Canonical Assessment Retreat

Held in January, the retreat gathered postulants, candidates, and clergy for learning and planning.


February 11, 2016

From The Rev. Susan Daughtry, Missioner for Formation:

FARIBAULT, Minn. - In January, six participants in the ECMN School for Formation gathered for a retreat at the ECMN Retreat Center with experienced deacons and priests in order to assess their proficiency in scripture, theology, ethics, history, and more. This year’s retreat marks the start of a new approach to canonical assessment for potential ordinands. The retreat included time for shared prayer, face-to-face feedback with experienced clergy on papers they had been asked to write ahead of time, as well as workshops in areas such as pastoral care and ministry and theology. Participants also crafted a draft plan for their ongoing learning in ministry.

“Having taken the GOE (General Ordination Exam) over a decade ago in a very impersonal, individualistic way - sitting by myself in my room typing for seven or so hours, four or five days in a row - I found the opportunity to talk with the men and women whose theology papers I read life-giving and encouraging,” said The Rev. Blair Pogue, who served as a mentor in the area of theology. “My personal goal was to help the people I met with become the best and most effective communicators and theologians of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - and I think a retreat serves that goal better than an impersonal weeklong series of exams.”

At its best, canonical assessment is an opportunity to integrate the academic, practical, and spiritual learning that happens in formation for leadership. Sometimes the assessment indicates that some further study would be helpful before ordination. “We see canonical assessment as a diagnostic tool to make sure new clergy have the tools they need for successful ministry,” said Bishop Brian Prior. “However, we always want to hold up the importance of lifelong learning, not just for clergy but for all the baptized. This retreat was a big step in the right direction, as we brought aspiring deacons and priests together with their experienced colleagues in ministry to learn together.”

Lisa Wiens Heinsohn is a transitional deacon from St. Matthew’s in St. Paul, currently interning at St. Mark’s, Minneapolis. “What I would want next year's class of folks to know,” said Lisa, “is that yes, they will ask you to answer long, convoluted questions about which you could write volumes but which you must answer in a tiny number of words, and that yes, it's very likely you will need to do a little bit of follow-up work to round out your learning, but that it is a kind and life-giving experience that is infinitely preferable to the grueling bar exam version we used to have to do. Having taken part in the retreat, I am now realizing that ordination as a priest is just a mile marker, not the finish line, in the lifelong journey I have undertaken to follow Jesus in this particular way. I am looking forward to continuing to learn in many different ways, and appreciate this experience as a chance to synthesize some of the important pieces of what I have learned so far.”

Craig Lemming, a transitional deacon from St. John the Evangelist in St. Paul, has this to say to those who take part in the Canonical Assessment Retreat next year:

“Do not be afraid! As we cross this threshold in our lifelong journey of discernment of God's call to Holy Orders, more than ever, you will come to know that we are knit into the fabric of a community that collectively embodies Christ's radical love and hospitality to all people.”

Read more on the School for Formation blog here.