The GOE is dead; Long live the GOE?

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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