Yesterday marked the twelfth anniversary of my GOE scores and comments arriving by USPS. I can still remember the power that silly day held over so many of us. In the two years I studied at VTS before I took the General Ordination Exams, we were all but told to walk on egg shells around the seniors on GOE score day. These Exams held our futures, and whether we passed or not could mean huge delays in the ordination process. Of course, by the time January 2007 rolled around, several dioceses had started ordaining folks to the transitional diaconate in the fall semester of their senior year, thereby neutering the power of the GOEs for many. As I am wont to do, I engaged in some of the anxiety around it all, after all, I wouldn’t be ordained a deacon until after I had successfully graduated from seminary, but I was also keenly away that the GOEs were wearing no clothes.
Rather than ramp up the anxiety machine by making the next generation of GOE takers scared to death to talk to me, I immediately blogged my scores, comments and all, because honestly, like any comprehensive professional certification exam, the whole thing is process of market manipulation and hazing, and ain’t nobody got time for that in the church. Back in those days, scores were 1-5, with anything less than a 3 was considered a failing grade. The Liturgy and Church Music question my year asked us to compare Eucharistic Prayer 2 from Enriching our Worship to Eucharistic Prayer I from Rite I in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. I got a 3 and this was part of the comments, “The limited use of theological terminology inhibits the paper’s capacity to compare and contrast the two prayers.” So, I guess I answered the question barely, which was enough to pass.
Anyway, my focus in that essay was the basic posture from which the prayer is made. In EOW, the anthropology is quite high. We come before God almost in our post-resurrection state. In contrast, Rite I’s basic anthropology is our sinful wretchedness. I used to think that EOW missed the boat and Rite I was way more accurate a read of humanity, but over time, I’ve started to realize that depending on they day, sometimes, we might need to be bolstered up in our belovedness rather than weighed down in our brokenness. That being said, it is helpful to occasionally be reminded that God is God and we are not; that God is good, and by and large, we are not. Which is why I’m grateful for the collect for Epiphany 6/Proper 1. This prayer, which dates from the mid-eighth century, is quite clear in where humanity falls on the goodness meter.
O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As Marion Hatchett writes in his Commentary on the American Prayer Book, “The collect reminds us that without the grace of God we can neither will nor do any good thing nor be pleasing to God.” This certainly doesn’t jive with modern “I’m OK, you’re OK” theology, but let’s face it, that’s got to be ok. If all we do is good, then there is no need for God. It doesn’t take too long in the world today to recognize that everyone has fallen short of the glory of God, and that, as Dr. Cox would remind us:
I’m grateful for the vestiges of Rite I, and for the occasional reminder that no matter how good I might think I am, I, like everyone else, am in need of a savior who can lead me into the goodness that God has planned for me.