The General Ordination Exams are a series of exams, timed essays, taken over four days in early January - usually Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri., with Wed. off. Some of the essays are all day questions, with 8 hours to write an essay of no more than so many words. Others are half day questions, two questions per day. The writers are assigned a number and the responses are sent all over the country to be read by "readers" - a panel of people who qualify by virtue of some criteria, to do this. Therefore the writers are anonymous eliminating the possibility that a reader may be biased for or against someone because they know the person, or how they feel about women priests, or how they feel about a particular seminary ie liberal or conservative. Nonetheless the GOE's are a bit controversial. Some dioceses exempt their candidates from taking them, some diocese put a lot of weight on them. At that time in my diocese the chair of the standing committee was of the opinion that if a person could not sustain in all seven areas then the person was not priest qualified. That was quite a statment to make considering that the GOE's are fairly subjective - whether or not a person sustains is up to a panel of readers who may or may not like what a person writes. For example if a person writes from liberationist theology perspective and the readers are not trained or familiar with (or even perhaps "agree with") that theological system then they could "fail" the essays. Sigh.
The results from the Goe's arrive in early March of a persons last term of seminary (or in my case the last year of my dual degree). I was stunned to learn that I had failed in 5 in the 7 areas. Stunned. I had my priest read them, he being an "official" reader - he thought my answers were fine. I had my theology professor read them. He too thought they were fine. So, I was confused. Then I found out that almost half the class who took the GOE's from this seminary had failed in four or more areas. Half of us!....seemed like something was amiss.
The typical response of the diocese to people who failed GOE's was to assign extra work. However this diocese had never experienced so many people who "needed" extra work, remedial work...and in the process it seems I feel through the cracks. March passed without anyone giving me extra work. So did April and May. I was told the Commission on Ministry would discuss my work in the June meeting. But after the June meeting I was told that the committee was going on vacation for the summer and they'd get back to me in Septemeber.
This was huge. I graduated from the school of social work in June. I now had two masters degrees, but no ability to look for a job. I had to move out of the seminary, move my family, and figure out what I was going to do for work. I had no idea where to go or what to do. I was afraid to pursue anything in the social work field, given the scrutiny that degree was under. I felt that the COM just dropped me and my family, dismissed us, as unimportant - I was angry and sad and appalled.
I learned from a friend that there was an opening for a priest in a small church in a diocese north...and the church had an empty rectory that they might rent out. So, I put us in "exile" by moving to that other diocese, as far away as I could get. It was actually a very healthy thing to do. Part of me anticipated applying for the rector position of that church, if and when all was done....I mean I already lived there!
In the meantime I continued to work for the church where I had done my internship. The rector had become a friend and a mentor and a great supporter. She too had failed in areas of the GOE's....this extremely bright woman and priest! I couldn't believe it....She asked me to be the new part time Director of Christian Formation. So, twice a week I drove into that church and worked. Despite the exile this job kept me "canonically resident." It was a smart choice...and a source of healing and hope for me.
I finally had my meeting, in Sept.... with the COM - where I got my assignment for remediaton. Having read my GOE's the COM decided to pass me in some of the areas I had failed, but failed me in some of the areas I had passed....it was too weird...anyway, I had to read nine books (let's see, a theology book I had previously read, some liturgy books, church history, and something else?) and take three tests. I could spend Oct. reading and preparing and take the exams in early Nov. over three days. The long and short of it is I passed the next round of exams and was given an ordination date!
On Dec. 28, 1999 I was finally ordained to the transitional diaconate. I was ordained in my sponsoring parish, the first person ever in their 150 year history to be ordained from and in the church. I remember that I had no idea how to put the collar stays on, the posts that hold the clerical collar in place. I put them on backwards, which means the posts poked my throat all night long. The next day I had a bruise on my "adams apple."
"Huh," I thought, "that seems appropriate. I doubt it is the only time I will be bruised from wearing this collar."