Dec 21 2007

Halfway to Graduation

What moments can you remember from your life’s journey in which you were halfway finished completing something? Some moments will certainly be more significant than others. You may remember being halfway through a candy bar; halfway through a good book; halfway to your destination; halfway through your Candler School of Theology admissions application or perhaps a research paper. There is an entire class of second year students, which we call Middlers, here at Candler who can celebrate the fact that they are halfway through their seminary career as Master of Divinity students. Three semesters down—three semester yet to go. This week, we have invited two of those Middlers to blog about their experiences here at Candler as they reflect upon being at the center of their seminary careers. Please continue reading below for the words of Lauren Lobenhofer and Jonathan Tompkins, two of our halfway to graduation students.

Brooks Commons at the Center
By Lauren Lobenhofer

Brooks Commons is the center of our everyday liturgy at Candler School of Theology. As I’ve learned in the first half of my time at Candler, worship consists of four parts: gathering, Word, meal, and sending forth. In reflecting on my time at Candler, I realized that liturgy is lived out every day in Brooks Commons, in the rhythms of our daily lives.

In the early morning, small clusters of sleepy students gather around the room, imbibing mass amounts of coffee. It is a time of fellowship, of rehashing the previous evening’s reading assignments, and of saying a quick “hello” between early morning prayer and the start of class. I see my friends, grab a snack from the vending machine, and head to class.

As I make my way to my classes, other students trickle into Brooks, lounging on the couches to read or setting up laptops on the tables around the room. The laughter and conversations from the early morning fade into quiet studying, and the only sounds that break the dense quiet are the noises and giggles of the youngest member of the Candler community, the seven-month-old child of two Candler students, who greets the entering students with her bright smiles.

But as the middle of the day approaches, the decibel level rises again as students gather around the tables to eat lunch. When chapel ends at noon, we crowd in to share the table together. Students heat packed lunches in the microwaves, purchase food from community lunch provided through the Office of Student Programming (OSP), and bring in food from the food court in Cox Hall. We overflow the room, crowding around the tables and forming clusters on the floor to share our meals, converse, and laugh together. It’s my favorite time of day at Candler. I love to eat with my friends as we laugh about ridiculous theological jokes and share our desserts.

As the clock ticks towards 1:00 p.m., most of us pour out the double doors of Brooks on our way to afternoon classes. Some remain behind, however, to meet with study groups and even professors during their open office hours. Students remain around the tables together to exegete texts and discuss theological ideas together.

Toward dinnertime, though, the students begin to depart. I usually stop into Brooks Commons before I leave for the day, just to see if anyone is still around, but I usually find it empty. The first few times that I saw Brooks Commons without students, it seemed sad to me. But when I started thinking about it, I realized that the absence of the community here means that they’re out doing ministry elsewhere. They have left behind this place of everyday worship and gone out to work in the world. So Brooks Commons sits empty, waiting for us to gather again the next day.

Lauren Lobenhofer is a originally from Ada, Ohio, a town with only four stoplights. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, combining Religious Studies, Sociology, and History. She is a certified candidate in the United Methodist ministry process and hopes to become an Elder and serve in a parish setting, since she has been unable to achieve her childhood dream of becoming the quarterback of the Denver Broncos.

“Whoa, We’re Halfway There!”
by Jonathan Tompkins

I ran the Mardi Gras marathon in New Orleans a few years ago. During our training, I joked with my running mates that when we reached mile thirteen on the big day of the race, I was going to sing out “Whoa, we’re halfway there!” ala Bon Jovi’s song “Livin’ on a Prayer.” I am currently a year and a half into my “Candler marathon” and can sing this out as well.

This theological race I’m running resembles the Mardi Gras run in many ways (minus the beads and what some folks do to get them). Each involves much more than “livin’ on a prayer.” They require a deep sense of motivation, the proper training, the presence of running buddies, perseverance through pain, and a finish line. I came to Candler School of Theology after finally, with much weeping and gnashing of teeth, consenting to God’s call into ordained ministry. Since making that decision, I have continually been motivated by my Candler experience.

The theological and practical aspects of my education here have reaffirmed my call and have trained me in the ways of the servant-leader. I have met some wonderful and interesting people who have affirmed me, challenged me, and have kept me laughing as we run the race together. I have continued worshipping the God who loves me, sometimes in new and different ways, even when some aspects of my education have painfully shaken my faith. I keep my eyes on the finish line of graduation and entrance into the ministry while still thinking about the race so far and embracing the course ahead.

“Whoa, we’re halfway there…”, but we’re living on much, much more than a prayer. Thanks be to God for that.

Jonathan Tompkins is a second-year Master of Divinity student at Candler School of Theology. He grew up in upstate New York but relocated to Columbia, South Carolina after graduating from college. He taught middle school English for three years followed by five years as Director of Youth and College Ministries at a large United Methodist church. He has been married to his lovely wife Rebecca since August 12, 2006—two weeks before he started at Candler School of Theology. He is not singing “Whoa, we’re halfway there” when it comes to that.

Maybe halfway through reading this blog, you realized that you’d like to visit Candler to check out the atmosphere that Lauren describes about Brooks Commons, or perhaps Jonathan has encouraged you to run towards your calling. We would love to talk to you more abo
ut your call and where you feel your life and God may be leading you. If you are currently discerning if seminary is the next step in your faith journey, I hope you will consider Candler as a community for you to live into your calling. You should also consider visiting campus for the day so you can meet with an Admissions Advisor, attend class, participate in worship in Cannon Chapel, and eat lunch with current students. Please contact us in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid at candleradmissions@emory.edu, call us at 404.727.6326, check us out online at www.candler.emory.edu/admissions/. In addition, look for my profile on Facebook, named Candler Intern-Theology, and the Candler School of Theology Group at www.facebook.com.


Dec 14 2007

Focus on First Years

As final papers and examinations are completed and students go home for the holidays and a restful and rejuvenating winter break from Candler School of Theology, Emory University, we’ve invited current students as well as Office of Admissions and Financial administrators to be Guest Bloggers in the coming weeks. This week, First Year Master of Divinity students Jon Chapman and Jojo Mulunda reflect on their first semester at Candler. Please read below to hear the story of Candler as told through the voices and hearts of two of our newest students.

Jojo Mulunda: Candler Cares

I went to Emory University for my undergraduate education, so when I got accepted into Candler School of Theology, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting into. Emory is renowned for excellence in scholarship and service, so I naturally expected Candler to be the same as the rest of Emory. I quickly discovered within moments of meeting current students, admissions staff and professors, that I was absolutely wrong. Not only is the scholarship at Candler of the same high caliber as that of the other Emory schools, Candler has an added trait that sets it apart from other schools: love for people.

I was blown away by how genuinely interested people around campus were in getting to know new faces. Even seniors made it a point to attend some orientation activities to meet us when we first arrived on campus. Unlike the undergraduate college at Emory, Candler’s size is large enough for you to make new friends in every class, yet small enough for people to take interest in what matters to you as a student. I felt such a sense of friendship and community at Candler that is a challenge to foster at other institutions.

I can still remember a candid conversation some seniors had with the entire incoming class during orientation. All the seniors emphasized that Candler required excellence in academics, yet reassured us that it would be nearly impossible to complete all the readings. I remember turning around in my seat and waiting for a staff person or professor to rebut their statements. Surprisingly, most nodded in agreement! Almost all of the seniors gave us tips on how to read for particular classes, encouraged us to build relationships with one another, and advised us to take the time to find enjoyable non-Candler related hobbies, to bring balance into the lives we were about to begin. No truer words were spoken! Three months and three Old Testament exams later, I am infinitely grateful to those seniors, and to the countless people that I have met throughout the semester who have made my challenging, yet fun-filled, free food-filled, friendship-filled first semester a great one. Second semester, here I come!

Jojo Mulunda is a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo. She completed her undergraduate education in International Studies and French Studies at Emory University. Upon completion of the Master of Divinity program, her long-term goals include pursuing a career in public policy, and creating a rehabilitation and reintegration program for child soldiers in the Great Lakes region in Africa. She is recently engaged (and very excited about it) and is looking forward to getting married in Spring 2008.

Jon Chapman: Advent Eucharist

Friday Mid-day Eucharist is one of my favorite things about Candler School of Theology. Period. Every Friday, the same core group of 40 or so gather in Cannon Chapel after a long week of classes. I make my way from Hebrew, which gives me reason to need time to rest and recover.

It’s a simple service really. Most of the general parts of a church service are there, excepting the sermon. Instead, after the reading of the Gospel, we sit together, quietly thinking about the words we just heard–wondering if any meaning sat in them for us, for our studies, for our school, for our world.

Then comes my absolute favorite part. After the Prayers of the People (which are offered so genuinely by the people who have gathered), we share communion. Every week, we pause our scholastic endeavors to join together in the bread and wine before heading into the weekend, which all too often is as hectic as our school week. It’s a time for acknowledging the week just had, and preparing for the week to come.

Advent is much the same way. It lets us review the year that passed and prepare for the coming days. Advent, however, can be an irritating time. Because it is a season of waiting and preparation it insists that we slow down. Slowing down means swimming against the current swell of American consumerism in an increasingly globalized world, not to mention a secular Christmas that is celebrated before we have any birth to celebrate.

But it is necessary waiting, because without it, we would have no time to understand exactly what Christmas is.

This week, as we began our advent sojourn in Friday Mid-day Eucharist, the program had a few lines from Madeline L’Engle on its cover. Here is how it read:

“This is the irrational season
when love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
there’d have been no room for the child.”

As I read this poem, I was reminded of how irrational the whole thing was. Mary–a virgin? Son of God in a stable? Lazarus to life? Leaper healed? Deaf hear? The meek will inherit? Bread of Life? Blood of Salvation? A criminal’s death for a king? Heaven for a thief? Missing body? Death no more? For you? For me?

It is amazing really, this irrationality. It’s amazing because somehow, it makes sense. It’s amazing because somewhere through the absurdity and irrationality, there is undeserved grace and unconditional love that holds us close.

Keep watch.

Blessings,

Jon

Jonathan is a first year Master of Divinity student at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He holds a B. A. in Religious Studies from Elon University. While at Elon, Jonathan was active in LGBT awareness and other activism.

Jonathan is pursing ordination in the United Church of Christ, and is a member of Elon Community Church, United Church of Christ in Elon, North Carolina.

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If you are currently discerning if seminary is the next step in your faith journey, I hope you will consider Candler as a community for you to live into your calling. Please contact us in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid at candleradmissions@emory.edu, call us at 404.727.6326, check us out online at www.candler.emory.edu/admissions/ and look for my profile on Facebook, named Candler Intern-Theology, and the Candler School of Theology Group at www.facebook.com.


Dec 7 2007

Eventful Advent

It may have been the last week of classes here at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, before Reading Week and final exams, but there were an amazing amount of activities, worship services, and community gatherings that happened in these last few days of the semester. On Tuesday, there was a Brown Bag Lunch Conversation sponsored by the Oral History Project of Women in Theology and Ministry with Melva Costen, who is a widely recognized authority on music and worship. She is the author of African American Christian Worship and In Spirit and in Truth: The Music of African American Worship. Dr. Costen recently retired from the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC), where she was the Helmar Emil Nielsen Professor of Music and Worship. The interview and conversation with Dr. Costen was part of our ongoing work in gathering stories of strong women who have helped shape their religious communities and the larger culture.

Then, on Wednesday, the Candler class “Christian Encounter with Hinduism,” taught by Dr. Thomas Thangaraj, the D.W. and Ruth Brooks Associate Professor of World Christianity, sponsored a free exhibition on Hinduism for all Candler students. There were displays, music, Indian finger foods, craft activities, and trivia to help learn more about Hinduism, along with an exhibition about Hindu Gods and Goddesses.

On Thursday, the Office of Student Programming turned Brooks Commons, the social gathering area for the seminary, into the “Candler Stress-Free Zone” for an intentional afternoon and evening of fun and relaxation for those feeling overwhelmed by finals. Loaded nachos, the movie Shrek 3, crafts, video games, and board games were the perfect combination of junk food and distractions to help people temporarily forget about the stress of final exams and papers that are yet to be completed.

These were indeed all wonderful events, but my favorite part of the week had to be the Hanging of the Greens service in chapel on Tuesday. It was a Service of Readings, Advent Carols, and Prayers for the Waiting World. During the singing, which included congregational hymns as well as special music from the Candler Singers, the Chapel Choir, and Voices of Imani, the chapel was prepared and decorated with greenery, poinsettias, Advent paraments, and the colors of the season.

The service was beautifully planned and presented—everything from the readings to the liturgical dances. In fact, each scripture reading was done in two languages by two people, who were standing across the altar table from each other. Various members of the Candler community, who come from places near and far, read the text in their native tongue. It was so moving to hear the Advent scriptures read in Shona, Russian, Korean, Tamil, and English. It reminds us that these sacred texts are universal and calls to each of us personally from the four corners of God’s creation. Those in attendance at this service certainly caught a glimpse of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God as we worshipped, sat in silence, prayed, and lit the first candle on the Advent wreath together.

Because the semester is quickly coming to an end, the Candler community must squeeze Advent in four days instead of four weeks. Therefore, on Wednesday, the Office of Worship planned a Las Posadas service, which is an enactment of the Holy Family’s search for shelter, with songs in Spanish reflecting the Mexican origins of this service. Prayers were offered for those still searching for shelter, for food, for justice. The Thursday of Advent Week at Candler is always a Service of Artist Gifts, in which members of the Candler community offer their artistic expressions from music, dance, art, and spoken word. This service was themed around the Magnificat: My Soul Magnifies the Lord. Finally, the end of the week, as we light the last candle around the Advent wreath, we share in the Eucharist and feast at the Table. As students receive the Benediction on Friday, they have a week off for preparing and waiting for finals. And isn’t that what we are called to do during Advent? We wait and prepare for the coming Christ child with hopeful expectation.

As classes and final examinations end, the Candler student body will go home for the winter break, but we will continue to post blogs weekly. In fact, starting next Friday, we will begin a series of blogs which will be written by current students and others within the community. Though classes may not be in session, we are still around in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid to answer your questions and talk to you about your discernment process and interest in Candler School of Theology. Feel free to contact us through the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons. You can email us at candleradmissions@emory.edu or call is at 404.727.6326. Also, check out my profile on Facebook (Candler Intern-Theology) and please join the Candler School of Theology Group at www.facebook.com.

Lane Cotton Winn 07T
Candler School of Theology
Office of Admissions and Financial Aid Intern