Time flies as the old adage says, and that has certainly been the case for my time here at Candler School of Theology. I came here last August for one school year on exchange from the UK, where I’m training to be a presbyter (elder in United Methodist Church terms) in the Methodist Church of Great Britain. As I sit here a week away from leaving Atlanta it doesn’t seem long since I stepped off the plane at Hartsfield-Jackson, the Atlanta airport, wondering how anywhere could possibly be so hot!
The UK system works quite differently to the US one and one effect of my coming on the exchange is that I will have spent the three years of my training (1 year discernment and 2 years pre-ordination) in different places. I began in September 2006 in the Urban Theology Unit (UTU) in Sheffield, UK. UTU is a small institution – very small by comparison to Candler – situated in inner-city Sheffield and devoted to study and action in the inner-city context. There’s a strong emphasis on contextual and liberation theologies and being situated in the midst of the context stops you from having any illusions about it.
It was in May 2007 that I heard that I had been accepted as a candidate for ordination and chosen as the exchange student to come to Candler. There was a lot to sort out in the few months between then and when I had to be in Atlanta. The array of forms for Candler, the visa, accommodation and so on; travel plans to sort out, arrangements to be made for my possessions in the UK while I was gone. There were times when I thought that it would just be easier to stay at home.
UTU to Candler was a big shift in many ways, but there were some exciting things in common: context is still an important word and an inclusive ethos is at the heart of what happens. We read some books by familiar authors and the familiar strains of liberation theology began to play, though sounding a little different in the US South to the inner-city of Sheffield, in a large university rather than Edwardian townhouses. There were some new themes too and they make exciting harmonies.
At a time when the Methodist Church back home has been cutting back on spending for training clergy, the resources at Candler present an impressive contrast. There is so much available in terms of people, facilities, equipment and possibilities. Many things are possible here that we cannot do. Training for ministry in this setting presents a lot of exciting opportunities – indeed, far too many for me to be able even to scratch the surface in just one year.
One of the most exciting opportunities at Candler is worship in Cannon Chapel, which is always an inspiration – in the thought that goes into its preparation, in the community coming together in worship as part of its daily life, in the diversity of traditions represented. The group that gathered daily for Morning Prayer was a constant source of support and fellowship. Music has always been a passion for me and singing in the Candler Singers (see our photo to the right) – one of the choirs that assists in worship – has been fantastic. As well as our regular place in the rhythm of worship, we have traveled to various places, from the mountains to the beach to the rodeo! We sing a wide variety of music, reflecting the diversity of our community and the wider church.
I’ve been really interested by the number of different vocational goals and aspirations that students at Candler have: some training for ordination, some for lay ministries, some for work outside the church, some aiming to the academy and some still in discernment. Different routes and stages bring different questions to the task of theology and the broad sweep of perspectives present has opened my mind to other ways of asking theological questions and to new approaches for responding to them.
My winding path continues as I head home for the summer and then to Wesley House in the ancient University city of Cambridge, where I’ll be excited to be joined by two Candler students – the first exchange students in the other direction. The long and winding road of vocational discernment takes me to many places, each different to the last. Candler has been an interesting, stimulating and exciting stop along the way: I go on from it greatly enriched and wondering what will get written on the next page.
Mark Rowland was born and brought up in Aberystwyth, on the west coast of Wales, UK. After graduating from the University of Cambridge in 2003 with a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering, he worked for three years in the field of chemical and pharmaceutical patents. Blown by the wind of the Spirit (or something…), he began training in September 2006 towards ordination as a presbyter in the Methodist Church of Great Britain. He is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Theology and Religious Studies and will be appointed to one or more churches somewhere in the UK beginning in September 2009.
If you are interested theological education through international travel and exchange programs, you should consider Candler a destination for your adventure. We offer a wide variety of travel opportunities for students, and would love to give you more information about them. 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/ and join the Candler School of Theology Group at www.facebook.com.