National Assessment – 28-29 November 2003

Thank you to you all for your support over the last few weeks. As some of you will have heard, the National Assessment Workgroup couldn't reach a consensus and have turned me down.  However, I thought I’d report back on the process, which was, in many ways quite fun.

Rosie, Clare and I travelled to Christchurch on Friday afternoon.  Clare came with us because Lynn Russell, the Wellington Presbytery Student Committee convener, fell over her cat and broke her leg the day before.  We were all a bit nervous, but a couple of hours of retail therapy and a bath helped me no end.

At 6.30pm we turned up at St Stephen’s, Bryndwr for the opening session of the assessment.  There were 11 members of the National Assessment Workgroup, five people recruited to stand in as candidates since there was only me, and the three of us. It was daunting to stand in the circle and realize that they were all there because of me!  After a short devotion and brief introductions, during which almost everyone defined themselves by their marriage and children, we watched a video presenting the results of last year’s research on attracting New Zealanders to spiritual life.  This video formed a large part of the first group assessment, in which I and the five fake candidates discussed preparing a mission for the people surveyed in the research.  In the end we decided to set up a cooking class for 20-something men.  The end result wasn’t what was being assessed, but the discussion was, which is probably just as well!

The next morning I began what could only be described as one of the most exhausting days I’ve had in ages. Following lovely devotions led by Clare, I had my first interview, on my motivations for ministry.  This was a discussion about why I thought I was called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and what drives me (in case you’re wondering – people, people, people). Then the other candidates and I went straight into a group exercise, building a model of the church in mission – using K-nex.  Again, the end result was not as important as the way we interacted. It was a hilarious exercise and we were all quite proud that the model moved, as we’d solved a number of technical and balance-related problems with some difficulty, none of us ever having used K-nex before.

A brief morning tea was followed by a second interview on my life history and skills.  This was challenging, because one of the interviewers was determined to get me to state my theology rather than my skills.  In the end, he gave me a hypothetical situation to solve, and seemed rather surprised when I came up with a solution that he approved of.

Straight after this was one of the really fun sessions – the impromptu speech.  Each candidate was given a choice of two topics from which they chose one. We had three minutes to prepare and three minutes to speak.  The topics ranged from “Can anything good come out of America?”; “Morning or night bird – which are you?” and my own topic, “What’s the best read you’ve had recently?” The speeches were all good, but afterwards, the other candidates left, having performed their function.  I missed them, because they were a great group.

After lunch I presented my prepared speech, which is attached to this email.  Apart from having to cut a paragraph out because the warning bell arrived sooner than it did in practice, I think this went really well – the lost paragraph didn’t upset the flow of the argument. Straight afterwards I had my last interview, with a psychologist, in which we went over the results from the psychological tests I had filled in a week ago.  This was a very reassuring conversation, as it turned out that my results suggested a very high degree of fitness for ministry, particularly as regards leadership, management and people skills.

Unfortunately, the work group couldn't make a decision. What this means is not very clear, since they were at great pains to tell me before the assessment that they always make unanimous decisions.  Since they wouldn't give any further details, I am left hanging.  Again.

The official line being taken by the Assembly Office is that there was something in the attributes required for ministry I didn’t have and that Wellington Presbytery needs to go through its discernment process again.  I don’t believe this for a minute, since if there had been something significant missing, consensus would have been reached.

My feeling is that there was an elephant in the room with them. Since they won’t name my sexuality as their problem, I am happy to do so for them.  My heart goes out to those on the work group who supported my candidacy – they must be hurting at the moment.

My thanks go to all the people who have supported me. My email box has hundreds of lovely emails, which I am gradually answering, so if you haven’t heard from me, you will. In particular I thank Rosie, Lynn Russell, Clare and Margaret, then in no particular order, Peter McRae, Bruce Corkill and Alastair Sherriff (for exceptional legal work), Keith Bittle, Heide Pusch, Ken Hand, all my workmates, Geoff King (minister at Knox in Christchurch, who lent us his car and his ear), Sylvia Miller and Brian Hardie (ministers at St Stephens, who made sure that I could eat all the food at the weekend), Bruce Hansen (for some useful suggestions after the “decision”) and the other “candidates” – Andrew, Jean, Bryce, Lesley and Gavin (for sheer fabulousness, hilarity and solidarity).  And to you all at St Andrews, because without you, I wouldn’t have had any chance at all.  I am lucky to have such a church community.

Deborah