GA News: Committee on committees‚ hears about ordination exams, racial and ethnic concerns, judicial process

SAN JOSE — The Committee on Review of General Assembly Permanent Committees and Commissions will take action today (June 24) on recommendations to change the ordination examination process for Ministers of the Word and Sacrament made by the Presbyteries‚ Cooperative Committee on Examination for Candidates (PCCEC).

The PCCEC was one of three study committees making reports on self-studies Monday to the “committee on committees,” which reviews the work of the General Assembly’s permanent, advocacy, and advisory committees. The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns [] (ACREC) reported on its work to advocate for the addition of the Belhar Confession to The Book of Confessions, which began in 2004. The Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly [] (GAPJC) reported on the efficiency with which it has handled appeals from lower courts in the denomination.

The committee on committees‚ function is partly to ensure that the General Assembly‚s committees work efficiently and serve necessary functions. A common concern expressed by PCCEC and ACREC was that their work is not fully appreciated by the “people in the pews.”

The Rev. John Burgess, professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and chair of the PCCEC’s self-study team, said the committee faced four challenges in revising the ordination exam process: the focus of the exams, addressing grading ssues such as recruiting appropriate graders, defining and advising when a candidate should take the exams and dealing with racial and ethnic biases in the exams. “Exams play a unique and irreplaceable role, and they are not meant to repeat what happens at seminary,” Burgess told the committee.

Judith Armour Pingel, chair of ACREC‚s self-study team, said work begun by that committee often reaches the General Assembly by way of other committees. ACREC was first to advocate for the Fair Food Campaign, she said, but the campaign was implemented by the Hunger Program []. And though the Belhar Confession was proposed four years ago, the overture to add it came this year from the Office of Theology and Worship [].

Asked if lack of recognition had discouraged ACREC in its work, Pingel said no. “We just didn’t have the resources,” she said. “Once the Assembly picks up what we have recommended, they get the notice.”

The Rev. Wendy Warner from the GAPJC presented a detailed report describing how efficiently the commission works. Unlike other committees, GAPJC hears only appeals from lower courts. It can neither generate its own cases nor change the Book of Order.

“There are times when our decisions are not joyfully received,” she said with a laugh. “As a commission, we are the body of Christ. We do not do this without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Our sense of call is strong. God has called us to this work and without being rooted in Christ’s call — in the sense of mercy and compassion — I don’t think any one of us would do this.”