Exam time at the St. Augustine Theological School

I am grading the last of the exams: ‘Marking scripts,’ as it is called in England and in many parts of Africa. The burden of giving them – ‘invigilating’ – has been largely upon my colleagues, as I have been traveling with my sister and brother-in-law during their first visit to Africa. We sent the examinations by e-mail up to Francistown for the students there, and the vicar at the parish kindly gave them for us. One ordinand is still to go, as his English skills are limited. We will give his orally, in Setswana, through an interpreter.

I admit that I have given more care to setting these exams than I do at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. There I am concerned with students’ mastery of the material in the course. Here I ask myself again and again, what is really important for our ordinands to know in their ministry? Course mastery and foundation for ministry are not always the same.

So, in my sacramental course, I am keen to know their theological understanding of the Eucharist: How might they explain to our congregations what we, as an Anglo-Catholic diocese, do each Sunday? I am keen to know, now that they have studied the history of the Reformation, how they might appreciate the differences between the various Christian traditions in Botswana, for the legacy of the Reformation is alive and visible throughout the country. And I am keen to know, now that they have studied biblical interpretation, how they might approach the lectionary as they prepare a sermon on a given Sunday. What, I ask, do you know about this passage, and what would be helpful to you to know if you could? Exegesis and hermeneutics as a practical matter.

Now, having posed such questions, I have quite a stack of papers to mark. This task, I find, carries with it some emotion for the lecturer. Of course there is an ‘objective’ aspect to it all; some answers are simply right or wrong, and we mark accordingly. Others are more nuanced; even then, we try to be ‘objectively’ fair. The emotion comes in because I want them to do well, and when they do not, I cannot resist asking myself what I might have done differently, how I might have taught instead that would have helped them understand more fully. It is worrying when I envision those who do poorly leading congregations without the firm foundation in biblical and theological knowledge we desire.

But the fact of the matter is that many do very well indeed, and those who have not always have the capacity to grow in knowledge and understanding as time goes by. I recall a rather silly piece I wrote for our student publication when I was in seminary, in which I argued that it was unlikely that any of Jesus’ disciples would have survived the Anglican ordination process, including seminary. All of our ordinands here at the St. Augustine Theological School have gifts for ministry. That is clear, so perhaps I should not be anxious about their performance on an exam. There is more to it than that.