Apr 26 2013

The Space Between Glory and Agony

Will singing at Christmas serviceMy time spent sitting in the hallways of Candler discussing idyllic images of ministry in The United Methodist Church seems a world away. Things such as church council, SPR, itinerancy, district superintendents, and Annual Conference always seem to work like clockwork as instruments of God’s hands in the world within the walls of the theological institution. When I walked into my office on June 20, 2012, and hung my beautifully framed Master of Divinity diploma over my desk, I knew that these attitudes regarding the United Methodist “system” were sound.

Now is probably the point where one might assume that I am about to rip the system to shreds and talk about how denominations and the UMC are broken organizations that can’t effectively minister in the world. I cannot and will not do this. My calling is to effectively live into ministry as a pastor in The United Methodist Church, and I believe strongly that there is much life in the pastors and faith communities across our connection. What I have found, though, is a sense of realism that I lacked during my time at Candler.

When I walked into my office for the first time in June I was walking into my position as the associate pastor at one of the larger churches in my Annual Conference. In a short time I began to grow to love the people of the church, to work well with the staff, and to develop a healthy relationship with my senior pastor. I saw good stuff happening in the halls of our church on a weekly basis.

My whole system and world in ministry abruptly changed when my senior pastor was placed on leave one week prior to Christmas. I am still processing all of this, but, in essence, the bishop felt as if my senior pastor could be more effective as a pastor if he took continuing education leave and received a new appointment at the next Annual Conference. It is hard on a church when they lose their senior pastor, and, as you can imagine, it is incredibly difficult when this loss happens a week before Christmas.

Over the past several months I have been working closely with my district superintendent and part time interim senior pastor. I have learned much from both of these men as they have faithfully worked to bring healing and transformation in the midst of a difficult situation. Because of this interesting pastoral change, I have taken on much more responsibilities, worked longer hours, and have learned more in four months than I could have hoped to learn in four years.

Through these past few months at times it was easy to blame “the system” for some tough ministry situations, but I have also found that ministry is not the system. The denomination does not work as smoothly as I imagined it did while I was at Candler, but this is not something that has brought me into a sea of cynicism about church organization. Instead, what I have found is that the conference leadership is composed of faithful people with names like Joe and Richard and David and Mary Virginia and Mike. These people are not their positions, but they are working to faithfully minister through their positions in the same way that I am.

As we discussed this almost sacrosanct denominational structure from the halls of Candler I did not have the entire picture. The structure is important, but structure is comprised of names and faces that have families, and therein is the realism. Nothing is perfect, but I am now colleagues with these people and we are all working faithfully to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

During my first semester at Candler I had the privilege of taking one of the final Methodist history courses taught by Russell Richey. In talking about the “machinery” of the denomination, Dr. Richey said that “American Methodists have gloried and agonized [it], from the very beginning.” I am finding that the true value in the Church and life within The United Methodist Church comes in the space between glorifying and agonizing. It is easy for seminarians to glorify our structures (or other ideals) and it is equally as easy for clergy to agonize over the realities of our denomination, but I am finding that real ministry and real life change happens in the space between. It happens in the relationships we have with others in our congregations, with other pastors, district superintendents, and bishops. This is the contextual piece that I learned at Candler. Theology, Biblical scholarship, and polity are incredibly important, but only when they inform our relationships and help to strengthen our love of God and neighbor, that is, after all, the telos of faith.

- Will Conner

Will is the associate pastor at Ooltewah United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, TN and a 2012 graduate of Candler.  As a student Will participated in the Candler Advantage program and wrote about that experience here.


Apr 19 2013

Getting Dirty with Theology

Krista transplantingI recently spoke at my former high school’s chapel service on the topic of vocation and faith. I started the chapel by showing the students my e-mail signature lines of recent years. A year ago at this time, I would have signed my e-mail as: Krista Showalter Ehst, MDiv student, Candler School of Theology. Right now, I sign my business e-mails as: Krista Showalter Ehst, Farmer, Valley Run CSA. Quite the jump, right?

Those high schoolers, as well as many other folks who learn about my recent transition may wonder—what’s the connection? Three years of theological education and then…farming?

I’ll admit it. Sometimes when I’m feeding our pigs or collecting eggs, Candler’s classrooms seem a world away. But I don’t, in fact, think that these two pieces of my journey are disjointed. When I consider the recent shift from theological education to farming, I often remember Dean Love’s words at my Candler orientation– “we are,” she reminded us, “called to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.” She went on to challenge us to consider the next three years as an opportunity to love and worship God with our minds.  That framework was helpful for my time at Candler, and it’s continued to be helpful in the current season of my life. While farming, I have the chance to worship God with my strength; with the work of my hands and of my body.

Of course, as a good non-dualist, I hope that the activity of my mind and body are connected. While at Candler, in fact, I began to discover the intersections between theology/ministry/biblical studies and the hands-on tasks of caring for our landscapes. Reading Ellen Davis’ Scripture, Culture, Agriculture in Dr. Strawn’s OT class; working on a gardening curriculum for Georgia Interfaith Power & Light during my Candler Advantage experience; taking a directed study with Dr. Ayres on Religious Ed. and Ecology; exploring my tradition’s relationship to rural identity and agriculture through my thesis paper. Each of these experiences helped me to discover that the world of Christian ministry and theological studies need not exclude my passions for sustainable farming and food justice.

But now I’m out of the classroom and into the time of weaving these worlds together on a daily basis. It’s not always easy. Now that I’m away from the context of engaged students, provocative lectures, and assigned readings, it is harder to find folks who share and support my passions. Now that I’m away from the resources of summer internships and an academic community, it’s more of a challenge to explore creative vocational pursuits.

There was a part of me that hoped that by the time I left Candler, all my vocational aspirations would crystallize and come together in some ideal job. For me at least, it’s proving to be much more of a process. I’m farming now. And some days, farming seems totally unrelated to my Candler classes. Other days, the weaving together happens. Sometimes in more explicit ways: when I serve on the board of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light or advise the Mennonite World Conference planning team on how they can make the gathering more “green;” or when I work with a local church to plan a week-long “Peace and the Earth” camp. Other times, it’s in less obvious ways—attempting to nurture the diversity of the Genesis 1 creation poem by cultivating a small, interdependent and diverse farm. Attempting to heed the prophetic call to feed the orphan and the widow and the poor by offering a sliding scale program through our CSA. And then other days, the weaving together happens in dreams—dreaming of the farm as a site for youth and adults to consider their Christian discipleship through the lens of their relationship to land; dreaming of the farm as a site where our local community can find both physical and spiritual nourishment.

For now, though, morning chores beckon and I must go tend to those chickens and pigs. The journey has not been an obvious one. It has not been easy. But I am trying to trust that God is in all facets of the journey, weaving them together in her mysterious ways. And I’m trying to find ways of continuing to cultivate the love of God with all of my being—heart, mind, soul and strength.

- Krista Showalter Ehst

Krista is a 2012 graduate of the Candler School of Theology and is currently a farmer in Pennsylvania.  In addition, she serves on the board of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light and acts as an adviser to the Mennonite World Conference planning team.


Apr 12 2013

You want me to do what?!

Stone Mountain UMCAs my time at Candler end a lot of people have been asking me to reflect.  “Did you make the right choice?” “Did you get what you wanted out of this opportunity?”  I am very glad that I made the decision to attend Candler and in some ways it was exactly what I wanted and in other ways it was much more.  But the memories that come back to me are the ones from the first few weeks at Candler.  When I was so excited and nervous about being in a new place.  Having grown up living in a mid-size city in Louisiana – this thing called traffic was a whole new experience.  I had never visited a stranger in the hospital.  I had never had a class with more than 50 people in it.

I remember many times at Candler I have turned and given the “You want me to do what?!” look to professors, mentors, and friends.  Most recently, I have been interning at Stone Mountain First United Methodist.  I have been giving my mentor a lot of those looks.  Most recently, she asked me to preach at both services – in which I did not just give the look, I actually asked!  But that Sunday one of the members of the church commented to my wonderful mentor – “how wonderful for you to give Marissa this opportunity.”  Of course my mentor gave me a knowing look of “I know this does not quite feel like an opportunity and more like a stressful addition to your already busy week.”

But now that the sermon is all done and said – I can say it was a wonderful opportunity.  I was able to practice what I will be doing every Sunday next year with the knowledge that someone who cares about me was being my safety net.  At Candler, I have been given opportunity after opportunity to walk out onto the tightrope of ministry — okay sometimes people had to shove me out there!  And the best part was that my professors, my mentors, and my friends all had a knowing hand guiding me across — and a soft place to fall if need be.

Marissa TeauseauWhat I realized yesterday was that those moments will probably never end.  I will always be doing things in ministry that I never imagined that I could do.  And in some ways facing “full time ministry” is very scary for me!  But in another way – it’s really pretty cool because it is in those moments that we learn who we are.  Right now I’m pretty excited about my upcoming identity: Candler Alum and United Methodist Pastor!  But don’t call me that in public yet – I am not so used to it that I’ll answer to it or anything!  So I ask you — who are you right now?  Who are you becoming?  Who has helped you get here?  Now go give those people a hug and get ready for your next adventure!

- Marissa Teauseau

Marissa is a third year MDiv student, a graduate of Centenary College of Louisiana, and will return to the Louisiana Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church upon graduation.