(By Eva Stimson, Office of the General Assembly). Passing the standard ordination exams is a major milestone for candidates seeking to become teaching elders (ministers) in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Until recently, the exam system depended on a cumbersome process involving mountains of paper, hefty fees, travel to test sites, and waits of several months for results.
Today, a streamlined online exam system, now in its fifth year, is saving candidates time and money and has already eliminated more than $1 million in expenses for the denomination.
Much of the savings is in travel costs, says the Rev. Tim Cargal, Assistant Stated Clerk in the Office of the General Assembly, whose office oversees Preparation for Ministry. Before moving the exams online, he explains, “We would have to bring exam readers to centralized locations (in six regions of the country) and provide their room and board for three-to-four days.”
Now the readers—a mix of teaching and ruling elders chosen by their presbyteries to evaluate the exams—can do all the work on their computers at home in 10 to 12 hours, plus some time for preparation and training.
The cost savings have enabled exam fees for candidates (typically seminary students) to be reduced by a third—from $100 to $65 per exam.
The online exams also are offered more frequently than the previous paper ones. The senior ordination exams—four essay-type exams (Bible Exegesis, Church Polity, Reformed Theology, Worship and Sacraments), which used to be offered only twice a year—are now offered four times a year. The Bible Content Examination, in machine-scorable format, is now offered twice a year instead of annually.
The Reverend Ken Broman-Fulks, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in High Point, North Carolina, served on a team of exam readers for his region shortly before the system migrated online. He is now moderator of the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC), the 24-member group responsible for writing the ordination exams.
“The transition to online exams has gone very well,” he says.