Jun 28 2011

Being Church in the City

This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program.  Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.

I am incredibly grateful that Candler has provided the time and resources to allow me to delve much deeper into parish ministry this summer. So far, the summer has been challenging, inspiring, HOT, and yes, even fun.

I am serving at Birmingham First United Methodist Church in Alabama. First Church is a fairly large church situated at the heart of downtown Birmingham. Like all institutions in Birmingham it carries both a noble and broken history. Today, however, the church leads the city in many ways with its dynamic vision to create an engaging, authentic experience of worship, discipleship and service. It truly is an open place for all to worship, grow and serve.

My personal project this summer is, broadly, to explore what it means to be Church in an urban setting with a diverse, yet dominantly suburban membership. The congregation represents different income levels, locations, education systems, political views, theological views, races, and sexual orientations. The driving question for me has been, “How can this type of church build community both amongst its diverse congregation and with its particular context?”

My work on this has begun with building relationships with members so that we may, as a community, fruitfully explore how First Church responds/should respond to the realities of homelessness, working poverty, and transportation and food access in our immediate context. The church is currently testing a “Listen-Learn-Serve” model, which provides education, discussion, and chances to serve in each of these areas of need in our community. This model is going well, but there is a desire amongst some of the congregation to engage the whole congregation about these issues and to move to a more sustained relationship model. I am working this summer to envision what that might look like for First Church.

The strongest relationship that the church has with its surrounding communities has been initiated by the youth. The Community Church Without Walls is a United Methodist congregation in Birmingham’s West End, a neighborhood with the highest crime/violent crime rates in the state. The youth from the two churches for the past two years have done mission work together, gone on retreats together, and visit each other’s church and homes. I am working primarily with adult ministries this summer, and not directly with the youth. However, my husband is the pastor of Community Church Without Walls and our home is in West End. Thus, my personal life is intimately bound to this relationship between the youth of the two churches. I think the adults have a lot to learn from these amazing kids on what “Church” is.

Check out this clip to get a better idea of how the youth are leading both churches in answering the call to do and be church in Birmingham.

(Note: it is sad that the appeal of the story is its racial categorization, but perhaps this evidences some of the brokenness that still remains in Birmingham: http://www2.alabamas13.com/news/2011/jun/21/teens-help-recovery-effort-ar-2008012/)

- Mary Page Wilson-Lyons

Mary Page, a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College, is a rising 3rd year MDiv student at Candler and a member of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.


Jun 24 2011

Healing from Tragedy

This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program.  Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.

On April 27 of this year I sat in the living room of my third story, Decatur apartment and wondered where I would go if a tornado hit. I am sure many can recall that day, and the events of the night are etched into my mind. While I was safe in Atlanta, I knew that my home church community of Apison, Tennessee, was being ravaged by the spring storms. I had no idea the extent of the damage until the pastor of Apison UMC began to post updates on congregation members. He wrote things like, I have heard from the Smith, Jones, and Thompson families; Gene and Roxie are still missing; the two homes in front of Mark are no longer there. This news feed ran through the evening. He sent me a message telling me to pray for the community and that it was hit badly by the storms. I did not know the extent of the damage. When I saw that Atlanta’s Fox 5 was sending a news truck to Ringgold, Georgia (Apison and Ringgold are neighbors separated by only a state line on the map), I knew that things must be bad.

During the following days I heard it described as a war zone. I saw pictures and everyone cried that the pictures do not accurately capture the magnitude of the devastation. My heart grieved for the church family that is sponsoring and praying for me during my seminary education. The emotions were crazy; I felt lonely, guilty, and angry for not being with the people I loved. Disasters are disasters when they hit cities, but when they hit home disasters have faces, disasters have breath, disasters have names, and disasters have feelings. Still it is hard to describe how I actually felt while I watched my church family dig through trauma.

The only thing that gave me solace was that I knew that as soon as the semester was out I would be traveling back home to work in a neighboring church. This summer I am interning through the Candler Advantage program at Ooltewah United Methodist Church, which is in a community neighboring Apison. Through my position at Ooltewah, I have been blessed to be part of the relief efforts that will continue for the foreseeable future in the Apison community. In the midst of this tragedy I have seen strangers become friends and neighbors become heroes. People from as far away as New York and California have come to Apison to give of their time, talent, and energy.

While I am not working at Apison UMC, I am very blessed to be a part of a recovery and healing in my home community. The stories of everyday miracles are endless, from a dad and son lifting an unmovable safe off a trapped family to a church whose annual budget is barely $100,000 distributing over $20,000 in aid within five weeks of the tornado. God is at work, and I am so amazed that I have been graced with the unexpected opportunity to see the face of grace. Each week I ride my bicycle through the community. During my first ride, I cried; Saturday I smiled the smile of foundations being poured and Sheetrock being hung.

When I applied for the Candler Advantage program I thought that I knew what my summer was going to look like. April 27th changed all of that, but because of support of Candler I am engaged in life altering and world shaking ministry. The grace of humanity that I am witnessing through this disaster is shaping my ministry and giving life to my theological education. This experience is recreating me into a new person. Thanks be to God.

-Will Conner

Will is a rising third year MDiv student at Candler and a member of the  Holston Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.


Jun 21 2011

A Candler Rhythm

It’s quiet in my office these days.  From mid-August through mid-May, the Office of Student Programming on the third floor of the School of Theology building is usually a bee hive of activity—with more than a dozen student staffers planning programs or tutoring ESOL students, Candler Coordinating Council (C3) executive officers at work on behalf of its sixteen student organizations, admissions staff or visitors from outside the school meeting in our conference room, faculty stopping by for  some late afternoon chocolate from the big glass candy jar on the front counter, students arriving for appointments with me, or just dropping by, to talk about what is going on in their lives—the OSP is a bustling place, with ideas and energy going in all directions to support Candler’s large and diverse student body.

But not right now.  Right now the June days in Atlanta are hot and languid, and the pace has slowed.  Summer school is in session, but classes are fewer and smaller; much of the time our corridors are cool and empty.  Many faculty are away doing research or writing, and administrative staff are writing reports and planning for next year.  ‘Tis the season for reflection about, and hopefully rest from, all that activity during the fall and spring semesters.

With just over a year behind me as Candler’s Director of Student Life and Spiritual Formation, I still am referring to this as my “Martha and Mary” job.  I like to think about what those two sisters from Luke’s gospel teach us about the values of hard work and activity, as well as about the values of reflection and rest.  We need both, yet it’s often a challenge to create a rhythm of life that incorporates first the one, and then the other, over and over again, so that we become whole people.  As much as I love the quieter days, and the opportunities they afford to step back from the “programming” to really think about “students,” I find myself getting restless.  I get up from my chair and go looking for people to talk to, or walk down to the Starbucks for an iced coffee I don’t need, or distract myself with a new project to keep me from, say, finishing this blog posting!

Figuring out how to create and sustain a balanced rhythm of life isn’t any easier as a student at Candler, but that’s one of the reasons the Office of Student Programming is here.  Yes, we offer plenty of activities that may keep you busy, and hopefully enhance your life as a seminarian—but we also offer ways for you to reflect and to rest.  If you’ve never been on a silent retreat for three days, or if you’ve never painted with water colors as a form of centering prayer, you will have that opportunity, and others like them, at Candler.  We’ll be looking for you on the third floor!

-The Rev. Ellen Echols Purdum

Rev. Purdum is Director of Student Life and Spiritual Formation at Candler.  An Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Atlanta, she can be found most Sundays preaching or presiding at Church of the Good Shepherd in the small town of Covington, Georgia.  Whether teaching high school students, or working with undergraduates and seminarians at The Fund for Theological Education, or now at Candler, she understands her vocation as listening to the lives of students.  She is a graduate of Emory University and the Candler School of Theology.


Jun 7 2011

Lessons in Ethics and Gardening

Soon into my first year in theology school, I realized that the kind of learning cultivated at Candler goes beyond the surface. Not every class provides a life-changing learning experience, but something is bound to catch each student at his or her core, to be transformative.

For me, it happened this spring. In Introduction to Christian Ethics, we were each tasked with pursuing a moral question that held some weight for us personally. We weren’t just learning about ethics, we were doing ethics. I chose to write about food and agriculture-related justice issues as they relate to both the environment and poverty.

Part I: Describing the Problem

Environment: I began with the premise that our earth faces an ecological crisis. Climate change/environmental degradation are real, measurable, and furthermore, human-induced. Which leads to the second premise… the choices you and I make about the food we eat each day can have a profound impact on the rest of the biosphere. The interconnected issues of agriculture, environment, and food provide an opportunity for our response: to promote justice for the environment.

I’ve been a vegetarian for about a year now, choosing not to eat meat because of the sustainability issues surrounding the industry’s practices. This decision has posed a problem for me, on occasion, in the form of cognitive dissonance. I am aware of the privilege of being able to ask “what will I eat?” rather than “will I eat?” each day, and so my choosy eating habits feel a bit elitist. Which leads to the part about…

Poverty: Persons of lower socio-economic statuses don’t get to choose the option of organic produce. Eating healthy and “green” is a class-based privilege in America. Making the choice to eat food that is produced in a way that is environmentally sustainable sounds good, but if it is only an option for an exclusive population, is it really a just choice?

So, I found at this intersection of ethical issues a dual-responsibility: to promote justice for the environment and justice for people by providing accessible nutritious food that is produced in ways that care for the environment. Unfortunately, these two forms of justice can seem mutually exclusive. Making healthy produce accessible often involves mass-agribusiness methods of production (which aren’t good for the environment).

Part II: Asking the Question

We reach a difficult point when choices that cultivate different aspects of the good life come into conflict with one another. It is at this intersection that I thought, read, wrote, and studied all semester: What is our Christian response to be in the tension produced by these competing goods – accessibility of healthy food for all and agricultural/environmental sustainability?

Part III: Constructing a Response

By the end of a lot of research, reading, and thinking, I returned to my personal engagement with this moral question with a renewed commitment to eating food produced in ethical ways. Personally contributing to the consumer demand for ethically produced food still seems like a constructive personal response, even if it is not one that everyone can afford to make.

In the process of thinking through the question, I also sought a way to transform my communal experience of food. Rather than just exercising my personal privilege to make decisions about what I eat, I knew I could work to extend that right to all people.

In my local congregation, I am part of the “Green Team” that is leading a theological response to the issue of land care and food justice. This May, we planted an organic community garden. We have been tending the earth and plan to share our harvest with a local food-pantry. The goal is to extend access to healthy, sustainably-produced food to those in our urban community.

The garden is a literal and theological common ground for the participating community members as we reconnect to the source of our food and the Source of all life. There is hope for a system that allows for environmentally and economically sustainable agricultural practices, and it can begin with Christian communities and individuals committed to justice for land and people.

The learning that started in class continues to disrupt my everyday life. (Indeed, I am in the garden almost every day.) My first year at Candler is marked by learning that has cost much time and commitment, learning that continues to form my ministry, learning that transforms.

-Meredith Shaw

Meredith is 2nd year M.Div student from Lexington, KY. She ministers to youth at Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta and is an Assistant for Missional Congregations at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.


Jun 3 2011

Exploring the World’s Parish: An Indonesian Journey

The journeys God takes us on, and the unexpected pit stops along the way, are rarely ever dull, and rarer still are they purposeless. My recent trip to Indonesia with the World Methodist Evangelism Institute reminded me of this. Traveling with four fellow students, Candler professor Dr. Arun Jones, and a stellar team of Institute staff and volunteers, I spent ten days in capital city Jakarta learning about Christianity and ministry in the South Asian context. This was more than just an educational endeavor, however. In the truest sense of the word, travel itself is a process of self-refinement and personal growth.

This process began for me before we ever left Atlanta. I struggled with the conflicting desires of wanting to break out of my ordinary routine and wanting to stay safely within it. School had just ended for the summer and I craved the freedom of lazy evenings, fiction novels, and movie marathons. Instead, I was packing my bags for a seminar halfway across the world. A strange blend of emotions churned within me: the longing for adventure and new experiences mixed with an unsettling anxiety about traveling such a great distance and stepping so far outside my comfort zone.

Indonesia is about as far away in the world from Atlanta as you can go. However, after disembarking in Jakarta and spending ten days there, I came to discover that, in some ways, Indonesia is not so different from our fair southern state. In Indonesia, the air is just as heavy with humidity, the tea is just as sweet (though served piping hot!) and the hospitality is warm and welcoming. Our hosts made us feel right at home, even many thousands of miles away. For example, our host mother made us hamburgers and French fries for breakfast one morning! She also gifted one of us with a package of Kraft singles after he mused that he had been missing cheese. These seemingly small and somewhat quirky gifts of hospitality that brought a piece of America to Indonesia warmed our hearts as much as our later gifts of handmade traditional shawls that assured we would bring something of Indonesia back to America.

Many of my anxieties crumbled in the face of the overwhelming hospitality of my new Indonesian friends. What was left of my defenses toppled as I heard more and more ministry stories from local church leaders. There was the pastor who had baptized a young woman from a Muslim family who now has to mediate between her and her displeased father. Then there was the woman who is pastoring in an area devastated by a recent volcanic explosion; she loves and cares for her neighbors (physically and spiritually) without expecting anything in return. There was also the passionate young pastor with a skill for church planting who has his sights set next on the province of Papua. The challenges facing Indonesian pastors seem daunting to American Christians whose greatest fears in evangelism are embarrassment and rejection; Indonesian Christians work within a majority Muslim context in which Christianity is still considered taboo from its colonial associations. Yet these Methodist pastors are filled with God’s fire and minister to their communities with a zeal that would make John Wesley proud.

Before we left Atlanta, our group was asked to share what our greatest expectation was for the trip—our purpose in going. My answer was that, as an aspiring United Methodist minister, I have a responsibility to engage myself in the work of the global church. No Methodist pastor is an island, to borrow from Donne, and our connectional ties should extend beyond annual conference lines. To be a Methodist minister anywhere implies a bond with Methodist ministers everywhere. The struggles and triumphs of my Indonesian brothers and sisters should be mine, and mine theirs. I found this to be overwhelmingly the case; my greatest teachers were the pastors in my Wesley group (a small group of intimate sharing and accountability) during the seminar. They candidly shared the stories of their ministries and exposed their own vulnerabilities and challenges. Not only will I always remember them in my prayers, but I will remember them also during my studies of preparation for ministry. They are my ‘on-the-ground’ teachers, the ones who have shown me what passion for ministry looks like.

There are great things happening in Indonesia. And it is amazing how God can use a powerful tide of faith in a distant country to impact the singular faith journey of this one seminary student. With one more year of school before me and the looming question of “what’s next?” pressing ever closer, there are as many challenging months before me as there are behind. But I have been renewed in the living remembrance of what ministry is all about: living a passionate, infectious life of discipleship. It has taken a journey away from the familiarity of home to show me how to renew the faithfulness of my life and service. Our home environments can easily become all too comfortable so that even the most stretching of callings—that of the pastor—can ease into dull routine and habit. I thank God for the education that takes us outside of ourselves and shows us the bigger picture in which and towards which we are working: the very kingdom of God on earth.

-Whitney Pierce

Whitney is a 3rd year MDiv student from North Carolina and a regular contributor to the Beatitudes Society blog.


Jun 1 2011

Christina Repoley, Candler Class of 2011, “Why Church?”

Young Leaders of the Church is a series from Day1 designed to highlight the young talent of today’s churches, and their ability to reach the next generations. Candler Class of 2011 MDiv graduate Christina Repoley was selected to share a short message about “Why Church?”

This series is being done in partnership with The Fund for Theological Education, for more information please visit http://fteleaders.org and Day1 today!