As a graduating senior seeking a call in the PC(USA), I regularly find myself as an advisor of sorts for those around me who are navigating the ordination process. My own process has been very smooth, but there were a few hurdles I did not foresee going in. Based on my experience and the stories I have heard from my colleagues in ministry, here are a few suggestions for those considering or currently working toward ordination in the (PC)USA.
1. Read the Book of Order – Read the sections of the Book of Order on the ordination process. Begin at G-2.06 “Preparation for Ministry” and read through G-2.07 “Ordination.” Learn the basics of the process by heart, and pay special attention to the time requirements of each stage. This will help you determine the timing of your examinations, meetings, and other requirements. (You can download a PDF of the Book of Order here.)
2. Know your presbytery requirements – In addition to the requirements and steps mandated in the Book of Order, presbyteries have their own unique processes. For example, before moving into candidacy, I was required to pass my Bible Content Exam and take a psychological exam from an approved source. I was also required to produce a written Statement of Faith and Sense of Call, a seminary transcript, and the standard forms that come from the denomination (which you can download here). I also needed to complete a unit of CPE and a congregational internship before I am approved to seek a call. Many presbyteries have a handbook or list of all the requirements for each stage of the process. Get it early. Learn it. Do it.
3. Take the initiative – Once you get started, assume that it is incumbent on you to ask for meetings, because it probably is. If you would like to move from inquiry to candidacy and meet all of the requirements, you need to contact your committee and ask to be put on the agenda for the next meeting. With likely dozens of people under care who are all at different stages, you need to advocate for yourself and ask to be seen by your committee. Try and find that sweet spot between persistent and pushy.
4. Survive your examinations – At various points during the process, you will need to answer questions in committee and on the presbytery floor. There are limitations on what commissioners are allowed to ask you, with some stages being more prohibitive than others. Know what these rules are for your examination and confirm them with the moderator of the meeting. Even well-meaning folks occasionally ask questions beyond the scope of a given examination. For example, during an examination I was asked questions about my wife and how she felt about my call. While the question was definitely well-intended, it was not in order. Another commissioner objected to the question, and it was withdrawn.
Perhaps the best pointer for examinations in committee and on the presbytery floor is to answer the question honestly and completely and then stop talking. People really get themselves into trouble when they go beyond the question asked, turning a “yes or no” question into a lecture. If someone asks you, “Is Jesus Christ your savior?” the answer is “yes” or “no.” The answer is not “yes, but…” or “well, it depends on…” There is a time for extended discussions of these important issues, but your examination is not it. Example: A member of my home presbytery didn’t care for my statement of faith because it was so traditional, but we discussed it at length over lunch rather than a debate on the presbytery floor.
5. Make more experienced friends – I am very lucky to be under care in the presbytery in which I was raised. I know many of the pastors around the presbytery, and always have someone I can ask when I have questions. This is invaluable. If you don’t have those connections, foster relationships with as many people in your presbytery as you can. These people will answer your questions, look out for you on the presbytery floor (maybe ask you some fun questions), and greet you with hugs and smiles when you are approved. Also, don’t forget to talk to your pastor. My pastor has been a great source of wisdom and encouragement.
6. Don’t give up – Many of us face a setback, delay, or other challenge along the way. Some people are confronted with additional challenges and scrutiny simply because of who they are, something I didn’t have to face. Keep building relationships, keep learning, and keep discerning God’s call to you. Ordained ministry in the PC(USA) is not for everyone, but ministry is the calling of every Christian. Constantly ask yourself and the community around you where your gifts for ministry are most needed, and don’t be afraid to try something new.
These are just a few things that came to my mind, but the wisdom of our tradition is amazing. What advice would you offer those considering or in the ordination process? Please comment below!