Nov 26 2013

“We just need to preach Jesus”

MikeThis was an entirely unexpected response to my forty-five minute presentation about a new model of ministry for connecting with second generation Americans. I had spent the last six weeks researching, writing, and praying about how to make meaningful relationships with the growing population of children of immigrants who have no church home. I had carefully prepared a speech and a slideshow that detailed the nuances of my plan, and I had shared my ideas with family, friends, fellow students, and Candler professors. They provided helpful feedback to flesh out my ideas and polish my message. I may have been terrified when I stood up to speak at the General Board of Discipleship conference in front of roughly seventy-five ordained United Methodist elders, but by the time I was finished, I felt relieved. I believed that I had brought a practical message of hope and encouragement to church leaders. Then, when I opened the floor for discussion, one of the first comments hit me like a brick in the face.

“We just need to preach Jesus.”

Did this person not just hear a word of what I said? Is he unable to see why this plan has such potential? Did I ever mention that we should not bring the good news of the risen Lord wherever we go?

ClairAll of these thoughts raced through my mind, and this could have been the beginning of a very ugly and public confrontation that would most likely mean an effective end to my public speaking opportunities. Fortunately, my classroom experience at Candler had prepared me for this moment. I listened to the objections of this participant, and I offered a brief defense of my views that took seriously the concerns he had raised. Another participant joined in to say that both models were useful and we did not have to choose between the two. In the time-honored Methodist tradition, we did not come to a consensus, but we did become conversation partners. We were able to incorporate these opinions into a fuller vision for our mission going forward.

Because of the diversity of age, race, gender, and theological thought at Candler, I have had many opportunities to hear views that clash with my own. These moments of tension lead to deeper discussion for everyone involved. We do not usually change our minds or declare that one argument is more worthy than the other, but we do learn what it looks like to live and work together without uniformity. I delight in the idea that God calls each of us to the task of building the kingdom with unique skills and distinct perspectives and that the kingdom absolutely needs all of these people and practices to reach the ends of the earth. Candler has taught me to speak with the confidence of a graduate level student and the humility of a child of God. We do need to preach Jesus, but there is no limit to the number of ways that we will find our voices in this calling.

–Clair Carter

Clair is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. Originally from Louisiana, she is a graduate of Oglethorpe University.


Nov 19 2013

Keep Going

It was Harriet Tubman who said, Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

The road to success is not an easy one. The truth is, the journey to success may be the most confusing and painful journey you have ever taken. People who you thought loved you may leave you. The people who have been assigned to help you may hurt you. People may define you by your situation or present circumstance. But it is the strength, the patience, and the passion of dreamers that propels them beyond their present reality and encourages them to keep going.

It takes courage to dream… it takes courage to keep going and at times it’s not easy.

I especially learned this in my first year at Candler School of Theology as I participated in Contextual Education at Genesis Shelter, a homeless shelter for families with infant children. Each week I observed women who had escaped the stranglehold of domestic abuse, childhood neglect, and societal indifference, to a place of abject poverty and income inequality. Through it all, they persevered and pursued waning dreams with the hope that their children’s lives would be better than their own.

In his poem, “Mother to Son”, Langston Hughes describes a conversation a struggling mom has with her child. She says:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor –

Bare.

But all the time

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometime goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

‘Cause you finds it kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now –

For I’se still goin’, honey,

Ise still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Like the mother in this poem, my mother became my inspiration. I watched my mother keep going. I was 5-years-old when she left my father. We moved into a tiny three-bedroom house in the country. My mom paid $60 for rent. The rooms were so small they looked more like cell blocks than bedrooms. The house was infested with roaches and rodents. We didn’t know how poor we were.

But she kept going.

She had to deal with a failed marriage, and three hungry, growing kids at home. People passing judgment and making assumptions, but she kept going. She worked at night and slept during the day to make sure we had food to eat and a roof over our heads. The road wasn’t easy, but she kept going. There were tacks in it, and splinters, and boards all torn up… But she kept going.

It was her perseverance that gave birth to the dreamer inside of me.

It was her will and tenacity that made me believe I could be the first in my family to graduate from college. It was her bravery and relentlessness that inspired me to go from academic suspension to the dean’s list. It was her faith and prayers that kept me out of jail and away from the wrong crowds.

And now as I navigate this road, this journey to success, I am faced with my own challenges. I am faced with my own splinters, tacks, torn-up boards, and bare floors. I am faced with the challenge of pursuing a dream with little resources. I am faced with the challenge of feeling misunderstood and playing small to accommodate the comfort of others. I am faced with the threat of never measuring up to the standard society has set and the fear of failing; but I cannot turn back. You cannot turn back. You cannot sit down on the steps. You have to keep climbing. You have to keep reaching.

When I feel like I cannot continue, like giving up is the best option, I am encouraged by the women at Genesis, the actions of my mother, and the advice Harriet Tubman spoke to the dreamers. She told those who were trying to escape slavery and make it to freedom:

“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If they’re shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”

So I encourage every dreamer to keep going.

When others believe they know what’s better for you than you yourself, keep going. When folks use their position and power against you, keep going. When you have to navigate a broken system that fails you at every stop and every turn, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever quit. When you have to hide and cry so your kids don’t see it, keep going. Someone’s dream is reliant on your determination.

Keep going.

Don’t allow your dream to die in your current situation. You may have to go alone; you may have to go in the dark – where there is no light. But don’t you stop. You’ve come too far to quit.

Keep going!

This is dedicated to my hero, my inspiration, my mother. I love you with my whole heart.

–Sam White

Sam is a second-year MDiv student at Candler and a student ambassador. A native of Alabama, he earned a bachelor in communication sciences at the University of Alabama.


Nov 4 2013

Candler is as Intercultural and Interdisciplinary as You

Lullwater Park

Lullwater Park at Emory

Candler is an intercultural and interdisciplinary center where students engage with a wide variety of people and ideas. In the past month, I wrote a midterm about how theology can internalize the findings of ecology and quantum physics to give an adequate account of God’s goodness in a world where evil is so common. I visited two Muslim Friday prayers, one on campus and one at a mosque, learning about how people with different beliefs than me understand purity, social justice, and worship. I shook hands with the Dalai Lama, an affiliate of Emory University, when he came to Emory’s campus to speak about ethics in a secular age.

My time at Candler has been as interdisciplinary as it has been intercultural. As a dual-degree candidate at the Emory University School of Law, I have selected courses so that I can consider similar topics from the different lenses theology and law bring to bear. This semester, I am studying the doctrine of creation at the same time as I am taking environmental law. I have studied the histories of both canon law and American law to see where our ideas of justice and order come from. My Candler course on Thomas Aquinas’ ethics has prepared me well for the jurisprudence class I’m now taking at the Law School.

To return to the idea of ecology I started this post with, our location matters a lot for how we think about things. Candler, Emory University, and Atlanta are a good environment for theological thinking. Candler’s faculty has many different backgrounds—there are sociologists and medievalists, Eastern Catholics and black Baptists ready to help students think about God, and understand God’s children throughout the world. Emory University’s nationally-prestigious programs in public health, business, medicine, and of course, law, offer Candler students access to experts and ideas that deepen theological inquiry. And Atlanta, with its rich history from the Civil Rights Era and many religious ministries committed to serving the least of our sisters and brothers, is a great home for a future minister or religious scholar. It’s also simply a great home: green, sunny, and full of young transplants from throughout the South and the United States.

Come join us here at Candler. Every new person who arrives contributes to the environment, just as every new tree gives shade so more things can grow. This school is as intercultural and interdisciplinary as its students: whatever background and goals you bring with you makes the whole school’s thinking that much sharper. Go out and experience cultures and academic fields you never knew before, bring what you learn to your fellow students in the classroom, and make the Candler experience we share in that much better.

Matt Cavedon is a third-year dual-degree student pursuing a JD and an MTS. Originally from Connecticut, he is Catholic and plans to practice law with a higher perspective on justice and society after he graduates in 2015.


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.