I have decided to approach the General Ordination Examination the same way I approached childbirth. I remember being in my ninth month of pregnancy, thinking to myself, “Wait a minute… maybe this isn’t a good idea….” Too late! I comforted myself by telling myself, “Billions and billions of women have done this before me with mom and baby turning out fine, so I will be fine.”
That is how I am (ahem!) attempting to face this mega-test of all mega-tests. The General Ordination Examination is yet another rite of passage for Episcopal seminarians. It is the test required of all those seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. It consists of 7 tests, each 3.5 hours in length, spread out over 4 days. On Jan. 3, we have two 3.5-hour exams separated by lunch; on Jan. 4, we have the same thing. Then we get a one-day break to reconsider our career options. (Just kidding.) Then we have two more tests on Jan. 6. On Saturday, Jan. 7, we have the final 3.5-hour exam. Or maybe they are 3-hour exams. What’s the diff? [Update on 1/2: They ARE 3.5-hour exams.]
We are tested in 7 areas prescribed by our national church’s canons: Holy Scriptures (the Bible); church history; Christian ethics and moral theology; Christian theology and missiology; liturgy and church music; theory and practice of ministry; and contemporary society.
Have I taken classes and studied hard in all these areas? Yes, I have. Should I be expected to be conversant and competent in these topics before I become an ordained leader in a Christian church? Yes. Do I feel prepared? No, I don’t. And that’s because there is so much to cover in all of these areas that one can’t feel really prepared.
The board of examining chaplains advises us not to cram for this exam, but to feel confident in relying on our seminary studies and our life and ministry experiences to guide us. That sounds good. It even sounds like pastoral advice. But then I followed their advice and looked at past questions, and OMG, OMG, OMG. I am praying, not taking the Lord’s name in vain. Yes, I could answer some of them. I feel competent to do Biblical exegesis in a variety of ways and apply it to various situations. I feel competent in planning some liturgies. But explaining the differences in church architecture and altar placements in Christian history? Trust me, I never covered this in 2.5 years of courses at Yale Divinity School. Those courses were there, sure, but I was taking courses on all the other topics in this list of 7 areas.
For each question, we are told what kind of resources we may use, and you probably will not be surprised to hear that Wikipedia is not one of the allowed resources (no electronic resources allowed). For most questions, we are allowed a Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, a liturgical and prayer resource in the Episcopal Church. Sometimes we are allowed a hymnal. And this year, we will be allowed open resources for the Theology and Missiology question. Hoo, boy. That is about the the biggest and broadest topical area, so it will be impossible to figure out what subset of books to bring from home for THAT question. I guess I will park myself in the library on that day.
The Board of Examining Chaplains’ web site, my dean, and my Dean of Anglican Studies have advised us not to try to cram for this exam–just rely on what we know.
Okay. Right. Will do. Breathe deeply. All is well. Many before me have done this and survived.
But I just want to point out that, in fact, I never actually went through with regular childbirth. Due to a sudden drop in her heart rate in utero after 12 hours of labor, my daughter was born by emergency C-section. I was rapidly put under general anaesthesia, and when I woke up, they handed my daughter to me, fully born and very healthy. Presto!*
So… what I’m thinking is, if someone could just put me under and hand me a completed GOE when it’s all over, that would be great.
*Actually, the recovery from a C-section is much longer and more painful than recovery from regular childbirth, and major surgery is always a risk, so it wasn’t SO presto.