About The General Board of Examining Chaplains and The General Ordination Examination

Questions and Answers
April 30, 2000

How long has the Episcopal Church been using General Ordination Examinations?

In 1970, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church created the General Board of Examining Chaplains to standardize the process of canonical examination for ordination. The GBEC includes four bishops, six clergy with pastoral cure, six faculty, and six lay people, elected by the House of Bishops for six year terms, each with special competence in one or more of the seven areas of canonical examination. The GBEC is charged with preparing and administering an examination for the entire church, although decisions with regard to ordination remain in the province of diocesan authorities. The first examination was administered in 1972.

The canons of the church (Title III, Canon 7, Section 5a) require that before ordination a candidate must be examined and show proficiency in:

  1. The Holy Scriptures
  2. Church History, including the Ecumenical Movement
  3. Christian Theology, including Missionary Theology and Missiology
  4. Christian Ethics and Moral Theology
  5. Studies in Contemporary Society, including Racial and Minority Groups
  6. Liturgics and Church Music
  7. Theory and practice of Ministry

The General Ordination Examination, which is written annually by the General Board of Examining Chaplains, is based on these seven areas.

Click here for A Short Summary of what G.O.E. Candidates Ought to Know.

In preparing the questions the board assumes that candidates have completed two and a half years of seminary training or the equivalent.

Why a “General” Ordination Examination?

Persons are ordained in their particular dioceses, but they are ordained on behalf of, and for service throughout, the whole church. Before 1972, each diocese conducted its own process of examination, with the result that canonical examinations varied widely from place to place. Not only did the content of the exams depend upon the interests and concerns of individual dioceses but some candidates had indulgent examiners and perfunctory questions while others suffered with idiosyncratic examiners and inappropriate exams.

The GOE is the same for all candidates no matter where they come from. Furthermore, the results of the GOE are evaluated initially by readers and members of the GOE who do not know candidates' identities and who have no connection with their Commissions on Ministry, their seminaries or their bishops. These evaluations are reviewed by other members of the GBEC, by the Administrator of the GOE, and at the diocesan level. Candidates thus have the benefit of a series of independent evaluations.

Why not a General Examination evaluated only by local diocesan bishops and Commissions on Ministry?

Anonymous evaluation by persons outside the diocese guards candidates against the intrusion of personal bias (for good or ill). The readers are concerned only to evaluate the level of proficiency which is evident in an anonymously written exam paper. Their judgments of particular examinations provide candidates with honest and thoughtful appraisals, which may be used by bishops, commissions, and candidates for a number of purposes (see below).

Who are the readers of the GOE?

They come from all walks of life. They are chosen by the Administrator from names suggested by GBEC members, by bishops, other clergy, lay people, or by experienced readers. About half of the readers are clergy, often with pastoral cures. Many clergy readers have themselves taken the GOE. Whether clergy or laity, the readers work conscientiously and carefully and are fully cognizant of the importance of their task.

Why anonymity?

Anonymity protects candidates from judgments based on personality or looks or circumstances. However, the candidate's anonymity extends only as far the reading process. Once the exam evaluations are received by candidates, bishops and Commissions on Ministry, the whole person and all his or her work can be assessed, with appropriate attention to the place of the GOE results in the total picture.

What's covered in the GOE?

The GOE covers all seven canonical areas, and the questions are designed to allow candidates to demonstrate, in an integrated and applied fashion, their grasp of what they have learned in their studies. Essay questions usually ask for answers drawn from two or three canonical areas. Some essays are closed book questions, some are open book, so that candidates can demonstrate their familiarity with Bible, Prayer Book and other resources. Shorter questions are generally based on topics from the area of Theory and Practice of Ministry, but they may call as well for knowledge of facts - facts about church history, for instance, or about the "lore" of the church - or for the kind of information that is commonly sought by lay people during inquirer's classes and adult forums.

Who makes up the questions?

The GBEC. Suggestions for questions are submitted to the board by those who are interested in the GOE. Keeping in mind the seven canonical areas, as well as the time constraints of the exam process, the board constructs questions designed to give ample opportunity for candidates to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding.

But haven't Candidates already been tested in all these areas in seminary?

Seminary exams test largely for academic achievement. The GOE does not intend to duplicate such testing but rather to examine the integration of academic disciplines, to appropriate this learning, and to apply it to the practice of ministry. A candidate may, for instance, be asked to integrate ethical theory and knowledge of Holy Scripture within the context of a given social problem. The answer might display considerable book learning and make many scriptural references, but the GOE asks for an understanding of the relationships between the two, as well as an appreciation of their usefulness in ministry.

What use is made of the GOE?

The purpose of the GOE is evaluative and advisory. It offers assistance to diocesan authorities in determining a candidate's readiness for ordination and, at the same time, provides to the candidate and his or her mentors valuable guidance in planning further, continuing education.

What happens if a candidate fails to demonstrate proficiency in part (or even all) of the GOE?

As has been noted, bishops and Commissions on Ministry are expected to make whatever use of GOE results they deem appropriate. An unsatisfactory GOE may or may not be an impediment to ordination. Sometimes re-examination, under different circumstances, produces quite different results. Occasionally a candidate's problem may be located in writing or language skills. The GOE serves as one means toward the assessment of individual preparation for ministry, to be weighed by diocesan authorities along with the other data available to them.

What's the best way to approach the GOE?

A person who has "read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested" his or her academic work during preparation for ministry should do well on the GOE. Over the last decade about two-thirds of those who have taken the exam have written good papers (demonstrated proficiency in 6 or 7 areas), about one-fourth have written fair papers (demonstrated proficiency in 3, 4 or 5 areas), about one-tenth have written poor papers (demonstrated proficiency in 0, 1 or 2 areas). Copies of previous years' examination questions are available here.

Further information may be obtained from:
The Rev. Richard F. Tombaugh, Executive Secretary
920 Farmington Avenue, Suite 202
West Hartford, CT 06107
Phone (860) 233-2271
Fax (860) 233-2644 e-mail: GBECEC@yahoo.com