Oct 29 2013

The Heart of Worship

CannonI sit in a room full of scholars and students asking hard questions, searching for justice, and hungry to engage their faith in the world. The architecture in this room is wonderfully symbolic. We sing from hymnbooks. We read liturgy. The organ is our lead singer. Sometimes we have choirs in robes, sometimes a drumline, sometimes a string quartet, and sometimes a soloist. We follow the liturgical calendar for preaching. There is a pulpit. There are no fancy lights. No fog machines. The room is full of contemplative focus.

Now I sit in a large auditorium that seats 2,500 people. It is full of many different types of people with many different agendas. There’s a full band, a billboard sized projection screen, and a backdrop to the stage that’s of the same quality found at a major rock concert. The band sounds like a professional rock band. The lyrics are on the screen, not in your hand. There are lights, lots of lights. There is fog rolling from the stage. There is not a pulpit when the preacher preaches, just a round bar table and a plasma screen to his left. The room is full of energy.

Now I sit in a room in Venezuela that serves as a bar or event space during the week and a church on Sundays. The people gathered are hungry for worship to begin. There is no A/C, only fans blowing at full speed. There is a band but no fancy lights, no flat screen TVs, no fog, and no pulpit. The sound system is loud for sure, but not of any great quality. We are led by a band of students with one adult guiding them. The words are not in our hands nor on a screen, but in the hearts of the people. The room is full of anticipation.BuckheadThis past year has been a journey for me in the realm of corporate worship. My first year at Candler was one of interesting paradox. I attended a mainline Methodist seminary with a chapel service that, most weeks, was liturgy-driven, with an organ as our worship leader. Then I would attend non-denominational churches such as Passion City Church or Buckhead Church, where worship was more like a rock concert and liturgy was hard to find. My weekly worship experience was drastically different most of the time. Then this summer, I went down with World Methodist Evangelism Institute and worshiped in a small charismatic Venezuelan Methodist church. Each one of these uniquely different worship spaces was meaningful and wonderful.

So, worship.

Is this a matter of style? Is this a matter of theology? Is this a matter of liberal vs. conservative? Traditional vs. modern? Fundamental vs. progressive? Is this a matter of what is the right/best/most real/most personal/most collective way of worshiping?

Well, in short, yes. Of course it is, and it would be a lie to ignore all of those things when considering what worship means to us. I wonder though if we, in our modern church culture, couldn’t do more to learn and appreciate from one another.

I grew up in a church that had three worship environments: “contemporary” “modern” and “traditional.” Putting aside that these are slightly ambiguous terms, I found myself naturally being pulled towards the “modern” worship. As I grew older (I’m only 26 now), the traditional service began to eat me alive. Why is this even around anymore? Who really sings these songs and means them? Is there any Spirit found here? So needless to say, I would put myself in the camp of people that didn’t like a high liturgical or “traditional” worship setting.

VenezuelaThis year has changed me. Candler has stretched me. I have experienced an authentic encounter with God in so many different spaces and styles. Whether that be at Candler’s chapel services, Passion conferences, or small Venezuelan congregations.

I don’t think it is about style, or low-church vs. high-church, or any of that. I think it’s about the heart of the worship.

So it comes to this. It’s not how I worship, but whom I am worshiping. Am I worshiping style, or am I worshiping the God of all creation? And this God of all creation, doesn’t this God deserve and need to be worshiped in a multitude of ways? It’s really less about my style and more about my heart.

I have found this to be true: a community that is singing with its heart makes worship powerful. The community gathered in that space makes it powerful. Sure, what happens in the worship is important and should be done well, but style and liturgical preference will never trump the community gathered and the Spirit they bring to the space. So, whether I’m singing “Take Me As I Am,” “Your Love Never Fails,” or “La Creacion Hoy Canta,” if the community is worshiping as one, it is truly a moment that is special. The body unleashing its heart in true praise to God gives us worship. Give me that, in any style, and that is something I want to be a part of!

–Mark Kimbrough

Mark is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler.  From Springdale, Arkansas, he completed his undergraduate studies at The University of Arkansas.


Oct 15 2013

Leaving Room for Rest

JessicaAs I sit here in Pitts Theology Library, trying not to freeze and frantically trying to get four articles read and a systematics paper written so I can get home with enough time to work out and eat dinner, I almost miss it. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something moving, so I look towards the back of the library. I see an older gentleman, probably in his 70s or 80s, who is engrossed in some dusty old book that I am sure thousands of students have overlooked. This sight, though perfectly ordinary, becomes beautiful to me. This older gentleman (we’ll call him Jack), looks completely content sitting in the library reading about theology. Jack doesn’t have to be here, but wants to be. As I broaden my gaze, I realize how lovely this dusty old library really is. It is a beautiful scene, and I almost missed it.

Life for me has been like that since the beginning of the semester. I have been consumed with busy-ness. People have told me that second year is the most difficult at Candler, and so far, they have been correct. Along with my five classes, I am spending eight hours a week interning with Emory Wesley Fellowship (the United Methodist campus ministry at Emory) and working fourteen hours a week in the Candler Admissions and Financial Aid office.  Each of these activities is wonderful, but takes up a lot of time. Add in studying and my days and nights seem much shorter. I have been rushing through one thing to get to the next thing.

All this is leading up to the fact that I needed rest. Rest is portrayed as such a lazy thing to do these days, isn’t it? Productivity is one of the most valued qualities in our American culture. Our Protestant work ethic is deeply engrained in our society. Just the other day, as one of my classes was ending, our professor announced that we really need to focus on the reading for the next class period, because it was extra-long and dense. As I sighed audibly and put my head on the table, one of my best friends asked me “Do you enjoy doing anything these days?” This question almost seemed to stab me in my heart. When was the last time I did something I enjoyed? I realized that I had been rushing through everything and not taking time to be in the moment, to take in what I was really doing. I realized that I forgot how lucky I was to be here at Candler. I am so lucky to be here among such a terrific and supportive community, studying theology under outstanding and well-known professors. This is a place that people yearn to be a part of, and those that do come here yearn to return. Jack in the library is a testament to this.

It was also in that moment that I realized I needed to rest. I needed to slow things down so I could hear the voice of God in the midst of my chaotic life. If you don’t take time for self-care, you begin to grow deaf to God’s voice and the voices of the people around you. It becomes all about you and how “productive” you can be. We need time and space to rejuvenate, to recharge, and to hear from God. In Psalm 46, God tells us to “Be still, and know that I am God.” By giving myself time to rest, I am better able to live in the moment and appreciate where I am and what I am doing. I can focus on what is going on in each of my classes and learn something new. I can take the time to listen to a student at Emory Wesley Fellowship and grow our relationship. I can really listen to prospective students’ concerns and help them figure out if Candler is where they are supposed to be. In short, instead of constantly thinking about what is next on my to-do list, I need to be present in the moment. Allowing time for rest helps me accomplish this.

Finding a balance between papers, work, class, internship, meetings and rest has still been hard, though. I have found that exercise, in a strange way, is a type of rest for me. I feel much more centered after a good run. Taking a few minutes during the day to sit in silence if I am feeling especially overwhelmed has also been helpful. I have realized that those times of so-called unproductivity can actually be productive. Most times, it is in nature that I find rest. Whether it is in a cornfield, on a volcano, at the beach, by the pool, in the woods, or on the top of Stone Mountain, I can seek refuge from the chaotic world and listen for the whispering voice of God. I can also reflect on how thankful I am to be here. Lynn Ungar wrote a beautiful poem about rest and refuge called Camas Lilies. A camas lily is a purple/bluish flower that blooms in the wild meadows of the western United States and Canada.

Consider the lilies of the field,
the blue banks of camas opening
into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?

And you–what of your rushed and
useful life? Imagine setting it all down–
papers, plans, appointments, everything–
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming….”

Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.

May we take the time out in our crazy, busy, hectic, “productive” lives to go into the fields, to simply be lovely and bloom.

–Jessica Beverstein

Jessica is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. She graduated from Winthrop University in South Carolina with a BS in elementary education. She served as a volunteer missionary in Costa Rica and taught second grade in Atlanta before coming to Candler.


Sep 27 2013

Laboring for the Kingdom

Aaron CarrTomorrow morning, on a rare day off from studying systematic theology, reading the New Testament, and parsing Hebrew nouns, I am headed to my Contextual Education site, Berea Mennonite Church, for a solid day of work. Unlike many of my peers, however, I won’t be keeping office hours or preparing a sermon for Sunday morning (though I certainly do those things). Instead, I’ll be wielding a hammer.

There’s a leaking well-head out behind the education building that needs to be fixed. I’ll build a concrete form so that someone else can pour the concrete and keep the plumbing stable. Additionally, the congregation is interested in growing its flock of chickens, so I’ll be researching and building a brooding box for the four-dozen chicks we hope to order before it gets too cold. Sheep pens need to be rotated on pastureland. Vegetables need to be harvested in the community garden. There is always work to do!

If this description of one (admittedly atypical) day doing Con. Ed. sounds a little different, it is because Berea is a different congregation. Our two simple buildings (one for education and fellowship) occupy roughly nine acres of land on the borders of East Atlanta Village and Gresham Park. Much of the land is rented to a commercial farmer who shares our ethical convictions about food (sustainable, local, organic), and the rest is used by the church for its own farm project. We maintain a flock of chickens, a herd of sheep, and a large permaculture garden out front. It is a different kind of congregation.

At first, I was nervous about how doing Con. Ed. at Berea might shape up. After all, I’m taking a degree in theology, not horticulture, and there are important ministerial skills one needs to acquire during this yearlong internship. I didn’t (and still don’t) want to function as just a theologically reflective farm hand. Thankfully, this hasn’t been the case. Instead, my time at Berea has helped me reconcile old divisions in my thinking, especially the gap between theological (read: intellectual) activity and physical labor.

I’ll begin with the theological. We typically take communion once a month at Berea. One of the things I’ve come to realize during these moments is that Jesus is mediated to us by means of a meal (I was raised in churches without much focus on the table, so it’s taken me a while to get this one). Of course, this statement is full of theological meaning. To meet with someone at the table is to share intimacy and vulnerability, and it is amazing to think of God sharing that kind of life with us in the bread and wine.

But this theological claim – that God meets with us at table – also reveals important claims about human labor. If we insist that God reveals God’s self in a meal, we come to realize that, in a profound way, God cares about food. And if God cares about food, God must also care about the way that food is grown, transported, prepared, and consumed. This is where the labor comes in. We mustn’t be content to simply claim that God cares about food. We must be willing to work at creating just food systems in the world. That’s why tomorrow is a work day. The well-head provides water for our livestock. The new chickens will be raised ethically and will provide fresh, cage-free eggs to the congregation and the neighborhood. The sheep remind us where our food actually comes from, and challenge us to remember our place as creatures in this creation.

At a deeper level than all of this, however, is the simple fact that labor can be a good and holy thing. It is not a failure for a well-off, modern, educated human being to work with his or her hands. In labor, there is a sense of accomplishment and the deep fatigue that comes from expending energy in a positive way. There is a fellowship in common labor that I have rarely encountered anywhere else. Even when working alone, there is fellowship with God, who labors with us to build a kingdom where everyone will have enough to eat.

In many ways, I am still unlearning the old division between the life of the mind and the work of the body. Join me in thanking God that communities like Berea exist, that Candler sends its students to work in those places, and that there is good work to do, wherever you are.

–Aaron Carr

Aaron is a second-year MDiv student at Candler and a student ambassador. Originally from Cumming, GA, Aaron was a religion major as an undergraduate at Samford University.


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 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.


Jun 11 2013

For You Are With Me

Hannah in AtlantaLast Friday I went walking. Starting at Central Outreach and Advocacy Center, a downtown organization dedicated to serving and advocating for the homeless in Atlanta, which I have had the pleasure of interning for over the summer, I traced a route from the Social Security Administration office, to the Fulton County Health Department, and back toward the Department of Driver Services. Perhaps not the most leisurely or entertaining walk, but a route I deliberately decided upon as I left work that afternoon. While Central OAC assists homeless men and women obtain birth certificates, Georgia identification cards, and various referrals to food pantries, clothing closets, and shelters, as I finish individual appointments with folks that come in off the street every morning, I often send them back out with a fistful of walking directions – pointing them toward churches, organizations, agencies, and offices. While I wish we could help with each and every need voiced by our guests, I know that collaboration is essential for the passionate, transforming, and empowering work that is happening at organizations like Central OAC.

The route I walked is a common one for those needing to get proper documentation in order to pick up their ID. An entire afternoon’s worth of walking and standing in lines, and only possible if one’s situation works out just perfectly. My walk that day, however, was easy. I was not carrying all of my belongings in a pack, there were no lines to wait in at offices, I am a young and able, and had the day been particularly warm I could have easily jumped into my car or dug into my pockets for public transportation fare. As I walked I considered the complexities of this seemingly common and monotonous activity. While I walk to my bus stop, around my neighborhood, and consistently tread the halls of Candler School of Theology, there are circumstances and settings in which walking is not so easy. I think of the Israelites walking and wandering in the wilderness, I think of Jesus and his followers who walked from city to city to preach and teach, and I think of the men and women in Atlanta who walk miles for work or a place to lay their head at night.

To walk alone is yet another circumstance that complicates one’s journey. While I made the long and foreign drive from Northern Iowa to Atlanta to begin my first year of seminary on my own, I immediately found community amongst classmates, professors, and advisors willing to walk beside me as I began studying, reflecting, and discerning my call in the world. My walk and journey through the year was not without missteps and obstacles. Yet, without those walking alongside me—through exams and study groups, from church pews to contextual education sites—I never would have made it.

Atlanta SkylineI was blessed with the chance to join a cohort of like-minded first year students as a Community Engagement Fellow. The fellowship has come with opportunities for reflection and discussion with brilliant and inspiring students who find themselves drawn to use their theological education in the community—in non-profit organizations, classrooms, on urban farms, and in other non-traditional ministries. It was with the support of those walking alongside me that I have found myself at Central OAC. While I am still walking this path, attempting to make sense of my place in the world and how to seek, serve, and share the Divine, I am consistently reminded of the importance of walking with others.

While I have learned much in my initial weeks as an intern—regarding circumstances that lead to poverty, policy and legislation surrounding issues of homelessness, and the complexities of non-profit work—an image of walking alongside another human being continues to shine brightest. Even as I send guests out with precise directions and am not able to physically walk beside them, I know how important it is to take the time to hear their stories, to simply listen, to encourage, or to advocate on their behalf. I know this because of the individuals at Candler that have taken the time to listen, encourage, and walk with me. I know this because of the guest who one day reminded me of the beauty and power in the book of Psalms. A text I had spent a portion of the semester devouring, was readily recited, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NRSV). For the guest, the Bible he carried was a symbol of the work of God and the work of people in the world attempting to overcome evil and injustice. For me, that morning, I was once again drawn to the act of walking—whether walking in the valley of death, in the wilderness, on the beautiful Emory campus, or on the streets of Atlanta. Such a common and everyday task for some can be an arduous journey for others. For those without transportation, for those with disabilities, and for those walking alone; it can be a long passage.

HannahMy walk has just begun. It has led me states away from family and friends, into classrooms with diverse theological perspectives, and into relationship with those who challenge me to make sense of my place in the world. With a year behind me at Candler, and a summer of learning with a passionate and Christ-centered ministry like Central OAC, I am prepared to continue walking—to walk alongside others, to walk this road as seminarian, and to reflect on how my interests and passions intersect with the world.

- Hannah Landgraf

Hannah is a graduate of Simpson College, a rising second year MDiv student at Candler, and passionate about feminist theology and bicycle transportation.


May 31 2013

Learning to Rely on God

“They don’t teach you that in seminary”, or “You do not learn this in seminary” is one of the common catch phrases I have heard being thrown around by pastors and laity alike. It is sometimes said with a snide undertone that conveys the idea that seminary education, when put to the real life test of pastoral leadership, is found wanting. And it always brings to mind my Candler education and learning experience.

My three years at Candler were among the most fruitful of any preparatory experience I could ever have to become a pastor. The academic rigor, the contextual programs, and the shared wisdom of my professors and fellow peers have indelibly shaped who I am and how I serve as a pastor.

My first appointment after seminary as pastor-in-charge of a small church in the heart of Atlanta became the litmus test for my seminary education. Though the church was small, the worshipers who came were very diverse. They ranged from the very elderly members, to the transient national and international Ph.D. students from Georgia Tech, along with the visitors who came because they were invited or were in need of a place to worship. They were Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and Seekers. I had to serve all in their different life journeys, attending to their needs, while guiding them to the constant awareness of their souls’ worth. We had numerous conversations about Scripture and the interpretation, the Kingdom and reign of God, and death. One can imagine what those conversations were like with such a variety.  In one Bible study session about sin, one of my aerospace engineering graduate students drew a diagram that showed the Holy Spirit as a “sin-dampener function” to explain her understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work.  How more relevant could church be?

This small church was certainly not your everyday cut to fit church. Notwithstanding, it was certainly the best church I could have been appointed to because of the experience I gained. And I could not have been effective or make the impact I did without my seminary education. As the only pastor, with no staff support, I relied fully on God and put into practice what I had learned at Candler. I remember there were times I went back to my notes and textbooks from my “Leadership in Small Membership Church” class with Dr. Rogers to draw upon the insights I had gained. During the sermon preparation for my first funeral, I pulled the notes from my “Preaching about Death” class with Drs. Long and Kraftchick and crafted my sermon accordingly.

Now in my second appointment as the associate pastor at one of the biggest churches in the North Georgia Conference, I still draw on my seminary education from Candler. And I know this education will still be of great benefit to me in the many years to come. When writing sermons, or having conversations about Scripture, or making decisions about ordering the life of the church, or anything to do with ministry in general, I still find myself saying “Thank you, Dr. Rogers,” or “Thank you, Dr. Long,” or “Thank you, Dr Fry Brown,” or “Thank you, Dr. Carolyn StephensErskine.”

Thus the phrase “They don’t teach you that in seminary” should never be used as a broad spectrum brush to paint a picture of what is lacking in seminary education, for though I know that no one can ever learn everything in seminary, I know that what I have learned at Candler is taking me farther than where I would have been without it.

- Carolyn Stephens

Carolyn is a 2011 graduate from Candler and Associate Pastor at Cannon Church in Snellville, GA.


Mar 22 2013

A Purpose in the Wrestling

Jacob Wrestles an Angel

Detail of “A Visit” by John August Swanson

The time is drawing nigh.

In just a few weeks we will be bringing to an end our destined journey together.

As these days and weeks sail by, my colleagues and I, well at least some of us, are giving much thought to what’s next.

Many of us are thinking about who we will be once we leave this place. Many of us appear to have it all figured out.

Some of us have plans to go back into the workforce. Some will be leading parishes or parish ministries. Some of us, like myself, will be going into another year of MORE school.

Much of it, these decisions of what is next or what we will be doing next, are centered around this idea of purpose.

What is my purpose? Who am I? Why am I here? What is my gift?

These questions are, to some extent, unavoidable. And recently, these questions were the centering focus of a session in our Howard Thurman course.

They are difficult questions to answer. To an extent, they are overwhelming and intimidating questions to answer. And why wouldn’t they be? We did come here, to this place called the Candler School of Theology to get some clarity, right?

During the session, our guest lecturer, Dr. Gregory Ellison, had us consider these questions in small groups with others. It was what he calls a laboratory experience. The experiment, as I will label it, was not necessarily for us to find any answers, but for us to at least engage them. We were instructed to wrestle, seek and question. But not one time were we instructed to answer them.

In my searching, I had an epiphany.

The story of Jacob comes to mind when considering this process of wrestling. In the 32 chapter of book of Genesis we find Jacob in a series of conundrums. I have always found this story of Jacob to be intriguing because of its imagery and storyline.

He is running, hiding, moving possessions and family and dealing with the result of some choices – he is dealing with life. And eventually he comes across this individual. Different translations say it’s a man. Some say it’s an angel. Some say the individual is God. What is shared by all of the translations is that a wrestling match takes place between the two; Jacob will not let go of the “entity” without a blessing; and then his name is changed.

Jacob walks away from the situation changed. After some wrestling – and determination – he has been changed, made new. He has a new name, but not only that he has this limp. Now, some have come to consider the limp as an impediment. But I consider the limp to be more of a testament. The limp is a lifelong reminder of the experience and how he has overcome.

Now, you may be wondering what any of this means and the point I am trying to make. It is actually quite simple. Dr. Ellison pointed something out in our wrestling with the questions he posed to us on this Thursday, during a session of our Howard Thurman course. And it is something that I believe regarding this story of Jacob, now known as Israel.

There is a purpose in the wrestling.

As my colleagues and I approach the final days of our time here at Candler, we have wrestled and are continuing to wrestle with a vast array of questions. Who are we? Why are we here? What is our purpose?

They are all questions we have come into contact with and I suspect we should continue to come into contact with; and rightfully so, right? But in the wrestling we are changed; we are made different from the experience. And once we are done wrestling with one thing, God blesses us in God’s own way. The blessings may come in the form of epiphany. The blessings may come in the form of answers and greater clarity on the journeys we have embarked.

And there will be scars along the way, scars that will remind us of the experience of wrestling – scars that will heal, but will also serve as the evidence that in some way, we have been touched by God.

We do not always have to have answers. And in reality, the answers are not as important as the experience of wrestling with the questions.

So, I leave this place called the Candler School of Theology renamed and limping, embarking upon a new journey of purpose and intent – wrestling with a new set of questions and seeking God’s blessings along the way.

Won’t you journey with me?

- Mashaun D. Simon

Mashaun is a graduating MDiv student at the Candler School of Theology where we served his final year as President of the Candler Coordinating Council, worked as a Student Ambassador and will be starting a ThM program in the fall in Toronto, Canada.


Nov 2 2012

Freedom

MashaunI have always wondered, “If and when I had the chance to do one of these blog posts, what would I talk about exactly?” It may sound somewhat arrogant, but since I arrived at Candler I expected that at some point I would be writing for the Enthused Admissions blog. I just sort of expected it. And don’t get me wrong; I am not saying I sought out this opportunity – not at all. However, I just figured the time would come and when it did, what would I have to say. (Maybe I should shut up now and change the subject).

Anyway, so here we are. And, ummm, what am I going to say? There is so much I could talk about: the fact that it is half way through my next to last semester at Candler; or the fact that it is only early November but feels like it should be mid-April/May; or the experiences of being student body president of a Theology school, at this time, during an election year.

But then I think back to where I am right now in my life and what stands out to me is the importance of freedom. On September 22, 2012 I cut off eight years worth of hair. Yes, you read right. For the past eight years I had been growing my hair in locs. I had the idea many years ago while in undergrad; struggled with whether or not I should do, and how it would make me look; and then grew them out. In all, I have had locs for 10 years – growing them once, cutting and starting over a year later.

They were my claim to fame – my crowning glory (no pun intended). They – my hair – had become a part of me. They were part of my identity, and I had invested a lot of energy, time and money into my hairstyle.

Every month I would get them washed and retwisted. During special occasions in my life, or when I just felt like it, I would have them colored and styled in all sorts of designs on the top of my head. They had become my art piece, my form of expressing whom I thought I was. They had become my centerpiece. And then earlier this year, during the summer, I had this idea – maybe I would cut my hair.

No, no, no. Now wait a minute, Mashaun. What are you talking about? Your hair is your hair. You cannot cut it, is what I had told myself several times. And I was not alone. So many people, when I would tell them I was thinking of cutting my hair, would object as if the hair was theirs.

And then in early September, I was ready. I made up my mind, made the appointment and prepared myself for the experience of no longer having a head full of hair. That early afternoon I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the hair off myself, one-loc-by-one. Much to my surprise, I did not have the emotional moment many people hard warned me about. I did not get emotional. I did not lose my strength like Samson when Delilah cut his hair.

Now, you may be wondering what does any of this have to do with Candler, theology and the past few years of being here in this space. Well, I am glad you asked. I think being here at Candler has prepared me for this moment in my life. I think my being here at Candler has provided me with not just this academic knowledge, practical ministerial skills, and a network of colleagues and lifelong ministerial friends. This experience has brought me closer to the man God created me to be.  This experience has provided me with a level of freedom I did not expect to have.

I came into Candler kicking and screaming with God. I know what happens in my community – the African American community – to people who become minsters, preachers and spiritual leaders. They are expected to be perfect. They are expected to have all of the answers. They are – well everything is expected of them. And I, if we are being honest, have never been excited about that reality.

However, in this time here at Candler my humanity has been validated, while at the same time my divine right has been affirmed. In this process, I have come closer to God’s Mashaun. I have the clarity and the vision now of who I am called to be, where I am to go into the world, and all of the abilities/gifts/skills I possess that can and will be used by God in God’s kingdom.

Candler freed me. Candler freed me so much so that I no longer needed to hide behind eight years of hair.

It all makes perfect sense now…at least to me!

- Mashaun D Simon

Mashaun is a native of Atlanta, GA, a graduate of Kennesaw State University, president of the Candler Coordinating Council, and a Student Ambassador.


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.