Feb 1 2012

In the Home Stretch!

A note from someone who only three years ago was anxious even applying to seminary and will celebrate completing the MDiv program feeling enabled and affirmed for ministry in the church in the world. 

Patrick McLaughlinI was completely unsure if I was what seminary was looking for.  I even had an application in for a nursing program thinking I could partially put my biology degree to use and be guaranteed a job upon completion.  Then I got a phone call from the Candler admissions office, the only place I had applied for seminary.  I knew this must be good news as they surely would just send a letter to tell me no.  My intuition was correct; apparently the feeling about my fit at Candler was mutual as they even offered me a generous scholarship from the Sherman foundation.  I figured I would just put on hold my vocational calling into a health field while I discerned what Candler and I had to offer each other.  Little did I know these weren’t two separate vocational callings but just parts of a calling that would be complemented by biblical, theological, historical, and justice courses.  As someone who doesn’t consider themselves a great student, I am living proof that a hard worker with a willingness to learn can be transformed and be successful.  It has not been easy but has by far been the best investment I’ve ever made.

While at Candler I have been inspired by Old and New Testament instructors;  they are intent on making scripture real for students of the word.  Issues of racism and sexuality were common in our small group conversations in addition to learning how to read difficult passages, how to offer pastoral care through scripture, and how to offer a prophetic word to communities for justice.  My history instructors, in real and creative ways, helped me to understand the foundations of the complex paradigm in which we live today.  Finally, my justice oriented classes have prepared me to be a better pastor by giving me assessment tools, a better vocabulary for theological community engagement, and helped me focus on a root cause issue that is relevant to the church.  A consistent quality of instructors at Candler has been that they are focused on preparing future pastors.  Many of them admit that the reason they believe in Candler is because of its mission to prepare pastors.  Instructors also take great care of students who study in our other programs. Although coursework has been a very hard thing for me to find life in, I know that I have been very blessed to have taken so many courses that are of interest to me, even some at Emory outside of Candler.

The summer internships offered to me through Candler were formative.  A summer in Memphis and a summer back in my home conference, which I’d been away from for nearly a decade, offered me intensive opportunities to put into context the pastoral training I had received to that point. Furthermore I was able to flesh out how to raise questions of justice with parties invested in the issues from a multitude of complex angles.  These experiences offered me new insights into the proceeding semester’s classes.  Being able to say in class “this is how this scripture is being read by people on the margins” or, “I saw this particular theme, borne in some ancient thought, alive in the community” makes the theological education I received at Candler very real.

Engaging with student organizations Emory wide and as the president of one has enabled me to learn from other students perspectives and to enable other students to make their theological educations real.   I have been able to think theologically and respond pastorally to issues around global health, the Israel Palestine conflict, homelessness, immigration, and food security.  All of these opportunities have contextualized my education and will make me a better pastor after graduation.

And now here I am, sprinting towards home plate where they will hand me a diploma!  I’m on the road to ordination in the Kansas West Conference of the United Methodist Church where I look forward to one day being a pastor.  I started this journey not knowing anyone and am leaving with lifetime partners in ministry.  I am very thankful that I did not let my anxiety get between me and this amazing experience.

- Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick is a third year United Methodist MDiv student from Kansas, a member of the Candler Singers, and a Student Ambassador.