For the third time, I find myself beginning to study for my Theological Competence Exam, and my second for the Polity Exam, for the PCUSA. The first time I took these tests, back in August of 2011 and Jaunary 2012, respectively I was excited and nervous; emotions about taking these tests that I had prepared for my entire life were flowing through my veins. I had prepared my entire life. In the handbook, it even says that is when your preparation begins. But when you fail one, and then another, does that mean God prepared you wrong all those years? It can send you into a tailspin, make you doubt your calling, and make you angry at the church, others, and God.
The most ironic part? They are just tests. But not just any tests.
The Standard Ordination Exams are just one step of several in the ordination process of the Presbyterian Church USA. You have to go to seminary and get an MDiv, you have to be a practicing Presbyterian with a session endorsement, you have to be an inquirer for atleast a year, many Presbyteries require atleast 1 unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, a psychological exam, atleast 1 year of candidacy, 4 senior ordination exams, 1 Bible trivia exam, meet with your Committee on Preparation for Ministry, and then, you have to find a job where you are called to be ordained. Once all of those happen, then you get to be questioned on the floor of your Presbytery where they will ask just about anything they want. And if you’re in a Presbytery who doesn’t like that you are a person of color, or your gender, or that you are not a heterosexual, then you might get screwed. And, let’s not forget that you will spend hundreds of dollars on this process alone as well.
Many times, I ask myself, “why on earth do you do this?” I found myself asking this same question this morning when cracking open my Book of Order. Why in the hell am I still doing this when, as you can see from above, it can make you so miserable and tear you down to no end? It’s easy to complain, as you can also read. It’s even harder to want to put up with it. But I do. And for some strange reason, It kind of excites me.
My mother has always called me a masochist. She might be right.
First, when I open my Book of Order, it makes me excited and proud. It is a book that, along with the Book of Confessions, makes me realize how much heritage comes out of the Presbyterian Church as a whole. It tells me where we have been and where we have not been. It reminds me that there is a lot of work to do, and I want to be a part of it.
I learned early on, that if you want to change things, then be part of the change. Cliche, I know. But if you want something to change, you have to get involved. I learned this early, but the first time I did it, I was a senior in high school.
My home church, Stockbridge Presbyterian in Stockbridge, GA, was a church that was small, but packed a big punch. Each Christmas, we would have a program in conjunction with other churches and the local county: Community Christmas for the Needy. While I wasn’t a fan of the work”needy,” it was an important ministry. Our family helped in each year. As we would take in applications and meet with people in the community who were seeking our help, I was always noticing the babies. I liked to play with them while the moms were filling out the applications or interviewing with the workers.
I also worked after school at a local daycare and private Pre-K. It was a Christian organization, and it was one of the best jobs I ever had: Cornerstone Christian Academy off of Flippen Road. I began to tell the women that ran the program that we needed to have stuff for babies. We only gave food for older kids and adults. But babies needed things too, way more than adults. And baby stuff was often times, more expensive.
I would spend my afternoons after school working in the day care with my 2-year olds. Then I would head over to the church, to have meetings and work on the Christmas program; I did this for months. I saw that the parents that were sending their children to us at the day care, were sort of well off. They were more well off than the parents I saw applying for aid at our church. So, one evening, I approached one of the women in charge of the church program: “I want to give food, diapers, and toys for the babies.” She looked at me as to say, “I do not have time for you.” Instead she said, “So, go do it. Nothing is stopping you.” She gave me all the paperwork I needed and said, “good luck, there are only 2 months until Christmas, you don’t have a lot of time.”
I was determined to do this, and do it right.
With the help of my boss at the day care and local community members, we did it. For the families, the goal was food for one week, a Christmas dinner, and atleast 2 toys or presents for each child over the age of 3. When we handed out the babies supplies on Christmas Eve to the families with babies or expecting, there were enough diapers, food, formula, bottles, toys, clothes, burping rags, teething toys, and toddler snacks for each child, for atleast 3 weeks.
We had a meeting 2 weeks after Christmas, to begin planning for next year. The committee asked how I did it so quickly. “I really cared. I really wanted to see it happen. And, I had a lot of other parents that could not fathom babies not having food to eat or diapers to wear. So, because I cared, they cared.”
The fact is, it happened because I got in there and did it and people responded.
I don’t say all of this to make myself into some sort of hero. But I wanted to see a change, so I made it happen. I went to the right people, had enough determination and willpower, and had the means to make it happen.
This is how I feel about the church.
The church is like that local community program, it’s a wonderful thing, but it can be better. I want to help make it better and the way that I do that is from the inside out. It’s like when the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes larger. His change happened from the inside out. So, taking these tests is the way to work myself in. If I want to see change in the church, I have to help make it happen. I have to be able to help make it better.
Now, there are other reasons for taking the exams and becoming ordained, but this is one reason that even though I see the PCUSA website and get angered at the thought of paying another $100 to take a test, that I still do it. While they are only tests, its the way to get into the boys’ club; I have to prove that I have what it takes in this area of test-taking, to get an invite in. Do I think it’s the right way to measure if you get in or not? No. It’s pretty inaccurate. But it’s the way in.
When we die, and the kingdom of heaven presents itself to us, I highly doubt that God will require a written test of us to make sure we are eligible. Because if there is a test, then we are all screwed, because I think we all might fail. Thank God for grace abundant.