Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Process

That's how we refer to it: the process.  In the Presbyterian Church, it's a long and involved one; at least one of the nearby Presbyteries has organized it into a spreadsheet, and I think there are 42 steps.  Maybe 47.  A lot of people have asked me what it means that I've passed the exams, or have presumed that that means that I'm ordained.  So, a little primer for my friends:

First, you need to know that our theology of authority and government is grounded in community and democratic process. (Don't worry; I'm not going to impose my 20-page polity exam on you!) It's quite distinct from the episcopal process in the Catholic and Methodist churches, in which certain decisions come down from on high.  Therefore, once we have satisfied all requirements, we are not ordained en masse by a bishop and then assigned a call.  In our system, we are ordained into a specific call -- usually a church, but sometimes a chaplaincy, or sometimes an academic or administrative position.  Once ordained, always ordained --  but that first call comes out of community ~ for instance: a church, a hospital, or a seminary.  A candidate is ordained by her presbytery (our version of a Catholic diocese or a Methodist conference), which has overseen her "process" ~  usually in her home church, which has sponsored her ~  and then installed in the church or other institution she will be serving ~ which may be in a different presbytery, in a different state.

The basic requirements in my presbytery: earn an M.Div. degree, complete a unit (400 hours) of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), complete a year-long field education experience of 10-15 hours a week in a church or other setting.  Show up each year for an assessment with the presbytery's Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM). Pass a psychological evaluation, which takes two days here.  Pass the five ordination exams. Some presbyteries don't require CPE; some require two different field placements.  Most will give exceptions or offer alternatives for multiple exam disasters, particularly in the languages.  Of course, things can go wrong at various points along the way.  Oddly enough, despite the death of my son, my process has been a smooth one thus far. (An exam retake is not an unusual glitch.)

I'm now at the point at which I seek my CPM's certification to receive a call.  That means that in November I will go to the CPM meeting where I will preach a sermon, defend my Statement of Faith, and review with the committee the form of fill-in-the-blanks and short essay questions that is submitted to churches looking for pastors.  If all goes well (and sometimes it doesn't), I will be certified to contact churches and respond to their contacting me.

Let's assume that someday there's a match.  The contract of call is among the church, the pastor, and the presbytery, so a candidate called by a church appears before a presbytery meeting at which anyone can ask her pretty much anything.  It's up to the presbytery to approve the call, and then . . .and only then . . .

Ordination and Installation. 

There's still a long  way to go.


  1. Indeed....there is a way to go, but the journey is well in route...are you thinking of congregational call or hospital or teaching? I think it's congregation, right? or will you wait and see how the call process unfolds once you go through the next couple of steps...

  2. Thank you for the very clear explanation - before reading this, I didn't know how the 'process' worked in the Presbyterian Church. My prayers for you as you continue!

  3. Thank you for that - it helps to see it written out so clearly.