D087 Delete Canon III.15 Of the General Board of Examining Chaplains
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring,
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That Canon III.15 is hereby deleted; and be it further
Resolved, That the subsequent canons in Title III be renumbered as appropriate; and be it further
Resolved, That bishops, commissions on ministry, and standing committees be encouraged to consider successful completion of a program of study approved by the Bishop at an accredited Episcopal seminary as prima facie evidence of proficiency of the subjects outlined in Canon III.8.5.g.
Canon 15: Of the General Board of Examining Chaplains Sec. 1. There shall be a General Board of Examining Chaplains, consisting of four Bishops, six Priests with pastoral cures or in specialized ministries, six members of accredited Seminary faculties or of other educational institutions, and six Lay Persons. The members of the Board shall be elected by the House of Bishops and confirmed by the House of Deputies, one-half of the members in each of the foregoing categories being elected and confirmed at each regular meeting of the General Convention for a term of two Convention periods. They shall take office at the adjournment of the meeting of the General Convention at which their elections are confirmed, and shall serve until the adjournment of the second regular meeting thereafter. No member shall serve more than 12 years consecutively. Additionally, the Presiding Bishop, in consultation with the Chair of the Board, may appoint up to four other members for a term. The House of Bishops, at any special meeting that may be held prior to the next meeting of the General Convention, shall fill for the unexpired portion of the term any vacancy that may have arisen in the interim. The Board shall elect its own Chair and Secretary, and shall have the power to constitute committees necessary for the carrying on of its work. Sec. 2. (a) The General Board of Examining Chaplains, with professional assistance, shall prepare at least annually a General Ordination Examination covering the subject matter set forth in Canon III.8.5.g, and shall conduct, administer, and evaluate it in respect to those Candidates for Holy Orders who have been identified to the Board by their several Bishops. (b) Whenever a Candidate has not demonstrated proficiency in any one or more of the canonical areas covered by the General Ordination Examination, the General Board of Examining Chaplains shall recommend to the Commission on Ministry, and through the Commission to the Board of Examining Chaplains, if one exists, of the Diocese to which the Candidate belongs, how the proficiencies might be attained. Sec. 3. The General Board of Examining Chaplains may prepare, in each Convention period, guidelines based upon the subjects contained in Canon III.8.5.g, which guidelines shall be available to all persons concerned. Sec. 4. The General Board of Examining Chaplains shall promptly report, in writing, to the Candidate, to the Candidate’s Bishop and to the Dean of the Seminary the Candidate is attending, the results of all examinations held by them, together with the examinations themselves, whether satisfactory or unsatisfactory, making separate reports upon each person examined. The Bishop shall transmit these reports to the Standing Committee and to the Commission. Notwithstanding the results of the examinations, in no case shall the Standing Committee recommend a Candidate for Ordination under Canon III.8 until the Standing Committee has received from the Commission on Ministry a certificate to the effect that the Candidate has demonstrated a proficiency in all subjects required by Canon III.8.5.g and h. The report of the Board shall be made in the following form: To_____________________ (Candidate), the Right Reverend _______________, Bishop of ________________(or in the absence of the Bishop the Standing Committee of)___________________: (Place) ___________________ (Date) ________________ To the Dean of (Place)__________________________: (Date) _______________ We, having been assigned as examiners of A.B., hereby testify that we have examined A.B. upon the subject matter prescribed in Canon III.8. Sensible of our responsibility, we give our judgment as follows: (Here specify the proficiency of A.B. in the subject matter appointed, or any deficiency therein, as made apparent by the examination. (Signed) _____________________________________ Sec. 5. The General Board of Examining Chaplains shall make a report concerning its work to each regular meeting of the General Convention, and in years between meetings of the General Convention shall make a report to the House of Bishops.
The General Board of Examining Chaplains was established by the General Convention of 1970 with the sole task of preparing and administering a series of standardized tests – the General Ordination Exams or GOE’s – to gauge the proficiency of postulants for the priesthood across the areas of learning outlined in Canon III.8.5.g as well as one additional topic. Per the Episcopal Church’s website, these exams are to be advisory prior to ordination to the diaconate (https://www.episcopalchurch.org/glossary/general-ordination-examination-goe/). While it would be preferrable to eliminate the GOE alone, the exams are the entire raison d’être of the GBEC. Without the GOE’s, it has no purpose.
Why eliminate the GOE’s? For one, they are not required for ordination either to the diaconate or the priesthood. Indeed, they are redundant. Canon III.6.6.b.4 and Canon III.8.6.c.4 – for deacons and priests respectively – already require recommendations concerning ordination from seminaries or other programs approved by the Bishop based in part on academic proficiency. Moreover, Canon III.8.5.j requires annual reporting from the seminaries or other programs on the academic performance of postulants and candidates for the priesthood. Because of this redundancy, diocesan practices run the gamut from not requiring GOE’s or any similar examination to barring postulants from candidacy or ordination should they fail any of the tests.
Secondly, these exams are a waste of the Church’s resources. In fact, the value add is so minimal that many dioceses will ordain candidates for the priesthood as transitional deacons before the completion of GOE’s while others have developed their own processes in lieu of the tests having found them inadequate. Over $140,000 per year is spent on an exam administered on a laughingly dilapidated web-system, which one former classmate described as “straight out of 1998.” Exam takers are warned ahead of time that the system tends to slow down or crash in the final fifteen-minute window of the testing period due to high volume and so are advised to finish in advance of that. If the infrastructure is bad, the questions are worse. As an example, the questions on the 2022 exams contained horrendous typos and rubrics whose requirements did not fully match the question asked. The worst example, which became a running joke, was the misspelling of “ordained” as “lordfained” – a confusion so widespread that Google began suggesting “what does lordfained mean” as a search request during the test.
Like any standardized test, the GOE reinforces the bias of the writers and their backgrounds. On the first tests in the 1970’s, female postulants took great care to obscure any detail that could reveal their sex. These biases may account for dramatic swings in proficiency results between certain of the exams in 2019 and 2020. The GOE is a barrier in another way: it costs $750 to take, more the SAT, LSAT, and MCAT combined. For those whose schools, dioceses, or congregations cannot afford to pay it, it is a not insubstantial cost – about a year’s worth of text books – that lower income students can ill afford.
Finally, the GOE is an unnecessary cause of stress for test takers. It is a high risk, low reward set of exams, completely superfluous to all other educational preparation, which have the added insult of being administered during the break between semesters, interrupting what should be a period of (at least relative) rest before the final semester when test takers are preparing for ordination and discerning their calls. For these reasons, the GOE and the GBEC should be eliminated.