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 that 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.
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 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).