Alternate Means and an Approved Alternate Route
Two options are open to those who seek ordination as ministers of Word and sacrament but who, for a variety of reasons, are not able to complete the requirements outlined above. Those options are
1. an alternate means to—a dispensation from—specific M.Div. requirements in the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry; and
2. the Approved Alternate Route to certification.
A candidate for the ministry who is a student enrolled in a Master of Divinity degree program at a theological seminary, but because of age, lack of necessary academic preparation, or other sufficient reason, finds it too difficult to meet the full requirements for the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry, shall make application to the classis for an alternate means (dispensation).
a. If the classis finds the reason sufficient, it shall petition the appropriate board on behalf of the applicant by recommending an alternate means to meet the seminary’s academic requirements (Chapter 1, Part II, Article 9, Section 3b). The petition with the reasons for seeking alternate means shall be made three months prior to the meeting of the board of trustees of the MFCA, NBTS, or WTS.
b. The board of trustees of an RCA seminary or the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency, shall inquire carefully into the reasons submitted by the classis as to why the applicant is unable to meet the full constitutional requirements for a candidate’s preparation.
c. Upon recommendation of the faculty of an RCA seminary or the Certification Committee of the MFCA, the appropriate board may grant the requested alternate means” (Book of Church Order, 1, II, 9, 3b).
The Approved Alternate Route (AAR) Process
A member of the church who has demonstrated gifts for the office of minister of Word and sacrament but who is unable to earn a Master of Divinity degree or its equivalent from a seminary accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), and take the regular course of seminary instruction because of age, academic preparation, language differences, or other sufficient reason, may seek an approved alternate route in order to be awarded the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry (see Book of Church Order, Chapter 1, Part II, Article 9, Section 4).
The classis initiates the Approved Alternate Route (AAR) process by contacting the MFCA in writing through the clerk of classis. (Classes are encouraged to determine, in cooperation with the MFCA, whether a person is eligible for the AAR process.) The classis provides all the applicable information on the candidate—educational transcripts, a resume of employment, and a statement giving the rationale for choosing the AAR. A detailed description of the program and supervised ministry is mutually developed by classis and MFCA upon acceptance into the program. As part of the application to the MFCA, the classis shall verify that the following criteria are met:
- The classis shall determine: (1) the candidate has at least five years’ ministry experience that prepares the candidate for leadership as a minister of Word and sacrament; (2) the candidate gives evidence of the call, gifts, and experience for the ministry of Word and sacrament; and (3) the candidate, for compelling practical reasons, cannot complete a master of divinity degree at an accredited seminary.
The AAR Certification Committee may require a personal meeting with the candidate and classis representatives. If the committee rejects the application, it shall state its reasons clearly. The classis may then revise the application and reapply. A program is established by the AAR Certification Committee and it normally includes graduate level courses, RCA specific courses, Clinical Pastoral Education and a credo.
Once a candidate has completed the prescribed program, the AAR Certification Committee of the MFCA will satisfy itself that the candidate has successfully proven that they meet the standards for preparation for ministry. A standardized examination is normally administered at the end of the candidate’s time in the process. Methods used to evaluate the candidate shall be culturally and linguistically appropriate. When the candidate has fulfilled the program requirements and has passed the standardized examination, the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry is awarded. Any appeals in the process must be directed to the MFCA Board of Trustees