Oct 22 2013

Everyday Faithfulness

AtlantaI am a newly transplanted resident of Atlanta.  I rented this really great little condo that is nestled between a public library, bus stop, and the local Presbyterian church, that apparently runs some type of homeless ministry; I encounter a lot of foot traffic around my building. The other day, one of my dear friends from back home, who happens to live up here, came over to check out my new place. We decided to take our dogs on a walk to check out the neighborhood. As we exited the building, a ragged-looking old man who depended on the aid of a crutch approached us as we uncomfortably tried to hurry away.  In the distance, I heard him ask for 75 cents as we quickly moved along. Up the street, we stopped at a swanky pet store, and I got excited to see there were machines out front to get treats for the dogs. We started digging through our purses for quarters when the same man came hobbling up behind us asking some well-off-looking woman for 75 cents. Of course, at this moment, the machine malfunctions—I’m now flustered and trying to shove the quarters in the stupid thing with this whole exchange happening behind me.  It suddenly hit me—here I am taking time to buy a treat for my dog when I couldn’t even give this man the time of day. That normally still, small voice screamed at me saying, “You missed it! You missed who was right in front of you.”  We often miss the opportunity to see Jesus in others.

Mark 14:3-9 depicts Jesus’ anointing at Bethany. I picture Jesus relaxing at the table in the Leper’s house, likely tired from having just addressed the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes, when this woman enters and anoints Jesus with an entire jar of expensive nard. The Indignant others in the room, with good intentions mind you, freak out on the woman.  Jesus basically tells them,  “Look, guys! You’ve missed it! You’ve missed what’s happening right in front of you. This faithful act of service is beautiful as she has prepared my body for burial.” This woman acted on the opportunity to serve Jesus when the others didn’t recognize who was in their midst.

Mary Anoints JesusWho would have thought that seminary would complicate life so much?  Life does not stop and it’s beyond easy to get distracted with everyday life. Family, friends, children, church (you fill in the blanks) pull us in a million directions likely with good intentions.  Then, pile on school, and it’s easy to miss how God is calling to us in the moment.  We easily miss The Spirit present with us and present in the world around us—even in seminary believe it or not!

This woman who anointed Jesus exemplifies everyday faithful living in the present moment. She was aware of something whispering in her heart and she responded. She must have felt some call or pull, and she faithfully responded in that moment.  We are each here at Candler in response to the vocational call God has placed on our lives. In the midst of the craziness, when we intentionally seek a connection with the Holy Spirit, we can experience the fullness of transformation.  It is then we can claim The Spirit within us, woven into the very nature of who we are, and actually recognize God as a part of our makeup, present in who we are.

What is faithful living? How do we do it daily? My mother always gives the best advice. She told me this one time in response to my grumbling about discerning my call. She said, “Emily, when I get up, I pray ‘How can I be faithful to you today, God?  Not yesterday or tomorrow but today!’” I write with encouragement as we hit the middle of the semester, that we may be ever aware and recognize the Christ that is present with us.  Let us be intentionally aware of that still, small voice that is a part of our design, as we ask God, “How can we be faithful servants to you today?”

–Emily Edwards

Emily is a first-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. She lived and worked in Ocala, FL, before relocating to Atlanta.

Artwork: “Anointing His Feet” by Wayne Forte, oil and acrylic on canvas.


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.


Oct 8 2013

Risky Business

Jenelle HolmesSeminary is risky business. It is risky financially, spiritually, and let’s just get this out there, ideologically.  Defined loosely, ideology concerns the manner in which a group thinks.  So often we tie ideologies to an ideal or statement of a specific group, but for this post, I will use ideology to mean the manner or way people think about their lives and the lives of those around them.

Because we are in seminary, our manner of thinking about God, others, and ourselves often abides in faith-talk. We write about faith, claim to live by faith, seek a definition of faith, and attempt not to destroy each other’s faith. Our ideologies cannot help but operate as a living out of faith.  The mixing of ideology, faith, and seminary, what a risky business!

In the recent conversations over the last few weeks involving the LGBTQ community, the risk that Candler students embody has been quite palpable.  But risk is not foreign ground for the besieged faithful. As Candler students think about living out faith in the walls of an open and accepting school of theology, let us consider other situations where danger and faith abide together. I want to take us back to the siege of Jerusalem.

Walls are peeling back before the eyes of Zion’s residents. No family is untouched by hunger, illness, bloodshed, tears and death on the city streets, or whatever is left of them.  The people within the walls of Jerusalem, once a city for the dwelling of YHWH, not only question the goodness of God but the very existence of God as rocks and spears daily fall from the sky.

CliffLast week Dr. Scheib preached on Jeremiah 32 where in a confounding move, Jeremiah, prophet to the besieged city, buys land.  He purchases land in the middle of what seems the death of that very ground. As an owner myself of undesirable property resulting from the economic collapse of 2008, I can name countless reasons why Jeremiah is crazy for making this purchase.  Will he ever be able to live there? Reap the economic benefits of that land? Rest and restore himself on the land? Sell it if the investment proves a faulty one?  Ah, the risk of such a purchase amidst a time of utter chaos! What would drive Jeremiah to do such a thing? Is it that despite the risk, he hopes for a break from the violence around him? Violence to the people, by the people, and even violence to the very land in which the people dwell? Is the uncertainty of Jeremiah’s action more than simply a desperate grasp at a fading hope of feeling at home?

Thanks to Hebrews 11, we often consider faith as the “certainty of things not seen.”  How we think about faith (our ideologies of faith) frequently operates with a seeking after certainty, regardless of the commotion around us.  While faith might call upon us to act in a risky manner, we often associate faith with the assurance we feel despite that risk.

But what, for Jeremiah, is assured? Money? No. Peace? No. Land? Not while the Babylonians knock on the gates of the city.  Risk, in a town besieged, is the only privilege Jeremiah can afford.  I think too often, especially amidst people who have not had to risk much in their lives, risk gets a bad reputation or is considered something to be avoided. But in Jeremiah’s circumstances, risk is a way to show his agency, to act, to have faith. A faith not experienced in certainty or assurance, but in risk.

In a preaching lecture from the spring of 2012 Eddie Glaude talks about witnessing “God’s love in the very act of risk.” At seminary, students act out their faith through risk by reading challenging authors, by listening to peers who experience life, let alone God, in entirely different manners of thinking, by sitting in lectures that make them squirm or better yet, forget to breath. At seminary, we risk our very conceptions of love, God, self, and others. Seminary embodies an ideology of faith that encourages risk.

But some risk more than others at seminary.  In the last few weeks with the upheaval surrounding the Eddie Fox award we are reminded of those in the LGBTQ community who often find themselves in a besieged institution; be it the church, school, or other places where they live out their lives.  We are reminded that voices, statements, and awards are little ramparts that weaken the bastions of Christian ministry being built here at Candler. Like other marginalized communities, they live in a besieged city.

But they too, like Jeremiah, have purchased land here at Candler (seriously, tuition is $19,800 this year). They have, amidst the tumult of marginalization, tokenism, and oppression, purchased the opportunity of learning, growing, and loving at this school of theology. What a courageous and faith-full way of thinking.

While we are occasionally a community besieged by the echoes of invasions elsewhere, we can see the tilling of God’s risky love in our ministries, sacred personhoods, and our experiences of community as we continually purchase land here at Candler.  May our living in risk during this time and this space honor and enable each student with the hope of a future healed landscape inside these walls and beyond.

–Jenelle Holmes

Jenelle is a second-year in Candler’s MTS program and a student ambassador. She graduated in 2006 with a degree in English from Whitworth University in Spokane, WA.


Sep 10 2013

Brooks Was Here, So Was Red

Many of you may recognize the title of this post as the defining moment in The Shawshank Redemption.  Underneath this etching in a halfway house, Morgan Freeman (Red), an ex-con of 40 years, confronts fear and despair and chooses hope in the very spot where Brooks, a similar man in a similar situation, chose to take his own life.  It is the tipping point of the film; a dramatic moment where the promise of hope triumphant outweighs the danger and futility of losing hope.  It is both moving and powerful to watch and I quickly find myself conjuring up my own stories of hope triumphant, including and especially the Christian idea that though troubles may fill the night, joy comes in the morning.

However, bringing this metaphor out of the script and into the present causes me great trouble.  Certainly there are times in our collective, societal memory that we can recall such real-life stories of hope triumphing over despair.  This past week, as we honored the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington, we were served a wonderful reminder of such an account of hope overcoming overwhelmingly negative odds.  However, as Syrian children are gassed in senseless acts of violence, broken systems of democracy exclude the rights and voices of the poor and hungry, and Bangladeshi buildings crash to the ground claiming the lives of thousands and declaring the ultimate reign of horrific and inhumane forms of global capitalism, I find the metaphor to be broken, or at least, misleading.  It is not the fact that hope cannot overcome injustice that gives me trouble, for I suppose, in certain times it can and does.  Rather it is the perceived simplicity of the choice and subsequent nullification of circumstance and complexity that causes a gag reflex to well up inside of me.

As theologians and citizens of the world in the twenty-first century, it is our responsibility to introduce a third character into the room, one that meticulously and responsibly presents hope while also being accountable to the devastating particularities of modern circumstances.  This character must stand firmly at the same crossroads of hope and despair, where Brooks and Red once stood, and reject the futility of blindly embarking down either road.  And in doing such, this character must creatively re-shape and re-imagine faith, hope, and love.

However, as I write this post, I do not pretend to know what this character might look like, say, or do.  Nor do I imagine that I am, in some way or another, this character.  But, I do know this:  today, many Syrian parents will be reminded that their precious young children are never coming home to them again.  No more family dinners.  No more nighttime prayers.  No more innocent, precious smiles.  Not today, not tonight, and not in the morning.

As the leaders of America meet on Capitol Hill this very minute to discuss the use of force in Syria, this metaphor deserves at least a moment of thought, especially from those who follow the way and example of Jesus Christ.  Surely Christianity has more to offer the world than bombs, which only lead to the perpetuation of violence, and flimsy hymns of metaphorical hope which only fall flat as tears pour onto breathless children.

But then again, for some things, I imagine, there are no words.

–George Kernodle

George is a second-year student in the Master of Theological Studies (MTS) program and a Student Ambassador at Candler. A graduate of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, George has traveled to China as part of a language learning exchange program and to El Salvador with the Global Health Organization. After Candler he hopes to pursue his interest in health policy and management.

Photo credits:

(Top) Movie still from The Shawshank Redemption with Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins;

(Bottom) Photo by Craig Ruttle, a Syrian child at a refugee camp in Yayladagi, Turkey, April 4, 2012.


Aug 27 2013

Something Interesting

“Tell us your name, and something interesting you did this summer,” instructed my August term professor on our first day of class. I had encountered the all too familiar first day of class introduction cue numerous times, but this time it was different. Unlike previous first days, I did not have to work very hard to conjure up interesting or exciting memories from a less than exciting summer. Considering the time constraints of the brief introductions, I asked myself, “Which one should I choose?”

I will never forget Summer 2013. My mind, ministry, and imagination were stretched like never before. For three weeks, I traveled with the Middle East Travel Seminar (METS) to Israel, Jordan, and Greece.  Although I had traveled abroad prior to METS, exploring the lands and cultures that shaped Judaism and Christianity was more enriching than any previous travel. My time traveling with METS was filled with unforgettable moments including dancing with Bedouins in a desert camp, leading an international group of Christians in song in Jerusalem, and standing atop Mt. Nebo with a breathtaking view of the Promised Land. Without doubt, these details would have made an interesting introduction.

Mario at Parthenon

Following METS, I was privileged to teach a Bible and Leadership class at Camp Summer Hope hosted by Emmaus House Episcopal Church in Atlanta’s Peoplestown. This would have been a fitting introduction for the class: Teaching the Bible. I could have shared with my classmates some of the challenges of teaching the Bible, and anything else for that matter, to grades 3-5. Teaching in an urban classroom after METS grounded me in real ministry “lest I should be exalted beyond measure.” After attempting to share the Good News with a group of middle schoolers, who some most days couldn’t care less, I could tell my classmates how I was reminded of God’s grace and patience in my own life.

I could also share my experiences working with Candler’s own Dr. Greg Ellison. My small group, led by Dr. Ellison, planned and hosted a community conversation on ways every citizen can address the issues facing young black males. The event, held at Candler, featured music, group discussions, and Dr. Ellison’s stirring call to action. A careful blend of tent revival and community forum, the event provided for me a model of ministry with a social conscience.  (For more about “Fearless Dialogues” click here.)

While my classmates and other people that I will meet may not have the time or patience for me to elaborate on all the details of this transformative summer, I am certain that its effects will be evident in how I minister, the ways I engage my community, and in how I view myself in the world.

–Mario Stephens

Mario Stephens, a native Atlantan, is a third-year MDiv student at the Candler School of Theology. Mario is a graduate of Morehouse College. He currently serves as interim pastor of New Generation Baptist Church.

Photo captions: Mario on Nebo (top right); At the Parthenon (middle left).


Aug 13 2013

Where the Wild Goose People Go

“Why the Wild Goose Festival?” the reporter asked me.

He was a freelance journalist working both for the local newspaper and The United Methodist Reporter, an independent news site that covers the denomination. He wanted to know what Candler, as a United Methodist institution, thought about the festival. Why was it important for Candler to be there?

As I thought about my answer, a lot of ideas ran through my mind.

First, I thought about Candler and the students in my own cohort. In many ways we’re “Wild Goose People.” My classmates are creative folk, passionate about the arts and anxious to pour their creativity into everything they do, whether in the classroom or in the chapel–music, dance and the visual arts are prominent in the life and worship of the Candler Community.

Karen Slappey

My classmates are also prophetic and compassionate. They are wrestling with the world, seeking God and striving to create a culture that does justice and loves mercy. Social justice isn’t just a commitment at Candler. It’s a value deeply rooted in the United Methodist heritage of Emory University and the Wesleyan tradition of social holiness. Wesleyan theology teaches that living the Gospel means living in and working to transform society. John Wesley defined salvation as a recovering of the divine nature endowed by God in the creation of humankind. The fruit of that restoration is, as Wesley put it, “true holiness in justice, mercy and truth.”

eARThSo why would Candler attend an event like Wild Goose? Well, “Wild Goose People” hold the values we do: creativity, passion and a fervent heart for restoring society through ministry, worship and community. And it’s important for pastors-in-training like myself to meet and hear from other like-minded people. It’s these kind of connections that make an event like Wild Goose an invaluable experience for those who attend year after year.

Candler participates in festivals, conferences and other events throughout the year. And the reason we do is not only to meet and connect with alumni and potential students; we also go to drink deeply from the community well, to cement our connection to the larger Church and to remind ourselves that the shared life we are creating at Candler is one tile in a bright and beautiful mosaic that covers the world.

–Timothy Hankins

Timothy is a second year MDiv student at Candler from Knoxville, TN. He coordinated Emory/Candler’s exhibit table at the 2013 Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC. In September he begins his appointment as the pastor of St. Stephen United Methodist Church in Marietta, GA.

Photo captions: Timothy at the Real table; Candler student Karen Slappey meets presenter Nadia Bolz-Weber; Cool art shirt; fellow student Sara Relaford.


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 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.


Jun 7 2013

Real Ruminations

Reflecting is the only real way to squeeze every last drop of joy, wisdom, and experience from those things that make us who we are.  Real Ruminations are one alum’s attempts to explain just how influential Candler School of Theology has been in his journey of ministry and life.  “They” say a seminary education does not really teach you how to do ministry.  Well, that’s real wrong and “Real Ruminations” help explain why.  This is the first in a series from Candler alumnus Jack Hinnen.

I never planned on going back to school.  When I walked away from Candler School of Theology with my Master of Divinity I was relieved to be free of the trappings of academia. Freedom at long last!  No more grades!  No more tests!  No more long drives from Alabama! Somehow I even made it through without ever trying on a bow-tie.  Christ had set me free to be in “real” ministry away from the confines of Bishop’s Hall.

Oh man, does God have a sense of humor.

In June of 2011 I was appointed to Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) as Chaplain and Director of Religious Life.  After 10 years of being a pastor in a local church,  I was back in school.  Not a state school like where I received my undergraduate education but a liberal arts institution affiliated with the United Methodist Church.  Sound familiar?  It did to me. The best part?

I had no clue what I was doing.  See, God hadn’t called me to campus ministry.  I was called to church ministry and that’s why I went to Candler.  In one of those situations that could only be from God I begun to make the best of the change.  I started imagining that my greatest gifts would be to help God speak into some huge life decisions.  People often meet their significant others and best friends in college.  I bet God will want to speak into that.  People often decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives in college.  I’m sure God will want to speak into that.  When that changes the next three semesters God will still want to be there.  I could cultivate students to be the best human beings they could be.

Besides those two opportunities there was a fantastic truth to this ministry that I discovered not here at BSC, but at Candler.  General Chuck Krulak, the 13th President of Birmingham-Southern College loves to say that we educate, not train.  Training is preparation for the expected, but education is preparation for the unexpected.  My time at Candler did not train me to be a Chaplain; it educated me to be one.  Here are a few things I learned at Candler:

Jack and Leadership

Jack and the BSC Religious Life Leadership Team

First, I can listen to people.  That may sound like a silly thing to be proud of or to be taught, but being able to hear and respect folks who are different from you is a lost art.  My Interpretation of the New Testament class revolved around the book of Revelation; that is not a subject most people can agree on.  Teaching Parish with Dr. Alice Rogers (Contextual Ed for preachers) proved as informative as any CPE hours.  I was presented with plenty of opportunities to face complex and rich theological truths not just from books but from the lips of those teaching and participating in my classes.  If I couldn’t listen to these people, I would not have succeeded at Candler.

As a Chaplain, I’m meeting people every day who did not grow up in an environment like myself. I didn’t take any courses that told me how to “win” these people, but instead learned how to love those people as Jesus Christ.  I can see these young persons for their potential and not just what their parents raised them to think.

Second, people grow.  What’s the point of educating a person if it won’t affect change?    Should we seek a faith journey that we wrestle with or an easy path that is soft underfoot?  When David Peterson pressed us in Old Testament to reach back and claim the risks and rewards of our ancestors, I was encouraged to know where I was did not have to be where I stayed.

BSC is full of fresh young faces who are not done growing.  If I forget that I can sell someone short and cease being an effective Chaplain.

Lastly, the best thing I learned at Candler was with Dr. Charles Hackett Jr.  He taught a class called “Shame, Guilt, and Reconciliation” where we looked at the way Christianity helps people overcome shameful, taboo, and broken experiences.  I learned that God loves to speak into our mistakes.  Is that not the purpose of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ?  To redeem that which is broken?  Shameful?  Weak?  To bring new life out of old?

At Birmingham-Southern, I discovered I had forgotten a truth shared with me at Candler – not only was I listened to or given space to change, but when I messed up I was given grace.

That is important for a guy who didn’t always make the best grades or come out on the right side of theological debates.  It is important for me as a pastor called not to the Church but to a campus.

I’ll close with a Scripture that was used at our Annual Conference this past year. 1 Corinthians 3:7-9: 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building (NRSV).

God gave me growth at Candler School of Theology.

Thankfully I’ve discovered that the church ministry I prepared for and the campus ministry I’m called to intersect in so many ways they are nearly indistinguishable.  I still haven’t tried on a bow-tie yet, but I have discovered that the same principles of community held dear at Candler School of Theology prepared me to be the best Chaplain I can be.  I’m so grateful for the opportunity.

- Jack Hinnen

Jack is the Chaplain at Birmingham Southern College, an appointment he has held since June 2011.  Prior to his appointment at BSC he served as an associate pastor at Riverchase United Methodist Church.  From Dadeville, AL, Jack graduated from Auburn University in 2003 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA in 2006 with a Masters in Divinity.  He is married to the former Cheryl Smith.  He enjoys  blogging, soccer, reading, tree identification, video games, racquetball, social networking, and the beach.


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.