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.

writing bookThe 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.

Christian Theology, including Missionary Theology and Missiology. Using the Celtic idea of “thin places” between earth and heaven, explain why mediocre liturgy is less effective than outstanding liturgy at bringing people into Christ’s saving embrace. Resources: Service leaflets from nearby parishes.

Christian Ethics and Moral Theology. Some people complain that $10,000 copes are not an appropriate use of funds. Defend the ethics of fine vestments, using especially Mark 14:7. Resources: The Holy Bible and fine vestment catalogs.

Studies in Contemporary Society, including Racial and Minority Groups. The Anglo-Catholic movement was propelled by its incarnational theology to serve the poor. Give three reasons why Catholic liturgy is effective at encouraging worshipers to serve others. Resources: Open.

Liturgics and Church Music. You have just been called as an honourary assistant curate at Fr. Oscar Late’s parish. Congratulations! Design your installation service, using the considerable resources of Fr. Late’s parish. The liturgy should last between two and three hours. Specify anthems, hymns, lessons, the order of procession, and the number of brass players. Resources: Book of Common Prayer, Hymnal 1982, musical works of Ralph Vaughan Williams and William Walton. (Please include your contact information and cope size.)

Theory and Practice of Ministry. One important part of the practice of ministry is the acquisition of fine incense and lavish silk. Please detail your plans for traveling to points far and wide to acquire these materials. Resources: Expedia.com.

By the way, if you think the General Ordination Exam is difficult, you should not attempt my parish’s General Acolyte Exam. You have been warned.


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Hymnal 1982? At your parish, Father?

Comment by Father Matt Tucker on January 3, 2011 4:51 pm

As someone who has steel drums at one ordination and African drums for the other, I think that you have limited the options, and no mention of LEVAS?

Comment by Rev. Cheryl on January 3, 2011 5:54 pm

Matt, my son, there are two issues. First, one would not find Hymns A&M or the Hymnal 1940 in use for purposes of a sample GOE. Second, we use the Hymnal 1982 in our nave, because it is the official hymnal of the Episcopal Church. While I value tradition as much as the next person, we are not retrograde. One must change (a little) with the times! For example, my curates travel by air instead of steamer to fetch incense.

Occasionally we do print gems from previous hymnals in our leaflet. What hymnal would you have expected us to use?


Comment by Fr. Oscar Late on January 3, 2011 6:36 pm

Cheryl, my child, for purposes of this sample GOE, I wanted to limit the choices deliberately. Amateurs make many mistakes in their quest for “creativity”. This is not to say that your choices were mistakes.

As for LEVAS, I will only sanction Episcopal hymnals with years in the title (e.g. Hymnal 1916 or Hymnal 1982). Liturgy books with creative titles are to be viewws with skepticism. Back in the day, priests used a sanctorale. They did not use books with faux-clever titles such as “Holy women, holy men”. Thus it should ever be.


Comment by Fr. Oscar Late on January 3, 2011 6:43 pm

[…] before now, you’re in for a treat. Have a look at the suggestions of Fr. Oscar Late over at Acknowledge & Bewail. Late might be partisan, but that would certainly be a fun exam to […]

Pingback by Of the General Ordination Exam | Seven whole days on January 3, 2011 8:31 pm

I hear you, Father, though I tend to think it is the times that need changing rather than the hymnals. We use the 1940, nicely refurbished several years ago.

Comment by Father Matt Tucker on January 3, 2011 9:13 pm

LEVAS? Perhaps Mo. Cheryl is referring to the Long Eaton Victoria Angling Society?

I hope so, because I’d pay good money to see angling integrated into an ordination or installation liturgy.

Comment by Father Aaron on January 4, 2011 10:06 am

Is this a joke? What does all of this have to do with Jesus? How is this working for the Episcopal church. Are people being healed, saved, and delivered? And not just sort of. I mean really healed, really saved, really delivered. I grew up in the episcopal church and never new much more than some memorized words and the fact that Jesus died to save me, which is big, but it is just the beginning. Perhaps that is all that the church could get to. Perhaps they were busy searching the world for fine silk, and raising money for $10,000 garments. I noticed that the exam never really addresses what Jesus thought/said. It just asks people to use the Bible as a tool prove a predetermined belief. The Bible can say anything you want it to say. Real study asks a question and does not have a predetermined answer in mind. Perhaps one of the questions should be. what does Jesus say about Pharisees. What is a religious spirit?

Comment by liz on January 4, 2011 2:20 pm

After vainly trying for five years to get information about the reliability, validity, general usefulness of the exams, and the accountability of exam readers, I came to the conclusion that the GOEs were a useless but lucrative enterprise (more than $500000 yearly) for the national church and the Board of Examining Chaplains and their readers. The exams have been almost universally used by bishops to dump candidates for ordination. The discrepancy in grading by readers who use their personal agendas as the basis to judge the responses of those who hold theological and moral viewpoints which don’t accord with theirs is scandalous. But one should not expect any serious examination of the entire process from the leaders of the Episcopal Church. There is absolutely no basis for suggesting that the GOEs tell one anything meaningful about how a seminarian taking them will function in real world ministry.

Lest you think this view is “sour grapes”, I hasten to point out that I passed every one of them. I am a trained psychologist with some understanding of tests and measurements. The GEOs are a disgrace – they should have been abolished years ago. Though I respect your status as a Cardinal Rector, I nonetheless disagree with your conclusion that the GOEs are “good”. If they were good, the national church would have long ago released the information which supported your conclusion. They didn’t because if they actually studied the GOE process, they would have had no reason to continue it.

Comment by Dan Crawford on January 4, 2011 7:11 pm

The current GOE’s are far too easy! Back in my day, when the exams were begun, they had more substance. Nevertheless, the real exams were those in the Diocese of Oklahoma by the Examining Chaplains who were much more thorough and tougher than the nationals. A Week long of written and oral exams by the whole Board and then “dry” confessions and celebrations of the Eucharist tested our preparation and competence in a way that isn’t done today. And, not to be bragging, but like blessed St. Paul, praise to the Lord, I received a commendation for my hearing confessions. Therefore, when you need a tested and certified confessor, I am available.

Comment by Father Sudduth Rea Cummings on January 4, 2011 9:57 pm

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