Sep 13 2013

The Word of God in the Country of Paradox

(For a version of this text in Spanish, see below)

On a sunny morning in a working class neighborhood of Medellín, we set plastic chairs out along the walls of a scrubbed, white-tiled garage. We sit down facing each other around a wooden table decorated with a Bible and flowers. Each Sunday, a handful of dedicated, socially conscious Christians gather here at El Gozo de Dios Methodist Church and try to contextualize the gospel amongst the paradoxes of Colombian society. Theirs is the country of the richest resources and the sharpest inequalities. They enjoy vibrant cultural diversity and are beholden to homogenizing global consumerism. They were ranked last year as the happiest people in the world and they continue to suffer one of the world’s longest, most fragmenting civil wars.

We sit beneath the logo of the Colombian Methodist Church, in which the old familiar cross and flame morph into a dove: the Holy Spirit straining its wings towards peace, in the yellow, red and blue of the Colombian flag. We sing praises over the calls of the mazamorra vendor passing in the street. His wooden cart is full of the thick boiled corn drink that sustains Colombians with the very substance that some of their indigenous ancestors believed that God used to form human beings.

El Gozo worship

Our singing and the mazamorra vendor both compete with the bells of the Catholic Church a few blocks away. Here in the department (equivalent to a state or province) of Antioquía, home of the most picturesque colonial towns and the biggest drug lords, traditionalism reigns and the majority remain Catholic. However, in isolated villages in the coastal regions, the crossfire between guerilla groups, paramilitaries and the military have become so intense that even the Catholic Church has fled. In some of these communities, the Colombian Methodist Church is the only religious and social organization that has had the courage and the faithfulness to accompany populations ravaged by violence, land appropriation and lack of basic amenities, such as health and education.

When we arrive to the reading of the word, we talk first about what we’ve read in the news as part of the “contextual reading” that God is speaking to us that day, and then we read the lectionary texts. Afterwards, someone stands up and gives a sermon, often peppered with interjections from other congregants. One member of the congregation is the internationally renowned feminist Biblical scholar Elsa Tamez; another is an ordained reverend, theologian and former dean of the Latin American Biblical University, José Duque; another is a disabled man named Jorge with garbled speech and incorrigible jokes; another is a 9-year-old girl named Gabriela who directs herself to “lovely little God” when she prays over the offerings every Sunday. All of these voices are given equal space to offer their thoughts during the sermon.

Sari wth logoThe conversational sermons at El Gozo de Dios reflect an even more intentionally democratic method of Christian education called “Popular and Communal Bible Reading,” or in Spanish, Lectura Popular y Comunitaria de la Biblia (LPCB). I immerse myself in an LPCB group on Tuesday nights, up on a little farm in the municipality of La Estrella, which climbs a foothill surrounding Medellín. La Estrella gives the impression of a relaxed, ecologically friendly little town, yet it also seethes beneath the surface with drug trafficking and violent crime. The farm is home to Juan Esteban Londoño, a humble spirit who has sought an alternative to the culture of violence that surrounded him as he grew up in La Estrella, and has become a brilliant theologian, philosopher and goth-metal musician. Juan Esteban and his wife Natalia act as hosts of this space where pastors, musicians, students, hairdressers, blue-collar workers, and high school teachers gather in the crisp mountain air, surrounded by tangerine trees and sleepy dogs who plead for the food we bring to share. We read a text and then the facilitator, usually Juan Esteban himself, uses a series of questions to lead the participants through analyzing the original context and then applying it to their own contexts and lives. This way of reading involves the critical thinking and wisdom of all members to arrive at collective interpretations of the scriptures. Juan Esteban takes notes and sometimes he synthesizes our theological reflections and publishes them in his blog: teologiaunderground.blogspot.com.

FarmA large part of the work I did in Colombia over this summer was furthering the practice of LPCB and others processes of social and spiritual formation. Thanks to a Candler Advantage grant, I was able to immerse myself in this work and gain invaluable insights into the connection between Christian education and social transformation in the local church. I was inspired by the work of the local church and LPCB groups to bring the challenges facing their society to the light of God’s word. The difficulty, as I have found in progressive churches in the US, is that we often discuss and discern how things ought to be, without actually translating our discoveries into transformative actions. But one of the most important things I learned is that translating education into action is a gradual process, much more gradual than an intensive ten-week internship. Therefore, during this semester off, I have chosen to continue living in Colombia so that I can witness the gradual growth of the Kingdom of God in this beautifully paradoxical place.

—Sari Brown

Sari Brown is a third-year MDiv student at Candler. A native of Michigan, Sari majored in anthropology and religion at Marlboro College in Vermont, and has carried out anthropological research and mission work in Bolivia. Through the Candler Advantage program, she served the Colombian Methodist Church for a ten-week internship. Next year she will be studying abroad in São Paulo, Brazil through the Luce Program, where she plans to work in ministry with Bolivian immigrants.

 

Versión en español: La palabra de Dios en el país de paradoja

En una mañana soleada de un barrio de la clase trabajadora en Medellín, ponemos sillas de plástico contra las paredes en un garaje bien aseado de baldosa blanca. Nos sentamos cara a cara, alrededor de una mesa decorada con una Biblia y flores. Cada domingo, unos cuantos dedicados cristianos de consciencia social se reúnen aquí en la Iglesia Metodista El Gozo de Dios y tratan de contextualizar el evangelio en medio de las paradojas de la sociedad colombiana. Su país es el de los recursos más ricos y las desigualdades más marcadas. Gozan de vibrante diversidad cultural y se someten al consumismo global homogenizadora. Fueron calificados el año pasado de la gente más feliz del mundo y siguen sufriendo una de las guerras civiles más largas y divisivas del mundo.

Nos sentamos bajo el logotipo de la Iglesia Colombiana Metodista, en la que la conocida cruz y llama se transforma en una paloma: el Espíritu Santo estirando sus alas hacia la paz, en el amarillo, el rojo y el azul de la bandera colombiana. Cantamos alabanzas sobre las llamadas del vendedor de mazamorra que pasa por la calle. Su carreta de madera está llena de la bebida espesa de maíz que sostiene a los colombianos con la misma sustancia que algunos de sus ancestros indígenas creían que Dios utilizó para formar los seres humanos.

Tanto nuestro canto como el vendedor de mazamorra compiten con las campanas de la Iglesia Católica a un par de cuadras de nosotros. Aquí en el departamento de Antioquia, hogar de los pueblos coloniales más pintorescos y los narcotraficantes más grandes, el tradicionalismo reina y la mayoría sigue siendo católica. Sin embargo, en pueblos aislados de las regiones costales, el cruce de fuego entre la guerrilla, los paramilitares y los militares se intensificó a tal punto que hasta la Iglesia Católico huyó. En muchas de estas comunidades, la Iglesia Colombiana Metodista es la única organización religiosa y social que ha tenido la valentía y fidelidad para acompañar a poblaciones acosadas por violencia, apropiación de tierras, y falta de necesidades básicas, como la salud y la educación.

Al llegar a la lectura de la palabra, hablamos primero de lo que hemos leído en las noticias como parte de la “lectura contextual” que Dios nos está hablando en este día, y luego leemos los textos del leccionario. Después, alguien se para y da la predicación, lo que resulta muchas veces intercalada con interrupciones de otros congregantes. Un miembro de la iglesia es la biblista feminista de renombre internacional, Elsa Tamez; otro es un reverendo ordenado, teólogo y decano anterior de la Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana, José Duque; otro es un hombre discapacitado llamado Jorge con una forma de hablar borrosa y chistes incansables; otro es una niña de 9 años llamada Gabriela que se dirige a “Diosito lindo” cuando ora por las ofrendas cada domingo. A todas estas voces se les otorga espacio igual para ofrecer sus pensamientos durante la prédica.

Las prédicas conversacionales en El Gozo de Dios reflejan un método de educación cristiana todavía más democrático, denominado “Lectura Popular y Comunitaria de la Biblia (LPCB). Participo en un grupo de LPCB los martes por la noche, en una pequeña finca en el municipio de La Estrella, que se encuentra subiendo un cerro de los alrededores de Medellín. La Estrella aparenta ser un pueblito tranquilo y ecológico, pero a la misma vez se agita bajo la superficie con narcotráfico y crimen violento. La finca es el hogar de Juan Esteban Londoño, un hombre de espíritu humilde que ha buscado una alternativa a la cultura de violencia que le rodeaba desde su nacimiento en La Estrella, y se ha convertido en un brillante teólogo, filósofo, y músico de metal gótico. Juan Esteban y su esposa Natalia son los anfitriones de este espacio donde pastores, músicos, estudiantes, estilistas, trabajadores, y profesores del colegio se reúnen en el aire fresco de montaña, rodeados por mandarinos y perros soñolientos que nos ruegan la comida que traemos para compartir. Leemos un texto y después el facilitador, normalmente el mismo Juan Esteban, utiliza una serie de preguntas para guiar a los participantes por el proceso de analizar el contexto original y después aplicarlo a nuestros propios contextos y vidas. Esta forma de leer conlleva el pensamiento crítico y la sabiduría de todos los miembros del grupo para sacar interpretaciones colectivas de las escrituras. Juan Esteban toma notas y a veces sintetiza nuestras reflexiones teológicas y las publica en su blog: teologiaunderground.blogspot.com.

Gran parte del trabajo que hice en Colombia durante este verano fue desarrollar la práctica de LPCB y otros procesos de formación espiritual y social. Gracias a un beca de Candler Advantage, pude dedicarme por completo a este trabajo y sacar entendimientos inestimables de la conexión entre la educación cristiana y la transformación social en la iglesia local. Me inspiraban la iglesia local y los grupos de LPCB en su esfuerzo por considerar los desafíos que se presentan a su sociedad a la luz de la palabra de Dios. Lo difícil, como he visto también en iglesias progresistas de los EEUU, es que muchas veces discutimos y discernimos cómo las cosas deben ser, sin verdaderamente convertir nuestros descubrimientos en acciones transformativas. Pero una de las cosas más importantes que aprendí es que convertir la educación en acción es un proceso paulatino, mucho más paulatino que una pasantía intensiva de dos semanas. Por lo tanto, durante este semestre libre, elegí seguir viviendo en Colombia para poder presenciar el crecimiento paulatino del reino de Dios en este lugar hermosamente paradójico.

—Sari Brown

Sari Brown es una estudiante en su tercer año del programa de Maestría de Divinidad en Candler. Oriunda de Michigan, Sari estudió antropología y religión en Marlboro College en Vermont, y ha realizado investigación antropológica y trabajo de misionera en Bolivia. A través del programa Candler Advantage, sirvió a la Iglesia Colombiana Metodista en una pasantía de diez semanas. El próximo año estudiará en extranjero en São Paulo, Brasil a través del Luce Program, donde piensa obrar en ministerios con inmigrantes bolivianos.


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.


Jun 25 2013

Remembering Our Call

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.

While doing some work for the church in which I am learning through the Candler Advantage experience I was asked a question by my new boss and site mentor that caught me off guard, in a good way. She asked me what my plans were after seminary.  I told her I am seeking elder’s orders through The United Methodist Church, and I hope to help youth and young adults claim a voice within the church and use that voice to then help make positive changes to their individual faith communities, their denomination, and the universal church. She then looked at me and asked; “Do you think you are doing that here?” I answered honestly, that I believe I have started to work out how to help young people claim voices as leaders, but I have not done as much as I would like. I have been thinking about this all day.

Here’s the thing, the ordination process within the UMC is rigorous and stressful to say the least. And, quite frankly, I have been more worried about making other people happy, proving myself to other people, and making sure I am doing things that will show others that I am called into ministry that I have not even stopped to ask whether or not I’ve done anything that brings me joy. Or, more importantly, brings God joy. My mentor’s question caught me off guard and it has stuck with me because I honestly thought that at this point in the process I don’t matter; making sure things are checked off a list and boards and districts are happy has felt like the priority. I come later. Now I know that this is a bit exaggerated, but there are moments in this process where one feels alone and left out to dry and things can become robotic and stiff at certain points.

But this has also made me wonder if too many of us don’t stop and ask ourselves this question. Am I doing things that will help me reach the goal I feel God calling me toward? Am I keeping my calling in mind when doing certain things? It’s so easy to lose sight of what brought us to this place to begin with. I know I’ve lost sight of things. I’ve been preoccupied with papers, deadlines, financial aid, children and youth ministry, family stuff, and all the things that go along with ordination to worry about whether or not I am doing things to help me reach my goal. Maybe this is why so many of us feel unfulfilled and burned out. Maybe it’s why depression runs so deep within the ministerial family. Jennifer RobertsWe get caught up with the nitty-gritty details of ministry rather than stopping and remembering the One who called us and that which ignites a fire within us to do great things with this life.

Today let’s all take time to ask ourselves if we are doing things to help reach our goals and fulfill the calling with which God has gifted us. Perhaps this can help re-ignite lost passions and connect us with each other and God in ways we never thought possible.

- Jennifer Roberts

Jennifer is a rising third year MDiv student from the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church and a Candidate for ordained ministry.


Jun 21 2013

Ministry in the Deep End

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.

Reflecting on my overall experience with the church, I would say that I was standing in a shallow pool, feet confidently planted on the smooth concrete floor, free to move and walk as I pleased. But now, Candler Advantage has allowed me the opportunity to become much more involved in the life of church. As a result, my growing experience has turned that small pool into a much wider and deeper one. All of a sudden, my feet, which became accustomed to the smooth floor, have lost their stability as the floor plunges deeper and deeper below. Consequently, I begin to thrash in the deep end, struggling to find that fading stability.

The more I realize how deep the pool can become, the more I want my feet to be reunited with the floor. I begin to sink. Slowly. Finally, my feet touch the bottom and a well of comfort begins to rush forward only to become consumed by a more pressing need—the need for fresh air to fill my lungs. Frustrated, I awkwardly paddle back up. Now that I know I can reach the bottom, I keep sinking down only to be drawn back up. This pattern repeats over and over again. I soon realize that I am longing for the stability I once knew but is no longer available.

There has to be a better way. I need to find a way to adapt to these changing circumstances and my changing reality. At first I begin thrashing to maintain my buoyancy and realize how exhausting and draining it’s becoming. Over time though, I am learning that there is a particular rhythm to staying afloat with my head above water. I begin to move my hands back and forth under water while moving my legs in sync. It’s still exhausting but feels much more stable than before.

Working with Eastside United Methodist Church is not only allowing me to learn a completely new way of finding stability within ministry, but also to learn new skills, habits, and rhythms that grow me to be a much more effective minister. The Candler Advantage program is allowing me to develop the skills I will need to eventually swim in the deep waters of ministry.

–Tyler Jackson

Tyler is a rising third year student at Candler who is completing a summer internship as part of Candler Advantage. He serves in the areas of arts and community development at Eastside Church, a United Methodist church plant in Decatur, GA.


Jun 18 2013

Belfast: Community Split, Community Shared

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 have been serving here for a month. The words seem strange to me as I utter them, and as I realize that I have been here in Belfast, Northern Ireland for nearly half of my time given to working with this congregation. Through Candler Advantage I’ve gotten the opportunity to spend 10 weeks with Skainos and the congregation of East Belfast Mission (and reaching beyond).

the squareThis place is unique. As a Methodist Mission it is the umbrella organization that encompasses Hosford House transitional housing, Stepping Stone employment guidance and training, Compass community and family outreach, the East Belfast Mission Congregation, Re:Fresh Café social economy café, and countless Re:Stores and charity shops around the city of Belfast. This place is also unique in that it is housed in a new building and the new Skainos Square, which is focused on the idea of shared space. With architecture based on the vision of the tent of meeting, there are apartments, classrooms, offices for other organizations such as Tearfund, AgeNI and New Life Counseling, a dance studio, a sports hall, roof terraces and vertical gardens, and plenty of space for use by anyone who needs it.

Now, this idea of sharing is unique because it is very unconventional here in Northern Ireland. So…some history…Northern Ireland is still in the peace process that began with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that marks the end of the ethno-national conflict that is well known as “The Troubles” that took place from 1969-1998. This conflict was political with religious undertones, based simply in the idea of nationality. The Protestant Unionist Loyalists and the Catholic Nationalist Republicans had different ideas of whether the country of Northern Ireland should be Irish or British. Paramilitary groups of the IRA, INLA, IPLO, CIRA, RIRA, UVF, UDA, RHC, UR, and LVF fought each other with car bombs, petrol bombs, guns, fire, and even rocks and bricks. With over 3,000 deaths and approximately 47,000 injured throughout the near 30 years of conflict, many scars were left in the community…particularly here in Belfast.

Now that’s the history, but here’s the present: today there are “peace lines” that run through pieces of Belfast, separating the Protestant Loyalist and Catholic Nationalist neighborhoods. These are walls resembling the peace walls separating Israel and Palestine. I look out my office window and see Union Jacks and 1913 UVF Flags (Ulster Volunteer Force) flying. I am in UVF territory. Murals are on nearly every corner. The one directly to my right under those flags says “We owe it to the future and the victims never to forget the past.” A few streets down there is a UVF mural of two men in balaclavas poised to shoot, with the statement “We seek nothing but the elementary right implemented in every man: the right if you are attacked to defend yourself.” The whole city is filled with murals, ranging from peaceful and celebrating Belfast to violent imagery. You become conditioned to seeing them and walking straight past each day. The mentality that exists here is still separate and unequal. Each side believes the other has something they don’t, and the peace process is difficult. But the thing is, you can walk into town, go into Victoria Square and not know the difference from one person to another. There is no visible difference between the parties, they are the same, but have different political and religious leanings. It is when one party begins to march, to protest, or to riot that you can see the tension that underlies the everyday life of all these people who look the same.

Part of the ministry and mission here at Skainos and East Belfast Mission is to be a safe space for all walks of life and every part of the political and religious spectrum. This is to be neutral ground. With this mentality, the building is host to Irish Language Classes. Nearly every day of the week, members of the community come to learn the language of their heritage, the language that is readily seen in Catholic communities, and the language that I now know very few verbs in…and I can only tell you things I did in the past tense. The building is also host to children and youth from the community, home to FridayFusion for primary aged children and Drop-In on Wednesday and Friday nights for the teenagers of the community. Women’s Group combines with a women’s group from a local Catholic church, and kidzGAP is a safe space for moms and tots from the community (and a few dads). The outreach programming here is endless. While I participate and help with a handful of these, I realize the congregation of East Belfast Mission is far beyond the group that meets for church on Sunday morning, but is rather the entire community of East Belfast, and every person that comes through this building and can feel the effects of its ministries.

But for that congregation that does meet on Sunday mornings, the transition into Skainos Square has been a difficult one, sacrificing the old church building, making shared space a necessity, and creating some insecurity about ownership of the church within this space. Part of my job as a response to this is to administer a congregational survey that seeks to hear from every voice of the congregation, understanding how they feel in this place and what can be done in the next year to help with the process of settling in. This is a big undertaking in the final 5 weeks of my time here, but I have become a part of the congregation and I am invested in letting each one of them understand that their voice matters and is important. This is the body of Christ, feeling the pains of change and transition, feeling the pains of trying to be open and accepting in a city that is so divided. And even while the body may be feeling some growing pains, this does not deflate the meaning of 1 Corinthians 12:14-31. Each person making up the fuller body of Christ plays an important role, and I am working to empower this congregation in the knowledge that their roles are truly important.

This is a difficult task, but as the G8 summit meets here in Northern Ireland this week, and Obama has given the youth of Northern Ireland the message to keep up hope and to keep reminding everyone that this place is dedicated to peace, we can look hopefully toward the future for the congregation, for Skainos and East Belfast Mission, for Belfast, and for the country of Northern Ireland.

Thanks to Candler Advantage I am able to be in this place and see how communities can react to the ideas of sharing space and embracing change and peace. I look to my third year at Candler hopeful that I can bring my experiences back and look at community development in the United States with a new perspective and vision. Until then, and until I’m back in Hot-lanta in August, cheers!

–Carrie Harris

Carrie is a rising third year MDiv student at Candler. Read more about her summer experience with Candler Advantage in Belfast at her blog: www.carrieisbelfastbound.blogspot.com


Jun 9 2013

O For a Thousand Things to Sing

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.

Davina MasseyToday is hurried and a bit frenzied.  Can you really experience frenzy in miniature form?

It has been one of those days where it feels like I am playing catch up and putting out small fires.  I am working on the order of worship for the next two Sundays and no detail is too small.  Great care and attention is given to this assignment and every detail is an important one.  To that end, I recruit and mobilize three sets of eyes to edit and proof the order of worship.  Painstakingly the document is reviewed and each line is carefully inspected.  Pleased with results and somewhat patting myself on the back, the order or worship is printed, folded and joyfully checked off of my mental things to do list.  It was not until we were leaving for the evening that someone noticed a glaring mistake. The title of our first hymnal selection is printed as, O For a Thousand Things to Sing.  Really?  Yes, really.

I shake my head in horror and disbelief.  This first week as a summer intern and what happens?  My humanity shows itself in full regalia.  It was staring me in the face with all its limitations as the gaffes of the week begin to show.  My labor was done with joy and in good order; however a few of the outcomes were dotted with the realization that my humanness peaks through and sometimes there are going to be mistakes.  Little ones and great big ones.

I have experienced being human all my life but not until recently have I accepted that little humble fact along with the acceptance that things will sometimes be less than perfect.  Thorough, yes.  Perfect, not so much.  I can say to myself, however, that it is okay.  I am okay.  It won’t be perfect all the time, although I strive and labor for the best outcome, but it will be an effort of love.  And in this case a work of love, stamped with the a little grace from my Pastor who forgives the rough edges of my humanity.

This Sunday, in the order of worship, the hymn title might read O for a thousand things to sing, but our voices will be lifted to the words found on page fifty-seven of our hymnal, just as Charles Wesley intended in 1739.

It is good to recognize our shortcomings, ask for forgiveness, then pick ourselves up and start afresh. Each day is an opportunity for a new beginning.  That sounds a little like love and forgiveness to me.  Two sides of the same coin.

Thank you Candler for the gift of this summer internship as I learn, love, grow and become.

- Davina Taylor Massey

Davina is a rising third year United Methodist MDiv student from the North Georgia Annual Conference.


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.