The 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 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.