I'm in Seminary because I want to be a pastor. After working in a church for three years, I began to hear my calling to ordained ministry and realized I wanted to do so in the Presbyterian Church. The process of becoming a pastor is long process and vastly different among denominations so I thought I would give an explanation of the process for those who are unaware. It can feel like an overwhelming amount of work at times, but I'm learning the informal Presbyterian motto- "trust the process."
Ordination in the PC(USA) requires a seminary degree, but the seminary is not what ordains you. Being ordained means that I will be a Reverend and able to marry, bury, and perform the sacraments of Eucharist and Baptism.
The process began for me in December of 2015. I officially became a member of Bethany Presbyterian Church and was received as "Under Care" of the Session. This means Bethany is the church that is sending me through this ordination process. I officially became an Inquirer in the spring of 2016, which is the first stage in the process. You are required to be an Inquirer for a year before you can move on to the next phase.
At some point this year I need to go through 2 days of extensive psychology evaluations (5 tests such as MMPI, Strong's, Myers-Briggs, etc). To become a Candidate, I must submit a Statement of Faith to my Session (board of elders) and an essay detailing my sense of call to ordained ministry. I will meet with Session and if they approve me, I will then meet with the Committee for Preparation of Ministry (CPM), which is a committee of the Seattle Presbytery. If I am accepted as a Candidate, I then I must wait another year for the next phase of the process.
As a Candidate, I need to pass 5 ordination exams:
- Theology - passed in January 2018
- The capacity to make use of the Reformed theological heritage and confessions in relating the gospel to the Church and the world today.
- Worship and Sacraments - passed in April 2017
- Understanding of the meaning and purpose of corporate worship and Sacraments, familiar with Presbyterian worship and Book of Confessions, and application to Church life today.
- Church Polity - passed in April 2017
- How the PCUSA governs itself, constitutional structures, and methods of resolving conflicts or programs, based on the Book of Order
- Exegesis - Passed in May 2018
- Using Greek or Hebrew to translate an assigned passage of scripture, write an interpretation, display an understanding of the text's context, and effectively relate the text to the contemporary church.
- Bible Content - passed in February 2017
- The content of the Bible and its themes.
The exams are challenging and require you to have both robust theology and a pastoral presence. The Bible Content Exam is notoriously difficult, but after a month of diligent studying, I passed in February. I also am required to do a year-long church internship and a summer Chaplaincy (CPE) residency at a hospital.
After a year of being a Candidate, I will have my Certification Interview (slated for September 2018). I will need to prepare a Statement of Faith and be ready to defend it, give a 10 minute sermon to the CPM Advisory Board, and present a Personal Information Form. If the committee approves me, I will be considered Certified Call-Ready.
In the PC(USA), you get ordained to a position. I will be ordained when I accept an ordained position somewhere. This used to only be pastoral positions, but there are many kinds of "validate ministry" positions now, such as social justice non-profits, education positions, and more. As of right now, I am hoping to get an Associate Pastor job somewhere for my first call. People have asked if I want to come back to the Northwest, but the answer is, "I don't know." It honestly depends on where there is a job opening that I'm interested in. Never has my life gone according to my long-term plans, so I've stopped making them. I would be crazy to say I know where God is leading me, so I'll figure it out when I get there (but please, God, not a landlocked state!).
When I receive a call, then I will have an Ordination service at my church. I will be ordained by the Seattle Presbytery and there I will get to serve communion to my family and friends for the first time.
It's a long process and there are days when I wish I could just be a Baptist and not have to go through it all! However, I'm also so grateful for the process. I want to be able to pass all these exams and requirements because I believe they will help me be an effective pastor. I'm reassured to know that Presbyterian pastors have completed this much work and are trustworthy theological leaders. I am certain of my calling and excited about the journey ahead!