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 email@example.com, 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.