Jul 31 2012

Keeping it Simple

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’ve learned plenty this summer.

On time management:

Small groups in your home = big housecleaning crusades in your home. Think “Love and Marriage,” that corny old love song: you can’t have one without the other. Plan accordingly.

On communication:

The only things guaranteed in life are death, taxes and church people getting up in your business. When you find yourself in the line of fire, make like Jesus and doodle in the sand. A reactive response is a dangerous response: give it a solid 24.

On event-planning:

There are lots of people in your church who are really good at this. You, on the other hand, are a bit of a spaz. Put the talents of others to use. They want to help.

As my Candler Advantage Advanced Summer Internship comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the countless lessons I’ve learned from this 10-week experience. While many of them have a practical application, many, too, have been lessons of the heart.

I’ve learned that most fulfilling moments in the church are, without fail, the simplest. When one’s calendar is spilling over with to-do lists, it’s easy to forget that all of these activities are merely avenues for an opening of the heart.

I’ve thought a lot about the “KISS principle” a lot this summer: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” And I’ve actually made it my mantra for church work. For as much as we try to complicate the gospel, we’re working with a pretty straightforward message: Let your love be contagious.

I’m grateful for the many lessons I’ve learned this summer. But I’m even more grateful for the simple moments that this Candler Advantage opportunity has afforded me–the simple moments in which I have witnessed the transformative power of love.

Thanks be to God.

-Suzanne Ecklund

Suzanne is a rising third year MDiv student serving at Grace United Methodist Church in Atlanta, GA.


Jul 23 2012

Grace Dances Amidst Holy Chaos

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.

Christopher Szarke at Haywood Street CongregationGrace dances amidst Holy Chaos.

This lesson doesn’t come naturally after previously embracing the structure of Roman Catholic religious life (Benedictine and Franciscan) and spending two years as the seminary intern in a calm Episcopal parish.   It has been the most challenging and freeing lesson of the ten-week Candler Advantage summer internship at Haywood Street Congregation, a United Methodist mission church that primarily ministers with homeless people in Asheville, North Carolina, population 85,000 people.   Pastor Brian Combs, a 2006 Candler graduate, founded the congregation three years ago and ministers with Co-Pastor Shannon Spencer.

Our motto is “Come as you are.”   This might mean not having showered for several days, being drunk or high, or without medication that keeps psychosis at bay.   Many members of our community have been asked to leave other churches, which is interpreted as rejection by God.    We understand that God embraces everyone and that we are called as Christians to embrace Jesus in our midst.   Each of us has our own brokenness and it’s better to err on the side of grace, leaving room for God to do the work that we cannot possibly accomplish on our own.

Grace dances amidst Holy Chaos.

The Welcome Table is a huge meal serving 275 to 455 people every Wednesday, followed by an optional worship service.   The choice for liturgy on Wednesday is intentional after receiving feedback that the opportunity to attend church in the middle of the week gives the strength to carry on through Sunday.   It’s a chance to encounter Jesus in the sacrament of communion, to be surrounded by community, and to gain support to remain sober another day.

A cross-section of Asheville is present at worship: business people, who may have hidden addictions to alcohol or prescription medications, and homeless people with addictions that society judges with less forgiveness; people who meet survival needs through prostitution; church grandmothers, youth groups, and formerly homeless people – including many veterans – who return to encourage our sisters and brothers along the journey.    I recognize God working through the congregation when a man is welcomed back after being incarcerated in the county jail.   We shake rattles in response to prayers and concerns of the people: hopes for housing, rejoicing at receiving housing for the first time in 22 years, remembering brothers and sisters who are not with us today because they are in jail or a hospital psychiatric unit or are recently deceased.

Sermons are conversational, with the pastor asking the congregation for responses to the Scripture reading.   Sometimes people are ramble on in response or are argumentative.   Somehow the pastor is able to affirm all of these voices and connect them back to Scripture and how this speaks to us today.

Grace dances amidst Holy Chaos.

I spend little time in an office, joining our congregation where they are throughout the week.   On Monday I am at a day center for homeless people, followed by serving lunch in Pritchard Park with Be Loved House (a nondenominational house church), where people ask for prayers about jobs, housing, or reconciliation with estranged family members.   I have joined Pastor Brian at the local shelter, staying overnight in the men’s dorm following a chapel service.    On Sundays I participate in liturgy at the Church of the Advocate, an Episcopal worshipping community that is primarily attended by homeless people.   Here communion extends beyond church walls.   Two of us leave the church and take communion to our sisters and brothers on the stairway, under the trees, and on the sidewalk.   I participate in two homeless advocacy groups; one promoting a Homeless Bill of Rights similar to the one recently passed in Rhode Island.   Members of Haywood Street Congregation gather once a month at Habitat for Humanity.   I am humbled by the people who work on homes for people while they themselves are sleeping by the river or in the shelter.

I lead the offertory by calling out to Haywood Street Congregation, “What does God love?”    They respond with shouts and shaking rattles, “A cheerful giver!”   I describe how each of us is called to share our blessings, whether it’s the gift of patience and kindness, or praying for each other, or sharing a few coins, or boiling three hundred eggs to pass out at the Welcome Table, or writing to our friends in jail, or gathering trash in the parking lot.   People write on the service bulletin about how they share, coming forward to put notes and coins in a basket.   I hold the basket above my head and pray for God to bless and multiply the offerings so they may continue the ministry of Jesus in our congregation and the larger community.

Grace dances amidst Holy Chaos.    The Incarnate Jesus is present with us each day and I remain in awe of this blessing.

– Christopher Szarke

Christopher Szarke, a rising third year M.Div. student in the Episcopal Studies and Faith and Health Certificate Programs, is currently in the discernment process with the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.


Jul 17 2012

A Vital Church

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.

What’s a vital church in today’s world?

To me it’s a church that looks like the rest of society.  Our world has changed; we no longer live in communities where everyone looks just like us.  My life experiences tell me this is a good thing.  I am greatly enriched by the experiences, customs, traditions and backgrounds of all people that I have met in my life!  Our churches need this enrichment as well to be vital places of worship in today’s world.

This summer through the Candler Advantage program, I have been exploring what makes a church where everyone is welcome work.  Through my internship at Park Avenue UMC I am gaining valuable ministry experience, and I get to do it in my home conference, the Minnesota Annual Conference of the Methodist church.  This vibrant church is a place of acceptance where people are free to pray, sing and worship in a manner that meets each individual’s own needs for connecting with God.  There is a high percentage of laity involvement in the leadership of worship services, and there is intentionality in who leads each portion of the service.  Every service also includes a variety of types of music, which vary from week to week, to provide the opportunity for each parishioner to connect with God and the Holy Spirit during worship.  The service is a place where all are uplifted and this tone is conveyed throughout the worship service.

For one of my contributions I recently lead the evening prayer group.  In the spirit of the church, I wanted to think of a way to include the many different ways that people pray during this prayer time.  I chose a creation theme, and we began by experiencing small bowls of water and soil (earth).  As we stood together, I offered a meditation on these foundational elements of creation which I tied to scripture readings.  Then after sharing prayer requests, I began our prayer and invited those in the group who wanted to pray aloud for others in the group.  This offered an opportunity for many different prayer styles to be expressed.  I am discovering that I need to think broadly when I am planning worship, prayer groups, studies, etc. to include many different ways of responding to God’s presence.  I am also learning that this practice adds to the vitality of this church and emphasizes that everyone is welcome and appreciated.

Through these experiences I – and hopefully the church – are learning how to live together honoring each other.  Once we as a worshiping community live this way we can go out into our communities and honor each other every day in all that we do.  To me, the church then becomes a vibrant teacher of how to live together in our 21st century communities.

- Bonnie Buckley

Bonnie is a rising third year MDiv student from Minnesota.


Jul 10 2012

On Jordan’s Stormy Banks: My Experience with the Methodist Itinerancy

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.

Eric at St. Paul's in Grant ParkI’ve heard a litany of criticisms against the United Methodist Church’s practice of pastoral itinerancy: the practice by which pastors are assigned to service by a bishop and then remain with one particular congregation for a limited length of time.  These criticisms come from both non-Methodists and Methodists alike. “The itinerancy is outdated,” some have said. “It doesn’t take into consideration ministers with dual career families, or the stability of their children’s home life.” I never know what to say to these complaints because, very often, I agree with them. I don‘t really get it either.

Full disclosure here: I’m not 100% United Methodist. I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene—a Wesleyan holiness tradition—with which I still partly identify. However, this year I’ve come to feel at home in the UMC through my contextual education internship at St. Paul United Methodist Church. I had a wonderful experience here and was fortunate enough to get a paid internship at St. Paul through the Candler Advantage program this summer. It has afforded me the opportunity to further discern my ministerial calling.

One reason for my returning to St. Paul for a second internship was the exceptionally talented minister under whom I’ve worked. I’ve learned much from her and under her guidance I’ve begun to seriously consider ordination in the UMC. So when I learned my minister would be itinerating in early summer I was crushed.

This pastoral transition has also meant a major change in many of my summer internship plans. It has, however, afforded me the unique opportunity to journey with the congregation through the itinerancy process. Together we have reflected on the meaning of this transition for our community, both practically and theologically. It has reminded us that, ultimately, it is not our ministers in whom we put our faith and trust, but God alone. What is more, this transition has obliged me to take on an important leadership role in the church. For example, I led the transition service on the Sunday in-between ministers, functioning as the leader of the congregation. This responsibility caused more than a little anxiety. However, it proved to be wonderfully formative experience, one from which I grew significantly as someone preparing for leadership in the church. This has taught me much about what real life ministry requires: change, adaptation, and plan Bs.

I still don’t really know if the itinerancy is the best practice for ministers and churches. However, I do know that my experience of it this summer has taught me much about leadership and responsibility in the church. It has helped our community to grow closer together and put leadership in perspective.

- Eric Mayle

Eric is a rising third year MDiv student and a graduate of Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN.


Jul 3 2012

Go far, together

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.

Kenyan Children

“We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now.  And it’s not only the creation.  We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free.” Romans 8:25-26.

You know that scene in The Sound of Music when Maria Von Trapp leaves the convent for the first time and bursts into the song, “I Have Confidence”? That’s kind of been my life lately—minus the tacky tweed outfit and hat.  From the moment I boarded the plane to Nairobi until now, I have had to silence this quiet, anxious voice inside me that says, “You really don’t know what you’re doing- do you?”  I hate that voice.  It’s so lonely! With that voice, all of my successes and failures become mine and mine alone.  But this past month, when I shush that voice inside me and listen, really listen to the Spirit move and work around me, I realize that I am far from alone.  It’s the stories and people around me that give me confidence that God really is at work through God’s people and if look closely, you can see it right in front of you.

Emmy in KenyaThis summer, through Candler Advantage, I have the opportunity to work at New Life Home Trust in Kenya.  New Life Homes has six homes across Kenya that provides care and support for abandoned and orphaned children.  New Life has been a part of my life since 2004, when my parents adopted my youngest brother and sister there.  Over the years, I have gotten to watch sickly, malnourished infants grow into healthy, happy family members.  Most of the children at the homes are adopted into Kenyan families.  But, there are twenty-five children who are in two family-style homes that have not been adopted due to special needs.  Though the majority of these children are HIV positive, some have been diagnosed with other developmental or behavioral disorders.  Over the years, only a handful of these children have been adopted.

Before I arrived, I tried to put together the perfect religious education curriculum that would take care of everything—feelings of loss and abandonment, Anti-retro viral adherence, self-love and acceptance, etc.  Here is an exaggerated example, “Class 1 Theme-Parents; Goal-Help kids understand that God is a father and a mother.  So, even if they never are adopted by parents, they will feel loved by God.”  Pretty lofty goal for one Saturday afternoon, eh? It should come as no surprise that my first few classes were relative failures.  Fortunately, those experiences have forced me to listen and watch those around me.  “Pole, pole” (slowly slowly in Swahili), I am realizing that what I am part of is a process that began long before I came here and will continue long after I leave.  In the meantime, being a part of this community has made me watch the Spirit groan, but it has also let me watch the Spirit dance in the lives of these children and their caregivers. There’s a Kenyan proverb that reads, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  I’m realizing lately just how far you can go, together.

-Emmy Corey

Emmy is a rising third year MDiv student and a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, AL.