Jul 30 2013

Oh, The Hats

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.

Meg LacyAs I pulled onto Sydney Street this morning and parallel parked my car, I decided to stay seated for a moment before going in to the church. I took a breath and looked around. The green hills of Grant Park sprawled out in front of me. Joggers doing their thing, moms with strollers headed to the pool. I looked in the rear-view mirror. The hustle and bustle of Boulevard during rush hour surged behind me, sprinkled with leathery men holding signs that read of their need.

Finally, I got out of the car. I began walking toward the large brick staircase that serves as an entryway to Park Avenue Baptist Church (Park Ave), the neighborhood-church where I have been serving this summer. Before I even reached the building, Eddie, a developmentally challenged man who recently moved into the neighborhood, stopped me. He needed to use our phone. Oh, and while he was here, could I help him with his GA Food Stamps Review online? “Of course I can help!” I said.

Park Ave worshipAfter spending time with Eddie, I went to work on the bulletin for Sunday morning. Scripture Readers? Announcements? Sermon title? I hadn’t gotten very far when Linda walked in. Linda is probably only in her fifties, but her frail body and worn skin make her look much older. Linda is chronically homeless and is dying of AIDS. Park Ave has offered to be Linda’s payee so that she can receive her Social Security benefits and have a bit of security in the last few years of her life. Today, Linda was looking for some cash to help pay for her medicine, and bus-fare so that she could make it to her doctor’s appointment downtown. I talked with Linda, prayed with her, and tracked down the resourced she needed. When she left, I went back to the work on the bulletin.

The rest of the afternoon was a conglomeration of disparate activities. I helped prepare plates of dino-nuggets and applesauce for the Literacy Camp students that fill our halls during the month of July. I prepared a lesson on Centering Prayer for the Spiritual Practices small group I would facilitating that evening. I spent time in conversation with two college-aged camp staffers who were worn out and in need of a little TLC. And I read Amelia Bedelia with my reading buddy, an eight-year-old named Zykeria. Talk about wearing many hats.

I have learned a multitude of things about ministry during my summer at Park Ave. From how to write and preach a co-sermon, to how to create a multimedia Scriptural meditation for Sunday services, I have explored new challenges and developed new skills. But perhaps the most important thing I have learned, and simultaneously the biggest joy of my summer, has been how to wear the many hats required at a neighborhood-congregation.

Park Ave 2Serving a neighborhood church requires a commitment not only to serve one’s parish, but also to serve one’s community with open arms and open doors. This often makes life complicated and involves additional tasks that other pastors may not frequently encounter. Sometimes, my role is that of a social worker—I have had to learn how to navigate the Georgia COMPASS website and keep a mental list of the resources around our community that are available to those who come in off the streets. Sometimes, I am a service-learning director, helping the camp staff to find resonances between their life of faith and their service work. Other times, I am a secretary, doing what must be done to keep the church going, completing the bulletin or counting the offering monies. It can be complicated to get traditional pastoral tasks accomplished, like returning emails or writing a sermon, with frequent community events and residents requiring attention.

Yet, serving at a neighborhood church also offers a diverse array of opportunities that traditional pastoral roles do not. It is a joy to pray with folks off the street and to use our resources to meet their needs. It is a welcome break from the day to sit down with a child who is learning to read, or to listen to the story of a mother who is struggling to make ends meet. This sort of community investment requires discernment and healthy boundaries, but brings life and reality into the walls of church that can so often be tainted by false happiness and pretenses. I have been inspired this summer, by a church whose doors really are open to all people. And I have grown more aware of the responsibilities this entails, and the ethical dilemmas one may encounter on this journey.

– Meg Lacy

Meg Lacy is entering her third year of Emory/Candler’s MDiv program. She is a native of Nashville, TN, and a graduate of Samford University. Meg spent a recent summer as a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Fellow at Bread for the World in Washington, DC.


Jul 26 2013

Awake, My Soul!

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.
D&J at Redondo

At Redondo with fellow Candler student, Jake Joseph

As the summer intern at the First UMC of Chula Vista, it is my… um… privilege?… to participate in all three worship services on Sunday morning. While I don’t always love arriving early enough to prep for the 8 am service each week, sitting alert in the chancel for those three hours does allow me ample time for the morning’s message to fully set in. Or at least, one would think so.

Out of the nine weeks I have served at this church in various ministries and capacities, I can still say Sunday mornings are my favorite. I love interacting with the congregation—sharing with them in the joys of their week, hearing stories about their families and recent vacations, and lifting words of support or comfort when they offer up tender places of need. I love experiencing the ways individuals come together to uphold one another by the unique bonds formed in a community of faith. I also appreciate the way their openness and vulnerability tends to pull me out of myself—loosening my grip on being the “best intern I can be,” and joining them in the humble journey of our life together.

In these years as a seminarian, I find there is a surprising ease with which I fall into the trap of self-exaltation. (a.k.a. “seminarian snobbery.”) With all of my fresh (if not still shallow) knowledge regarding the historicity of the gospels, traditional liturgies, and cultural sensitivity, it becomes harder and harder to sit in worship/meetings/casual lunches without examining all input through a (hyper)critical lens. In many ways I give thanks for this noticeable proof of learning—the way my education has become deeply embedded in ways that I cannot tune out in even the most sacred spaces. But, as I witnessed this Sunday, especially, my new scholarly perspective may at times cast shadows over the simple Good News intended not just for those in the pews, but for those of us in the fancy seats too.

This Sunday, my supervising pastor preached on the story of Nicodemus, and how even the most faithful people can get caught up in the external rules and functions of their religion—missing the true essence of what it means to be born of the Spirit. He preached, as John Wesley did, about awakening to God’s presence inherent within us as creatures of God’s creation, and inheritors of the kingdom.

It was only by the third go-round that I actually heard the message within the message. It sounded to me, then, more like this:

Chula Visita UMCDespite the challenges, stress, and seemingly constant to-do lists associated with being a seminary student and candidate for ministry, you are still called to be fully present to God and others. Though there will be times when it seems your work is what is most important, what truly matters is your engagement with your community and in the practical movement of the Spirit. Though you might find yourself emotionally drained, physically weary, and mentally fatigued, God is with you and in you—strengthening you that you might be fully present to others as a conduit of God’s love and mercy.  Wake up. You’re missing it.

As much as I love Mumford and Sons, Psalm 57:7-10 also reminds me to awaken from my frequented state of sleep-walking—from the disengaged distance of scholarly criticism and accidental liturgical snobbery—to be fully present to the reality of God’s glory all around us. And, while I am truly thankful for my newly acquired theological education, I am perhaps more grateful for the simple ways God gathers me back to Godself each and every day to remind me of my place in the kingdom as one who is in fact Spirit-born and called to bear witness to that Spirit in the world.

–Darin Arnston

Darin is entering her third year as a Candler MDiv student.  She is a native of Southern California, and her Candler Advantage internship allowed her to spend the summer at “home.”


Jul 23 2013

Primarily A Minister

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.

Ashley KirkThe experience of being in full-time ministry through Candler Advantage has enabled me to more fully live into my role and identity as a minister.  I know and appreciate that there is formation happening within me while I’m at Candler.  It happens in the halls, classrooms, chapel, offices, apartments of friends, and the Contextual Education placements I’ve had so far.  It happens everywhere from the smallest conversations with other students to school-wide worship alongside professors, staff, alumni, and classmates at Cannon Chapel.  But, nearly 500 miles from Candler, the realization of that formation is present to me now more than ever.

Being in this role, being identified here as minister, is radically different than the role of student.  The role of student, and especially theology student, calls for an increased amount of listening, learning, thinking, reflecting, reflecting, and reflecting—and mostly on the work of others.  Candler radically redefines this with Contextual Education.  I’m no longer reflecting on or strategizing about hypotheticals—I’m on the ground, with real people, a real organization, doing real ministry.  And I’m reflecting on my own work rather than the work of others.  These seeds of learning, listening, and reflecting are sprouting and blossoming as I take part in all-the-time, real-life ministry this summer.

The striking difference of Candler Advantage from other Contextual Education placements at Candler is that I’m not first a student, second a minister.  Nor am I a student-minister.  I’m just minister.  And it makes all the difference. Nine months out of the year, I’m primarily a student.  Being here, being primarily a minister, I am getting to know myself in a whole new way.  Just as I know I’m a committed student who thrives on deadlines, I am learning I am a passionate minister who values discipleship through relationship.  Being immersed in full-time ministry, I am more in tune with my own strengths and weaknesses in this role—both personally and professionally.  Plus, my vocational discernment is off the charts!  I’ve (finally) accepted that I possess a deep call to the church.  I always knew that I cared for and believed in its future, but have been quite a harsh critic of it.  My frustration and want for change resulted in me writing myself out of ever leading within it.  But, this summer has taught me that that frustration I had was a misrepresentation of deep passion and deep hope for the mission of the church.

Many miles from the spaces I usually occupy at Candler, I’m finally listening to the life, gifts, and eyes that God has given me, and have begun the path of truly accepting my call, in whatever form it may take. As a reflection on this, I recall telling my classmates: “It’s got to be true that God changes hearts, because mine feels more changed every day.”  This has been the most important part of my summer, er, seminary career.

–Ashley Kirk

Ashley is a rising third year MDiv student at Candler who is serving at The Gathering in St. Louis, a 6-year-old United Methodist church plant. She is a Certified Candidate for ordination as a Deacon in the Missouri Conference.


Jul 16 2013

California Dreaming

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.

Communion service in Tijuana, Mexico during an immigration justice program.

While deciding where to go to seminary for my Master of Divinity for ordination in the United Church of Christ (UCC), the first attributes of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University that attracted me were the more obvious ones. I could see that the facilities were modern, fresh, immaculate, and welcoming. I knew that Candler had one of the best faculties of any theology program in the world. I was drawn to Candler by the Contextual Education program and its comprehensive synergy with the larger curriculum and mission of Emory University and the Church. I was impressed by the ecumenism, excited by Atlanta, and felt included and welcomed by the worship, liturgy and community. This was clearly a place to come to be a student and to be in full, loving, learning community.

What I could not see, and has been of increasing value to me as a current student and future alumnus of Candler, was the school’s vast and passionate alumni network. The alumni of Candler are doing amazing things. Our alumni work as parish ministers across nearly every Christian denomination and all over the world. While gazing at the buildings and learning about the accomplishments of the faculty and students, I was yet unaware of the foundation that lay below. It is a foundation of former students and alumni who are theologically dynamic, community-creating leaders.

I was blessed to discover tSeaside Community UCChat alumni foundation when it came time to apply for Candler Advantage. Candler Advantage is a summer-long full-time internship opportunity for students seeking to further delve into the work and life of parish ministry after completing Contextual Education II, which is the parish placement year for MDiv students. As I searched for a church to serve in, it was brought to my attention by a member of the Candler faculty that a recent and creative United Church of Christ alumnus of Candler is now pastoring Seaside Community UCC in Torrance, California. I contacted the pastor, Rev. Dave Sigmund (MDiv, 2009), and the internship fell into perfect place.

It has been a privilege and a blessing to find an internship in a UCC congregation in California pastored by a gifted and energetic recent Candler graduate. The value of working with an alumnus of the Candler School of Theology is that Dave knows about the philosophy of the Contextual Education program and the mission of the school. We tailored this internship to allow me the maximum level of involvement possible within the life and worship of the congregation. I am leading a Christian Education course on theology and environmentalism twice a week, preaching three times out of ten weeks, leading worship and prayer, and assisting with pastoral needs and outreach visioning. I also helped lead Seaside UCC’s presence at the biannual General Synod of the UCC, which was held in neighboring Long Beach this summer.

Jake at General Synod

Jake at General Synod

I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that the profoundly intersectional work that took place between what I am learning in the classroom at Candler and the on-the-ground skills I will need as an ordained minister in the UCC, was made possible through the alumni connections that Candler maintains. Candler Advantage is a program that embodies the relationship we all have as proud parts of the whole that is the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

–Jake Joseph

Jake is a rising third year MDiv and Certificate in Human Rights student at Candler. A graduate of Grinnell College, he is from Plymouth Congregational UCC in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he is a Member in Discernment (Certified Candidate).


Jul 12 2013

The Best Laid Plans

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.

Uncertainty. Risk. Out of Control. Variability.Joya Abrams

These are all words that cause my engineer’s mind to cringe! I was taught that my job as an engineer was to manage uncertainty, avoid or mitigate risk, keep control, and reduce variability. So I’m sure you can imagine just how hard it is for me, a former engineer, to submit to the will of God and a life in ministry where the only certainty is God’s love and accompaniment, there is ultimate risk, I have little control, and daily life is variable.

My usual approach to work involves creating a project plan and executing it, relying on my brain power and a little prayer. I am most comfortable when I hold the reins and can affect an outcome. The truth of ministry and life in general is that if my comfort relies on my control, I will never be comfortable! I can lay down thoughtful and prayerfully considered plans, but it is not I who has the power to bring the vision to life, it is God.

When I started working at Cumberland United Methodist Church a couple of summers ago, I had the idea to open the church to the community for prayer. The church sits at a crossroads. It is surrounded by office buildings, a major corporation, apartments, and houses. I used to work for the major corporation whose building is visible from the church property. When I was an employee there, I wished that there were a place to go during the day to pray other than my car in the hot parking deck.

When I applied for a Candler Advantage internship at Cumberland UMC for this summer, this prayer time was one of the projects I had in mind since I would be there 40 hours per week.

To address the need that I believed the community had (since it was my need a few years ago), I started a mid-day drop-in time for prayer and meditation on Tuesdays. I made postcards, placed information on social media and the website, and put an invitation on the church marquee. I set up the sanctuary to be cool and peaceful. I unlocked the doors of the church and waited for people to come. That first Tuesday, only one person came to pray—my husband.

Cumberland UMCI cried on Wednesday because I failed. After talking with a few wise clergywomen, I realized that I hadn’t failed. Sure, I could have done more publicity, but they reminded me that just because only a few people have come does not mean that I have not been faithful. The beginning of a new mission or ministry may begin small. It is like discovering that you are pregnant (I am a mother of two). When you find that you are pregnant, you cannot see or really feel all of the changes happening inside of you. You have to wait several months before you can hopefully meet the new little person. All the while, that baby is growing and developing in secret. I believe that this is how the mission of the prayer time is growing. I cannot see how the Holy Spirit is moving in the community to bring people to God through this time, but I have faith that it is. We will leave the marquee announcement up. We will invite more people. We pray that God will touch the hearts of the people who see the invitations so that they will come. At the very least, I am praying more.

Through the experience of a slow start to the prayer time I am learning that ministry requires courage to do what you believe God is calling you to do. The results may be something beyond your own imagination. One person has come to the prayer time who is not affiliated with this church, so I know that at least one person was touched by the Holy Spirit to come to this place. (This person actually came twice!!) To pray in the middle of the day in a church may be exactly what will fulfill a spiritual need in this community, but it is also a new behavior that will take time to catch on. I still have friends who work for the corporation around the corner. The work conditions are the same. There is a need for sacred space during the workday. We, as Methodists, believe that we can experience the presence of God anywhere, but sometimes it is good to go to a place where all you are doing is basking in God’s loving presence. My ongoing prayer, as the church continues to offer this time of prayer for the community, is that more people will come to experience this time of sanctuary.

My journey into ministry, into becoming a minister and hopefully a pastor, requires that I learn to seek the peace and comfort of God first, not the safety of expected outcomes. This life of ministry requires trust in God and not just in my efforts or plans—quite the opposite of my previous engineering career. I have my job to do, but I am not working alone. My plan is not the most important one. I can only exercise control over a little and that is okay.

– Joya L. Abrams

Joya is a rising third year MDiv student at Candler.  She is a certified candidate for ministry in the North Georgia Conference.


Jul 2 2013

Ministry “To” and “With”

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.

When asked about my hopes and expectations for this summer, I would say that I hoped to experience the everyday rhythms in the life of a local congregation. I hoped to experience the joys, the pains, the celebrations and mourning that occur among the congregants of the local church and a church community, as people join, get baptized, and move away.

That’s exactly what I’m doing–I am experiencing the joys and frustrations of a congregation that hosts an interfaith food pantry every week; I am able to walk alongside a couple who are new to the area and have, for the first time, discovered a church that embodies the radical love of the kingdom of God; I see the sense of loss as the faith community prepares itself for a family to move to another part of the country. These are the rhythms that are found in the life of the local church. These are the rhythms that I get to experience this summer. These rhythms come out of relationships that exist throughout the local church and extend into the local community.

Rythms service bannerThis understanding of relationships is where I have grown the most. Relationships inform how we see our call. Relationships are the difference between “in ministry to” and “in ministry with.” A church and its leadership who are in ministry with one another and the community will likely identify a call to address spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of the community.  Thinking beyond an “us verses them” mentality, church leaders understands their task to empower good and effective ministry in others, not to be the primary “doers” of ministry. The church body can see itself in solidarity with the local community–rather than seeing those “outside” of church as adversaries.

The importance of relationships continues to be my growing edge for the summer. I have learned that by building strong relationships with those in the local church, leaders are better able to identify the gifts and graces of those who sit in the pews on Sunday morning. The same gifts and graces that may be of service within the church may also be of service outside the church. This both strengthens the worshiping community and allows the church to be an effective witness to the greater community. Relationships provide us with the opportunity to hear God calling us to something greater than ourselves, giving us the opportunity to experience God in each other.

–Harrison Thornhill

Harrison is a rising third year student at Candler who is completing a summer internship as part of Candler Advantage at Druid Hills United Methodist Church in Atlanta, GA.