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.


Mar 15 2013

Hearts were Made to be Broken…

My discovery of the tenacity of the human heart began in 7th grade. I was asked if I wanted to care for a family at church’s foster baby who I had fallen in love with over the summer. I remember my mother looking at me and asking, “You know you’re going to get hurt right?” and I said yes and did it anyways. I didn’t realize then that this would be a returning question in my life. I just have to tell people that I’m going to be a chaplain in a children’s hospital and the usual response is, “That sounds so hard/miserable/sad. I would never do that.” Add in the clinical child psych piece and wanting to work with abused/neglected children and then people start telling me that it will only break my heart, and I should consider doing something else. I know this is not a unique response. I have talked to people who are hospice chaplains or nurses in children’s hospitals or who work in Children’s advocacy centers or are social workers, and the response is similar. They are frequently asked why they do something that pretty much guarantees a broken heart. But here’s the thing, hearts were made to be broken.

Before you write me off as a complete masochist, let me explain. I believe that our hearts were made to break at the things that break God’s heart. If I could be present at the death of a child and not have my heart break, that would be a problem. It would mean that there was something wrong with my heart. If hearts are made to be broken it means two things – 1. hearts should break instead of harden and 2. If God designed hearts to break, then they are also made to be mended.

So thing 1, are hearts were made to break not harden. A heart that can break is a very different thing than a heart that gets so hard and bitter that it ultimately shatters. Pain (as I’ve been told) is meant to send a message to one’s body to stop or change what it’s doing. If you touch a hot stove, the pain tell you to get your hand off the stove before you do further damage. In the same way, a broken heart tells you something is wrong. When you learn that there are still millions of children in slavery in the world working in making chocolate we eat all the time, your heart should break. That’s a sign that you’re not numb to the suffering in the world. People can take this knowledge in different amounts before they become overwhelmed, but this just means people need to take in difficult information at different speeds, not that some people get to tune out of the world’s suffering because they’re sensitive.

Also, I believe we are called to build the Kingdom in different ways. Just because I am willing to have my heart broken working in a children’s hospital does not mean that is the place for everyone. There are some who care for the places the earth is broken and those who work alongside different groups of people who have been marginalized or oppressed. There are some whose jobs they get paid for are their direct work for the Kingdom, and there are others for whom that is not the case. I do believe we all have a place though.

People have different physical pain tolerances and different emotional pain tolerances as well. We all have a different place where we’re pushing our hearts past the breaking point to the brink of shattering. It’s important to acknowledge that and to consider all the other sources of hurt in one’s life at a time. Our hearts can also be broken in ways that we do not run headlong into like serving the Kingdom, such as loss, broken relationships, and life’s challenges. I am not suggesting that we are to be open to that pain in the same way. We are to adventure into life with courage even in the face of inevitable pain, but only as the natural consequence of making our way in the world. We are not to be victims and doormats. We will face breakups and failures and losses without any desire to do so, but the good news is that all types of heartbreak can be included in the mending.

I jokingly told people when applying to grad school that I am getting my PhD in clinical child psych to have my heart broken and going to seminary to learn how God can put it back together. This only proved to show my naiveté at how much heartbreak is involved in the process of theological education. Despite that, it has only served to further strengthen my belief in redemption. I strongly believe that God does not put suffering or pain in our lives (see All Good Gifts) but that God can redeem all situations. Redemption does not mean that the pain disappears and everything is all better. It does not mean that it “was all part of God’s plan” as if God needs tornados and AIDS to bring about God’s Kingdom. Instead, it is the idea that God can bring growth and love and hope into and out of the darkest situations. I believe this because I have seen it in my life and the life of others. Just think, we serve a God who was and is willing to have his heart broken for us and with us. We serve a God of the crucifixion– there was no heart more broken, but we also serve a God of the resurrection, and there was and is no better redemption. With God’s grace and with time, our hearts come back together and we are able to venture back into the world with the understanding that they might be broken again.

I’m not a med student, but I remember being told that where broken bones come back together they are stronger in the broken places. To me, that is redemption, not that we are back to where we were or that we don’t have sore places or scars, but that there are new places of strength that came despite the pain. It is with this promise that I can venture into dark places, not of my own strength.  And to be perfectly honest, I think the alternative, to never have your heart break, is much much worse.

You know the cliche, “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?” I think most people will acknowledge that as true in the area of relationships. Most people will agree that, in a majority of cases, even in relationships that ended poorly, hopefully we learned something or enjoyed part of it, or experienced some personal growth. The idea is that some pain is a part of the learning process in romantic relationships. Well, some heartbreak is required in living a life for the Kingdom as well. There are things to be learned and work to be done that cannot happen if we stay on the sidelines covered in bubble wrap. It is a much more painful idea to think that I missed a chance to grow the Kingdom, to serve my neighbor, to be a source of peace or hope, than to experience pain from doing any of those things. This is because when we are working for the Kingdom we are open to sources of hope and joy and peace that are not available elsewhere. I found that, even going into rooms and places I could not walk into on my own, when all I could say was “Holy Spirit come,” I was never left empty.

So, what are we to do? First, I think we are to open our eyes wide enough to actually see things or learn things that might hurt. Awareness is the first step, but really only the first. If we stay there then we’ve fallen into the hardened heart category. Next we pray and act and ultimately leap. We buy fair trade coffee even when it’s more expensive, maybe we become foster parents even though we don’t know what will happen, maybe we volunteer to tutor children who’s life stories make us want to cry, maybe we work with refugees. Whatever it is, we enter with open arms, with the honest understanding that we might get hurt. We do not tiptoe into the work of the Kingdom, I’m pretty sure you can’t get in that way. We jump, we dance, we fall, we might even crawl in, but we move forward boldly knowing that there is work to be done in a hurting world but that we do not do it alone, and that the God of redemption is always there to help us pick up the pieces. And at the end of the day, all I can ask is that I live my life with a heart that can always be broken, for a Lord who will always redeem it.

- Katie Sack

Katie is a second year MDiv student from Kentucky and a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College.  This post originally appeared on her blog Musings From a Tiny Chaplain.


Mar 8 2013

Seeking Spiritual Disciplines

While in seminary we spend a lot of time studying the bible, theology, history of the church, pastoral practices and church music. Essentially, we study everything  or anything remotely connected to religion. Through the Contextual Education program we work in pastoral ministry constantly during our seminary educations. By our third year, most students either work in a church or have become very connected to an Atlanta church community. We spend Sundays and Wednesdays at churches (at least), and then we go to school and talk of nothing but God, Trinity, pnematology, escatology, missiology, and every other ology having to do with the Christian religion. In seminary our lives literally revolve around Christianity, the church, and Religion.

As a seminarian, I spend so much time studying religion or leading worship that I often forget to do Christianity or worship. I get so caught up in what I have to do for school or church I often forget to do the things I am supposed to do as a Christian. We talk about the importance of spiritual practice, talk about different types, and creative ways to connect to God, but that doesn’t mean I always remember to do them.

Don’t get me wrong I have spiritual disciplines. I pray. I read my bible. I listen for God. It’s just that when I get busy, it is easy to let these practices get pushed out in order to get papers done, sermons written, parishioners visited, etc.

My problem is not in finding new or more creative ways to live out my disciplines. It’s not in finding a new way to read my bible. It’s not about finding new meditation techniques or new ways to pray. It’s about actually taking the time to engage in the practices I study and preach. We can all benefit from knowing a wide range of techniques for spiritual disciplines, but what it comes down to is actually doing them.

I know Lectio Divina. I have seen every type of journaling you can imagine. I have mediated and prayed in more ways than I can count. Knowing these things doesn’t change the fact that I need to do them, and that they need to be done before everything else.

It’s a discipline. It is something that is hard to start, and challenging to keep up. If you go to any seminary worth it’s salt, they will tell you to develop your spiritual practices. Let me tell you a secret now, before you actually start the writing, reading and spiritual leading that will encompass your seminary life…  Seminary is busy! Start developing practices now!

In life you can generally get away with knowing about a subject without ever actually doing or practicing it. Spiritual practices are different though, its not about what you know, it’s about what you do.

Spiritual discipline isn’t reading for class.
Spiritual discipline is intentional practice.
Spiritual discipline is a time set aside from everything else.
Spiritual discipline is a time for God and God alone.

Start praying. Read your bible. Stop finding excuses. Stop putting it off. It’s not easy and there are always reasons not to practice right now. When we actively seek out spiritual disciplines and practices, we grow closer to God and the world becomes clearer. When we live out our disciplines and practices daily it becomes easier to see God in this world, in our world.  Our daily disciples allow us to see the busy things like work and seminary much more clearly as activities done in and for the Kingdom of God. They slow us down and fill us up. They remind us why we are here.

- Jonathan Gaylord

Jonathan is a third year MDiv student from Deland, Florida, a Student Ambassador, and the pastor at Providence United Methodist Church in Lavonia, Georgia as a part of Candler’s Teaching Parish Program.


Feb 11 2013

Thou Shalt Love Your Facebook Friend?

Facebook memeOnce upon a time there were two topics that were supposed to be off limits: politics and religion. These were the topics that were considered inappropriate to discuss around company. But then internet happened and brought with it facebook and twitter and thousand different ways to express our every opinion, and we decided to throw all that decorum out the window.

So now I’m learning to navigate facebook at my own risk, because my facebook can be angry place to be.  There are sweet church folk posting hateful statuses about the government, high school friends ranting about conspiracy theories, and old college friends angrily picking fights about religion.  At times it seems that all the internet is good for is showing me racist, ignorant, angry, awful things from all directions. So when I see statistics about how divided our country is, I’m not really surprised.  Because it appears to me that everyone’s angry, and no one seems to do know what to do about it.

My first thought is that maybe this social media experiment has failed. Maybe it was better when we didn’t know what everyone thought about everything. Before anyone would could find a blog post supporting their point view and offer it as “evidence.”  Before 140 characters became an acceptable way to share your religious views with the world.

Because, Lord knows, it was a lot easier to love our neighbors before they became our facebook friends.

Frankly, it seemed like too much of a mess for this seminarian to want to deal with it. But then my (wise) husband made an observation as I was ranting about pastors who post hateful things on Twitter and how I’d rather people just stick to posting pictures of their cute babies.

“That’s what’s both good and bad about it, I guess. It’s life without the filter. It’s the whole human experience right there for us to see.”

The whole human experience. What it means to be human somehow displayed on our computer screens. A whole mess of a world.

A world that God still loves.

And somewhere along the line, I’m pretty sure I’ve learned that as Christians we are called to love it too.  I’m not sure how as ministers we are supposed to speak love and truth on the internet. I’m not sure what it looks like to be a witness to Christ online, and unfortunately, Candler doesn’t offer a class on how to do pastoral care over Twitter.[1]

Jennifer WyantI’m not sure how to love facebook friends as they offer hate.  I’m not sure how to offer grace in the midst of frustration and anger.  Or when to comment on a post and when to just leave it alone.  Or what it looks to be an example of Christ in a hurting, messy, angry, lovely world.

But then again, I’m still figuring out how to do all that in real life too.

So maybe the only thing we can do is pray for grace as we figure out how to best love God with our digital selves.

And try to love our facebook friends as we love ourselves.

- Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a third year MDiv student from Atlanta, a graduate of The University of Evansville, and a Candler Student Ambassador.



[1] Other classes I wish Candler would offer include “How to Use Church Copiers” and “How to Eat all the Food Your Church Feeds You and Not Gain Weight”


Dec 24 2012

A Christmas Prayer

It is always challenging, this waiting in Advent, and preparing our home comes easier than preparing our hearts.   Our family has decorated, baked, and shopped.  We have hosted, made merry, and traveled to the Northeast to be with family and friends.  Our activity these past few weeks accomplishes many things, but has it prepared us for the gift we are about to receive?  Not really.

Perhaps it has been in moments of quiet contemplation, at the hanging of the greens at Cannon Chapel, and in challenging discussions in Sunday School that we have truly prepared.  It is in these forms of active waiting that we have marveled again at the great mystery of God’s wondrous love through the birth of the baby Jesus.

Famine, storms, and fatigue, though, leave us restless.  Poverty, homelessness, and the impact of mental illness in our community strain our faithfulness.  The deaths of children in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, and in Connecticut heighten our anticipation of God’s great in-breaking.

Frederick Buechner, in The Hungering Dark, offers the following prayer, which we share with you this Christmas.

Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, be born again into our world. Wherever there is war in this world, wherever there is pain, wherever there is loneliness, wherever there is no hope, come, thou long-expected one, with healing in thy wings.  Holy child, whom the shepherds and the kings and the dumb beasts adored, be born again.  Wherever there is boredom, wherever there is fear of failure, wherever there is temptation too strong to resist, wherever there is bitterness of heart, come, thou blessed one, with healing in thy wings.

Amen and Amen.

- Mary Lou Greenwood Boice & Gordon Boice

Mary Lou Greenwood Boice is associate dean of admissions and financial aid at Candler.  Gordon Boice, is senior graphic designer at Emory University.  Their daughter, Katie, is a freshman at Emory College.


Nov 30 2012

The Search for God at Seminary

It seems contradictory to say that I have needed to search for God during my first semester at seminary. I do not believe by any means that I have completely “lost” God at any time. Throughout my life, I have grown to believe that God is everywhere, at all times. However, whether or not we are actively seeking a relationship with God is a different story. While God always holds up his end of the bargain, since arriving at seminary, I do not know that I have always held up mine. It is no one’s fault but my own, because Candler has provided me with every opportunity for a deeper relationship with God.

In writing this blog, I am by no means trying to relieve my guilt by admitting to a lack of spirituality. However, at times it feels as though I am so busy learning about God that I forget to consider my relationship with Him. I have never had this problem in the past. I have always prayed and considered my relationship with God throughout the day, even when I have been overwhelmingly busy. Since coming to seminary, I thought that this sense of closeness to God would expand and grow. However, at first, it did just the opposite. I still prayed, but I did not allow myself to just “be” or to merely bask in the presence of the Lord. Every action I took had a purpose. Either I was in class, completing work for a class, preparing notes for JDSR, driving to my parish placement at St. Benedict’s in Smyrna, preparing lessons for the Path to Shine Program for at-risk Latino youth, interning for the Episcopal Studies program, or triathlon training. Even while sitting in chapel, I was often taking notes for an extra credit class assignment.

However, I have more recently learned that each practice I am participating in, including triathlon training, can be viewed using a spiritual lens. Each can, in some way, help me to develop a greater connection with God. However, I had been so focused on scheduling and checking each “task” off my list of things to do that I forgot the spiritual portion of each of those things. In a sense, I forgot to “search for God,” and I lost the reasons I was truly attending seminary in the hustle and bustle.

Each Wednesday night, the Episcopal Studies students host an Evensong Service. As a member of this certificate program, I help to lead this evening prayer service rendered chorally. Each week, we have the opportunity to play different roles – as acolytes, crucifers, thurifers, boats, deacons, presiders, etc. By Wednesday, I am usually a little stressed by my variety of “tasks” and have drifted from a focus on my spiritual life. It has become common for Bishop Whitmore, the director of the Episcopal Studies program, to tell me that “I don’t look so good,” even when I feel relatively rested. However, I have finally discovered the key for rejuvenation and “finding God.”

Last Wednesday, I was able to participate in the Evensong Service as a deacon. Standing before the altar and prayerfully preparing the elements before communion, I watched as the students in the chapel praised God. I felt so much joy in having the opportunity to stand before God in worship and to help my friends at seminary to share in that same worship. I felt a new connection to God in which I was not merely checking a task off the list. I was a member of a community in which each “task” could be viewed as a type of praise.

For the first time, I appreciated the fact that I am surrounded by individuals, who like me, want to dedicate their lives to Christ! This is, in fact, a privilege and a blessing! How many people have the opportunity to go through each day of school or work with the sole purpose of praising God and helping others to praise God? How many people have the opportunity to be surrounded by fellow Christians each day in praise? How many people can join their classmates and friends in prayer before a test? I finally felt so blessed to be at Candler and have this opportunity to strengthen my relationship with God in all that I do both in and out of the classroom.

The following morning, I put aside one of my usual tasks in order to attend the Episcopal Morning Prayer service. Just as I had been the night before at Evensong, I was fully present: not focusing on the tasks to complete but just on praising God. I smiled as I read scripture aloud and returned to a place of working on my relationship with God. Following Morning Prayer, Bishop Whitmore for the first time told me that I looked rested. I did not feel so much rested as at peace and spiritually fed.

Candler has provided me with so many amazing opportunities as a first year student. I am so blessed to be at a school where I can learn so much about God and participate in so many religious opportunities. I have realized that if I do not merely complete these opportunities as tasks on a list, I can grow each day in my love of Christ. The incredible thing that I have found about Candler is that if you choose to engage and depart on this search for God, you have the opportunity to discover God’s presence in crevices that you could have never imagined.

Search for God at seminary, and find Him in places that you never thought possible!

- Katie O’Dunne

 Katie is a first year MDiv student, a graduate of Elon University in North Carolina, and a Candler Student Ambassador.


Nov 16 2012

Windows to Christian Difference

WindowChurches seem to fight over a lot of things that in the grand scheme of things don’t matter (or at least seem unimportant to outsiders). One fight that goes on in most every church is over buildings and how buildings should be set up, what renovations should be made, what paint color should be used to repaint the Sunday school rooms, etc. Some of these arguments revolve around practical concerns and they must, since resources and physical location limit the church. The thing we often forget however, is that all of these seemingly insignificant or unimportant modifications and changes are architectural decisions that have heavy  theological implications to conveying the beliefs of the church. What does it mean if the Pulpit is center behind and elevated over the altar? What does it mean if the Altar is center and the pulpit is off to the side? What does it mean if there is center aisle or a central section of pews?

Many of the architectural features common to churches can be altered over the years. Pews can be moved, platforms added, altar position changed. One thing that will stand the test of time are the windows. Windows are often only redone when the walls themselves have to be moved. Even if stained glass windows are falling apart, a church will often choose to repair and maintain them as they always have been instead of altering them completely.

The windows in a Church stand as a permanent statement of the churches theology. Every time there is a reforming movement in the church, architecture and window style come under review.

Stained glass developed as a way to tell the stories of the Christian faith, and enliven and enhance the worship space. When light hits stained glass the result is often one of the most breathtaking views in the world. As the sun moves throughout the day the light in the sanctuary, chapel or cathedral moves with it, and the experience becomes new again. In each hour, we experience the light and the church in a whole new way. It is always the same, but it is always changing.

Some reformers saw the stained glass as a way that the church had gotten away from the fundamentals of the Christian faith. They see stained glass and the extravagant architectural often associated with it as a way to show off, as something done for the glory of humans and not for the glory of God. For this reason, several religious groups have constructed their churches with plain glass. They let the light stream into their places of worship unmolested by human creation or interpretation. Light is a sign of God, and does not need anything human added over it.

In some “modern” churches windows are excluded from the building plans all together, in order that the worship space might be completely controlled. If there is not natural light then screens, tvs, stage lights can be used to maximum effect. Darkness becomes darkness, and a single candle on the altar becomes a powerful symbol undimmed by an inflow of sunlight. But can humans every fully control God in this way? If there are no windows how do we understand God to be the creator of everything both outside and in? Can worship not become very insular?

What is interesting is that these viewpoints are absolutely valid. You can stand in a large cathedral and soak in the reds, blues, and purples of the stained glass and feel God, just as easily as you can experience the divine through clear panes of glass, or through the atmosphere created in a windowless church. None of these theological positions as demonstrated through architectural design choices prevents God from showing up in worship, or in the lives of the faithful. But these standpoints can be taken to an extreme where God is forgotten and pushed aside for human pride and posturing. The same is true of any theological doctrine or thought. What is the real difference between a high church Catholic with a view of transubstantiation of the Eucharist and a Baptist who sees communion as a remembrance that happens only in the hearts and minds of the faithful? They both believe that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and that Christ will come again. What is the difference between denominations that baptize infants vs. denominations that do not? They both believe that we are baptized by water and the Spirit.

What the argument of differences comes down to is conflicting emphasis. We choose what single aspect of the divine we find to be the most pivotal, and play it up. This division of focus is well and good, because there are so many aspects of the Christian faith and God that we would likely forget a part of our story if it were not for our brothers and sisters who believe differently from us. The shame of it is that we see these differences as making our ‘faiths’ incompatible, and we shut ourselves off to a whole section of our sisters and brothers. Maybe the issue is Eucharistic presence, architectural decisions, written vs. extemporaneous liturgy, the humanity or divinity of Christ, or Christianity’s response to the LGBTQ community.  What we see instead of our common beliefs are our differences on these issues and we stop talking, or worse we start yelling.

It is important that we as Christians, no matter our denomination, beliefs or background encourage an open dialogue on every issue. Behind every position and every stance that we don’t agree with, is a thought or idea that we hold about God and the church. When we speak to those we disagree with we might be infected by their passion, challenged to grow in our beliefs and/or reminded of an aspect of faith that we forgot about. Differences are good. We are not all the same person and We do serve the same God. A professor at Candler once said in a lecture that a peer stood up after he had given a presentation at a conference and before beginning to lambast this professor’s argument said “I completely disagree with what he has said, but I also recognize that there is a chance we will someday have to share heaven together….”

We have our differences, but we serve one God, a God who loves us despite our shortcomings and our inability to see the big picture. So the next time you encounter someone you do not agree with remind yourself that you serve the same God, and that there is a chance you will someday have to share heaven with people you disagree with. When it comes to the windows, remember that the same God gets in no matter what. That little reminder might just change things.

- Jonathan Gaylord

Jonathan is a third year MDiv student from Deland, Florida, a Student Ambassador, and the pastor at Providence United Methodist Church in Lavonia, Georgia as a part of Candler’s Teaching Parish Program.


Oct 26 2012

The God Variable

I find the question, how did I get here? utterly fascinating. As a person of faith, tracing the myriad trajectories of my past becomes a theologically important exercise. How can I make sense of my life thus far? Where do I see God’s hand? See, we Christians are not free to believe that our lives are merely the sum of our choices. We really believe we worship a God that intervenes, even intrudes into our lives in subtle, unexpected ways. I cannot answer how did I get here? with, “because I as a free, moral agent willed it.” Sometimes, the chief culprit is most likely “the God Variable.” I recently became acutely aware of its influence, but only in hindsight. Let me explain.

How did I get here? The question comes rushing at me. I scan the classroom of uniformed women and glance at James, my teaching partner, dear friend, and fellow MTS student at Candler. We are in prison. Namely, the Arrendale State Prison about an hour’s drive from familiar, cosmopolitan Atlanta. Coming from California, living in the South is strange enough; teaching at a women’s prison in rural Georgia only compounds the strangeness. We’re also reading a strange story. “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson. It’s a story about a pleasant, homey town that holds an annual “lottery” in which the “winner” is immediately stoned to death. The reader doesn’t find out until the end of the story—which is now rapidly approaching. I chuckle nervously. The story suddenly seems inappropriate. I’m not entirely sure how the women will react to the story’s bizarre, violent denouement. Seriously, how did I get here?

See, being here at Candler is unsurprising. My father is a religion teacher, I majored in religious studies, Candler is a good school, I didn’t want to find a real job after college, etc., etc. But teaching here in prison—that is unprecedented. I just don’t do things that interesting. I came to Candler to get on the fast-track to a Ph.D; dusty scholarship was in my future. But something happened, or better yet, somethings happened, and the future is suddenly more mysterious than if I had been left to my own devices.

As it turned out my worry was entirely misplaced. The women in our class attacked “The Lottery” with gusto, incisively assessing the text from all angles. But still, how did I get here? The question lingered. I could point to a few things I remember: the women’s choir performance from the prison at chapel last year, James and I excitedly discussing classes we would want to co-teach some day in the future, seeing the ad soliciting teachers in the Candler Chronicle—none of these adequately explains how we got here. Only something as radical, as wonderful, as grace-filled as “the God Variable” can account for our presence here in this prison. The truth is, about a million different coincidences had to occur to lead me to this very moment. And like Jesus’ signs, if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Mathematicians may insist that attempting to detect patterns of divine prescience is absurd—what I imagine I’m seeing is merely the unraveling of an infinite series. Ergo, an unlikely event (even one as unlikely as a California boy teaming up with a North Carolina mountain man to teach literature at a women’s prison) is actually likely to occur. This illogical habit of theological retrospection is what makes me an “innumerate,” colloquially and pejoratively speaking. As the great Plutarch observes, “It is no great wonder if, in the long process of time, while fortune takes her course hither and thither, numerous coincidences should spontaneously occur.” I respectfully disagree. The God Variable is always present.

- David Ranzolin

David is a second year MTS student from the Bay Area of California and a Student Ambassador.