalism, etc.) that have been a little too tricky for most seminarians.

    While it is worthwhile to do something to this effect, the system as a whole should probably be reviewed. What are they exactly trying to accomplish? What are the benefits? What are the consequences? I don't feel like these are very clear or standardized.

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  10. The biggest problem I see with the GOE is that its results are not applied equally across all dioceses. Some dioceses use local canonical examinations. Others require the GOEs, followed by some sort of "remediation" for those areas that are not passed. In the case of my ordaining bishop (the late Ronald Haines), he said we had to pass five of the seven areas or he would not ordain us.

    Imagine if the state of Maryland applied different standards in each of its counties to those aspiring attorneys who sat for the Maryland Bar Exam. Maybe in Montgomery County, you would have to pass it, but in Prince George's, they would take either the instate or interstate portion, with "some remediation" in the failed area. While out in Wicomico County, the local attorneys would get together in the local watering hole with the candidates, get them drunk, pummel them with questions, and admit those who held up without puking to the Maryland Bar.

    In point of fact, the GOEs mean NOTHING. I do not see them preventing ordinations of people who are not equipped to serve. Nor do I see them as affirming the fitness of those who manage to scrape a passing number in the seven areas (or those who survive diocesan "remediation".)

    So what, really is the point? To make people agonize, sit still for a week, write their brains out and cry? Does that prove you are ready to be a priest? Because certainly the correctness or incorrectness of your answers seems to have little to do with your eventual ordination.

    As currently applied and practiced, the GOE is simply hazing. It should be done away with and better tools for assessing peoples' fitness for ministry developed.

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  11. The biggest problem I see with the GOE is that its results are not applied equally across all dioceses. Some dioceses use local canonical examinations. Others require the GOEs, followed by some sort of "remediation" for those areas that are not passed. In the case of my ordaining bishop (the late Ronald Haines), he said we had to pass five of the seven areas or he would not ordain us.

    Imagine if the state of Maryland applied different standards in each of its counties to those aspiring attorneys who sat for the Maryland Bar Exam. Maybe in Montgomery County, you would have to pass it, but in Prince George's, they would take either the instate or interstate portion, with "some remediation" in the failed area. While out in Wicomico County, the local attorneys would get together in the local watering hole with the candidates, get them drunk, pummel them with questions, and admit those who held up without puking to the Maryland Bar.

    In point of fact, the GOEs mean NOTHING. I do not see them preventing ordinations of people who are not equipped to serve. Nor do I see them as affirming the fitness of those who manage to scrape a passing number in the seven areas (or those who survive diocesan "remediation".)

    So what, really is the point? To make people agonize, sit still for a week, write their brains out and cry? Does that prove you are ready to be a priest? Because certainly the correctness or incorrectness of your answers seems to have little to do with your eventual ordination.

    As currently applied and practiced, the GOE is simply hazing. It should be done away with and better tools for assessing peoples' fitness for ministry developed.

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  12. The year I should have take GOE's our diocese decided to do their own - WYO-E's we called them. They did not make me write essays as they assumed anyone who has completed seminary can write a paper. The questions, as I recall were more situational - how to deal with things that really happen in a parish (no plumbing questions tho) and to use canonical areas to support one's answers. We also had orals. It was grueling but I felt fair and useful. My concern about the current GOEs is that they are poor exams, with readers of unknown quality, and they cost a lot of money for a product that is unproven in effectiveness.

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  13. Thank you for drawing attention to my suggestions for a better GOE. I must question, however, your use of my name in quotes. That's rich considering I'm still waiting for the double espresso I ordered from this so-called "Cafe."

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  14. One of the very earliest steps in the long process of estrangement of our Pittsburgh diocese from the life of the Episcopal Church was the decision to drop the requirement of GOE's for our Candidates--in favor of a return to local "Canonicals." The argument at the time was that there was a persistent theological bias in the scoring of the exams, although if my memory serves seniors at Trinity were actually slightly above the median of Episcopal seminaries in their rate of proficiencies.

    The Pittsburgh Canonicals were in fact high-quality and meaningful exams over the required areas, and I never had any doubt but that the Candidates who completed these successfully would have been equally successful had they taken the GOE's.

    But the issue was and continues to be, across many of our places along the spectrum of life in the Church today, this sense of increasing introversion.

    I know when I took the GOE's in the mid-80's the practice in Northern California was for the diocesan Examiners to review the exams and, when necessary, to recommend remediation.

    But for me then and in the context of our present situation one of the values of the GOE's was the reminder that we weren't preparing to be ordained for service simply in the limited district of our home parish or of our diocese or of our region of the country or of our own "wing" of the church, but for the *whole* Church. Knowing that our anonymous Readers would represent a broad spectrum of background and perspective, and that the efforts being required of us were the same as those being required of all other Candidates, whether from Northern California (my diocese) or Massachusetts or South Carolina, etc.,had I think a meaningful benefit both in terms of how we approached and integrated our responses to the concerns of the exam and an enduring sense of "larger" clerical identity in the years to come.

    Bruce Robison

    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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  15. Julia Murdoch wrote: "Dump them. No question. I took the GOE in 2003, and did great on them. Do I think that means I'm a great priest? No, it means I'm good at organization and tests structured like the GOE. But even for me, someone who happens to be suited to the GOE format, GOE seemed like either misguided desire to "weed out" those who can't analyze, synthesize, and type quickly. Or, frankly, like ecclesiastical hazing. And the snide comments some test-takers received from the reviewers proved my sense was correct."

    Exactly. This is why I wrote, simply, "Dump them" above. I did well. I'm good at writing, organizing my thoughts, analyzing, and synthesizing. I did fail to sustain the one question, on my area of expertise, the question having been badly written, which opinion was upheld when my examining chaplain on the diocesan level also made the same incorrect assumption when giving me an oral re-test on the same question.

    The comments from the examiners were, however, even in the six areas I sustained, indeed snide.

    I survived the unhelpful comments. I assume that was the real point of the whole exercise.

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  16. Peter Carey wrote:

    Marshall on the date question...,

    The General Board of Examining Chaplains' website lists the following for the history of the GOEs. Unless, perhaps, their dates are wrong, they state that the first test was administered in 1972 - 29 years ago.

    Do we need to add a math section?

    My worst GOE nightmare was when my typist arrived dead drunk. You can ponder whether I was mad or jealous.

    I am curious whether the Board of Examining Chaplains includes any professional educators with expertise in constructing tests.

    May God bless all who are taking and reading the GOE's!

    Steve Ayres

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  17. Steve:

    In a way, I'm sympathetic with Peter. If I'd been better at math instead of writing, I might have ended up in engineering (notwithstanding that I often introduce my position in the hospital as "Celestial Engineering").

    We have a tradition in the Episcopal Church of an educated clergy. In all my years, I've worked with a number of clergy who were trained in diocesan programs. I found that those who worked hard learned as much as they would have in a seminary setting, if neither as quickly nor with as much breadth. In my own diocese we have clergy trained in Episcopal seminaries, in Methodist seminaries, in "Anglican Studeies" programs in non-Episcopal seminaries, in a Nazarene seminary, in diocesan programs, and more. Years ago there were canonical limitations on those trained in non-seminary programs, limitations that have since been removed. With all that variety, driven often by economic considerations, I think there's reason for some measure of standards that is more specific than simply "proficiency" in the seven Canonical Areas.

    This is true of the other professions with which I work. I can't speak to the bar exam, but both physicians and nurses (and other ancillary professionals, and even veterinary techs) take licensure tests - and indeed those tests are now national, and not developed state by state. I grant that is hasn't been used explicitly for "licensure" with any consistency; but some sense of consistency in the body of knowledge that falls somewhere within the spectrum of "Episcopal" would seem desirable. I also think it's been an issue in our current divisions, at least in local situations. But, it also seems to me in some sense a piece of - what shall we call it? - "parisioner safety," just as a clear grasp of internal medicine is important in patient safety.

    Marshall Scott

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  18. Given the model of the "ideal Episcopal Priest" in effect when I was in seminary, I think preparing for the GOEs was a good way to move in the direction of the ideal. Nowdays, I'm working in an environment that includes a significant role for local ordination (=Total Ministry, Baptismal Ministry, etc.). The question the church will need to ask itself soon is more about what training all priests should have before ordination than it is about how to test for it.

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  19. Since we ordain people for the whole church, then it is reasonable to create a baseline competency test that everyone takes to demonstrate proficiency.

    I read GOEs ten times over a twelve year period and from that side of the aisle I can tell you that the single greatest issue was the failure of writers to answer the question that was asked. This held true across the seven canonical areas.

    I can also tell you that the tests evolved towards asking questions that were at the center of disciplines not at the edges of them.

    It might be of interest for the Cafe to get this year's questions and post them, because I'm willing to bet that they are mostly "gimme" questions that senior seminarians should be able to use as a platform for demonstrating that they know something.

    The GOE folks make plenty of effort to discern issues in poorly done answers. A person whose fails in several areas will have their entire exam read by as many as 5 people to assure that it has been fairly evaluated. Since they are advisory to Bishops, Bishops can take into account contextual circumstances of the student and allow the utilization of other means to assure proficiency.

    While we prize diversity, we must still have some common baseline in order for a priest in one place to transfer to another.

    I have seen the GOEs morph from true marathons where people would write overnight and had to guess which area was being tested to the present format of limited length answers and testing that only happens in the course of one day. Go back a generation from me and listen to the horror stories of diocesan canonicals where every eclectic or locally idiosyncratic bias formed the basis for showing proficiency.

    In the end there is no perfect testing method, but the GOE's now modelling themselves after the AP tests so many students take are about as good as it gets.

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  20. Ha, I guess I would have failed the math section...should have said 39 years ago...

    We are nearing its 40th Anniversary in 2012...!

    I will do some remedial math worksheets and send them to Bishop Katharine!

    😉

    Peter Carey+

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  21. Michael,

    You make some good points, from "within the belly of the beast" of the GOE.

    I wonder if you could illuminate just how many people review the COMMENTS that evaluators make on the exams, it seems that there needs to be more checks on people making ad hominem comments that are inappropriate.

    Also, how do you respond to the fact that several dioceses are no longer using the GOEs at all because many bishops think that this is a flawed system. For instance, Diocese of Texas is not using them at all this year (and they tend to have large numbers of seminarians).

    Peter Carey+

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  22. The GOE is not an effective diagnostic or prognostic tool, except in extreme cases. Local examination by competent persons, viva voce would be a far less cumbersome way to accomplish the requisite review of "competency."

    From my perspective, the main thing to learn from the GOE (based on my friend Michael's comment above that writers fail to answer the questions) is that the questions are very poorly formatted and written with too much ambiguity. The latest trend towards "pastoral problems" sounds like a good idea, but in fact leads to more confusion, and puts the writer into the position of addressing a hypothetical situation instead of demonstrating a competent command of principles and facts.

    There has to be a better way.

    Tobias Haller+

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  23. Peter:

    The first year I read GOEs, 1999 was the last year in which readers could comment in any way they pleased. Beginning in 2000 and continuing forward the readers and Chaplains comments are tightly edited. The readers use an Advanced Placement like set of scales to evaluate the answer (to pass it must contain A,B,C) and the comments must support the "grade" given. So tightly is it controlled that readers are given a list of acceptable adjectives that cover both a successful answer and an unsuccesful answer. Two readers make an evaluation and write a comment. That is read by their Chaplain who either asks them to revise or sends it on. It is then read by others to be sure that it conforms to a standard of fairly neutral "partisan free" evaluation.

    They go to a huge amount of effort when, in my opinion all they are required to say is you passed or not, with perhaps a clear reason in the case of why not.

    So for at least a decade the I believe the integrity and scrutiny with which these exams are read and evaluated has been accomplished by a dedicated set of readers and chaplains, lead by the folks at the GBEC. I would submit that is comments made in the last decade or so were offensive, at least 50% of the problem is the receiver's.

    Tobias: I doubt that local clergy and bishop have either the time or the training to craft questions with the care given to the process by the Chaplains of the GBEC. I do not know if you have ever created a test (most likely you have you have done most everything else!) but it is quite a chore, especially to get rid of the ambiguity you cite. In a dozen years of working with the GBEC as a reader I have yet to meet a person or spirit that was malicious or even snarky in the effort to form questions. Please remember that they not only have to make new questions each year in order to prevent too much passing around of old tests they have to make them relevant in some areas to things going on around us.

    As to why some Diocese don't send their seminarians, often as not it is because of the fee. I propose that such folks are penny wise and pound foolish because locally they cannot possibly produce an exam that tests competency for less than the $600 they have to pay to have a senior seminarian take it. The complaints that the tests are no fair enough or that they are not graded dispassionately is old baggage being dumped on dedicated people.

    To be honest the GOEs are too easy, just as most seminary curricula cannot actually educate a person for ministry in three years. This is in part because unlike the Church under William White there is no core curricula which all seminaries must teach. White produced a reading list that was used everywhere for nearly a centurey. A common base curricula has been replaced by the eclectic interests of specialized profs at the seminaries. I continue to think that a common curriculum/booklist would at least ensure that every student knew at the outset the core body of material to be mastered.

    We need to find some happy medium between Karl Barth's 20 volumes of Systematic Theology and his summary of it when he sang "Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so."

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  24. Dear Michael,

    I understand the point about the questions; but in my recent experience dealing (as a diocesan reviewer) with a candidate who did not do well (or rather, was not graded well) I found that the system did not work. In one case the reader appeared to have been ticked off at something the candidate wrote, even though it was consistent with the cheat sheet the readers are supposed to use. The question itself was, to my mind, a "stumper" and not really helpful. Of the whole set, I'd say I'd judge two of the questions as properly formed to achieve the end for which the test is designed. (And yes, my original background was in education, before getting sidetracked into other areas!)

    However, I think you are on to something about the seminaries. I almost added to the end of my earlier note, "Don't get me started on seminaries!" The loss of a standard curriculum is only one problem. The biggest is the shift in the population: in the 50s people came to seminary from a context of having worshiped in church since childhood, attending Sunday school, having actually read large portions of the Bible, and so on. Undergrads will have been exposed to some Philosophy 101, and very likely at least a little Latin or Greek. The cultural and "base-knowledge" shifts between the "Constantinian" days and now has not been accommodated with heavy-duty basic remedial education. I've proposed a 4-year curriculum: years 1-2 heavy on Scripture, philosophy/ethics, theology, homiletics, biblical languages (which used to be mandatory); the 3d year consisting of CPE and a real, full-time internship in the home diocese with a suitable mentoring parish, including a small stipend; final year an unpacking of the pastoral implications, practical liturgy (nourished from the past experience) and the electives to round things out.

    Yes, I'm crazy.

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  25. Tobias:

    Your suggested program is basically that of the ELCA, and it certainly has its points. Also, I see your point (with Michael) about a common curriculum. However, once again we need to consider the variety of settings in which clergy are trained (and in this I think we need to be as rigorous for deacons, even if they'll be "vocational," as we are for priests). Folks training for priesthood in our diocesan program in fact do well on GOE's; while some seminarians, including from our denominational seminaries, struggle. The resurgence of diocesan programs, and the rise of Anglican Studies programs at non-Episcopal seminaries, are driven as much by economics as anything else (some diocesan "parochialism" notwithstanding). Shall we require clergy to be trained in Episcopal seminaries? In some ways that might benefit those seminaries, but would be unpopular with so many older candidates, as well as with poorer dioceses. Shall the Church in General Convention define a specific curriculum? How would that be implemented across the spectrum of clergy education? Shall we abandon any hope of consistency in the knowledge base of our clergy? That would seem to serve no one, least of all the person in the pew.

    I'm well educated in quality management. I'm a firm believer that it's better to get in place a good system that prevents problems, than simply to test at the end of the process and "reject" when things are out of spec. However, it seems to me that with all the different "systems" we have in place, and with the experience that any of those "systems" can produce both candidates who did learn what we hope for and candidates who didn't learn what we hope for - if anything at all - I don't see how we can develop a single system, or eliminate some examination at the end.

    Marshall Scott

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  26. Thanks, Marshall. I did neglect to say, in my rush to address the issue of seminary curriculum, that larger issue of whether the seminary is in fact the ideal tool for the task. We tend to forget just how small a part "the seminary" has played in the history of clergy training / formation!

    Its name betrays its original intent: a "seedbed" for the fairly rapid and consistent production of a goodly number of clergy to meet emergent needs. Whether RC or TEC, the needs were rather specific, and the seminary seemed a good answer.

    But needs change, and the seminaries have held on both to their looming place in [some of] our minds and to their curricula.

    I strongly advocate reform of the seminary curriculum and seeing "seminary" as one tool in the kit for forming clergy (priests and deacons -- you're right to note them, too).

    Maybe I'm not so crazy. (My ancestors were Lutheran immigrants to western Maryland. Hence "Tobias"!)

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