Finding Deeper Meaning

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.

Jonathan teachingOver the summer, I am working in a local church setting through the Candler Advantage Summer Internship program. This program, in which rising third-year students engage in full-time supervised ministry for ten weeks during the summer, presents a number of opportunities for me. One of these is to preach on a fairly regular basis. With this role, I have been preparing an upcoming sermon for a set of lectionary readings that includes Mark 3:31-35. In the NRSV, this short passage is entitled, “The True Kindred of Jesus,” but I have found that a title such as “Jesus Rethinks Family” would be just as appropriate. Through the words of Jesus, Mark communicates that it is not simply one’s biological relationships, but whether or not one “does the will of God,” that defines who one’s brothers, sisters, and mothers are. I am sure this passage challenged the notions of family of Mark’s earliest readers, as it does ours today.

Just as this short passage challenges us to think anew of what it means to be family, my time at Candler has challenged me to view faith, scripture, ministry, and a host of other subjects in new and meaningful ways. I would like to briefly share some of the ways some of these understandings have changed during my time at Candler.

I still say, as I did before coming to Candler, that scripture is the “word of God,” but I now have new, much richer, understandings of what I mean when I say that. In scripture, we hear a chorus of witnesses, from over the course of centuries, who have sought to express encounters with God. Each word of scripture has been written in a particular historical setting to a particular audience, yet these words still speak to us today.

Similarly, my Candler education has deepened the meaning of “faith” for me. Faith is no longer merely belief, i.e. intellectual assent to a proposition. Faith involves trust, whether belief is possible or not. Perhaps most importantly, faith involves living faithfully.

Jonathan at ConEdIn seeking to live faithfully along with others at Candler who seek to do the same, ministry has taken on new layers of meaning as well. When I first came to Candler, I saw ordained ministry as primarily involving preaching, with a number of other responsibilities such as pastoral care, administration, and outreach. While I still see each of these as significant components of ordained ministry, I now have a better understanding of how I am called to live out each of these aspects of ministry. Through my contextual education experience, I have seen that ministry involves formation through practices that shape us and give us identity, such as the reading of scripture and participation in the sacraments. However, ministry also involves formation through activities that stretch congregations out of their comfort zone, such as interfaith dialogue, outreach to members of the local community, and programs that teach and encourage faithful environmental stewardship.

Finally, Candler has challenged me to think through what the word “education” means. Certainly, education has occurred in the classroom. However, learning has also taken place in conversations with other Candler students outside of class time. Connections between academic coursework and people’s concrete circumstances have been made through Contextual Education I and II site work. As much as I learned about United Methodist polity in class at Candler, much more was gained simply by travelling to General Conference with other Candler students and professors this past April. Education, like these other things, has taken on a deeper meaning through my experiences at Candler. It is my hope and prayer that by being challenged to think through theology and practices in new and fresh ways, we will all come to new appreciations of what it means to live faithfully in our own time.

- Jonathan Harris

Jonathan is a rising third year MDiv student and a graduate of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC.


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