May 17 2013

More than a Shepherd

God is LovePrior to graduating in 2010, I had the opportunity to live in Belfast, Northern Ireland and serve at East Belfast Mission. After a year I returned to Atlanta and received my Master of Divinity degree from Candler School of Theology.  Two months later I would start in my first appointment back in the Dakotas at a United Methodist Church and Community Center in Pierre, SD.

In many ways, my experiences at Candler, and those that would follow in Belfast, prepared me extremely well for my first appointment. Within Candler and the Atlanta community, I pursued an emphasis in church and community ministries. Ever since my spiritual awakening in college, (when I realized that Jesus’s command to love our neighbor was something we were actually supposed to do) I had been keenly interested in the intersection between faith and action, worship and justice.

Classes in evangelism, non-violence, public life, and non-profits were opportunities to gain knowledge, and they became springboards for broader conversations about the need for personal faith to be connected with community transformation, and how community transformation is best done when it is grounded in personal faith.

Despite my apprehensions of local church ministry, due to my strong social justice interests and reservations about just being a shepherd, I soon discovered two very important things: 1) our theology and beliefs have a profound influence on our practice 2) what better opportunity to connect faith and action than having leadership within a local congregation.

In the ministry which I been a part of for the last three years in Pierre, I have been grateful and excited to help shape the common theology within my congregation about what it means to know God’s love and God’s heart, and what it means to be people of grace living into the kingdom. When we pray for our enemies and when we participate with other people of faith in vigils, our witness is shaped by our theology.

Likewise, our witness in the community is also shaped by our personal faith. I seek to help people be grounded in spiritual disciplines so that theirs hearts are prepared to love, and their cups of grace are ready to overflow. Playing a role in helping people connect their love of God with their love of neighbor can be challenging, but it is extremely rewarding.

As God prepares my own heart and mind for the next chapter of ministry in another appointment, I look forward to being the pastor of a new flock—a flock within the congregation, and the wider flock of the people in the community.

- Karl Kroger

Karl is Director at Southeast Community Center and Pastor at Southeast United Methodist Church in Pierre, South Dakota.


Aug 6 2012

(Trans)Forming our vocations!

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.

My official work has already come to an end, but there is so much to share about my summer as a Candler Advantage intern.  Along with many other possibilities, it allowed me to have an opportunity for more intensive formation/transformation in the practice of parish ministry. During this summer, I served Sunlin Methodist Church in Incheon, South Korea. My original proposal focused on forming/transforming Sunlin youth group’s vocational imagination.

Demonstration with Comfort Women

Sunlin youth at the Wednesday demonstration

At Candler, I took a class titled Religious Education as Formation and Transformation. In this class, I particularly engaged in Dr. Katherine Turpin’s book Branded. This book deals with an issue of adolescent’s vocation in consumer culture. She defines current consumer culture as a kind of religious system, because it forges purpose and meaning in people’s daily lives. She points out that the consumer culture devastates adolescents’ vocations; the adolescents equate their purpose of life with possessing enough money to purchase the right branded goods.

This book made me think of my original context in South Korea. I analyzed the SAT system in South Korea as a faith system for Korean adolescents. Like the consumerism in America, high school students’ lives in South Korea are almost organized around the national college entrance exam – Soo Neung. Korean adolescents’ vocational imaginations are also devastated by this faith system; they equate their purpose in life with getting a high score on the Soo Neung and admission into a prestigious university so that they may lead successful lives.

Through Candler Advantage, I set out to shape Korean adolescents’ vocations – leading a gradual shift (or transformation) from their devotion to the Korean standardized testing system to genuine Christianity. In order to engage in a ministry for the issue of vocation, I chose  Sunlin Methodist Church as my Candler Advantage Internship site. During the ten weeks of the Candler Advantage program , I have tried to combine what I theoretically learned at Candler with what I practically do at Sunlin. For (trans)forming the Sunlin Youth group member’s vocation, I designed/supported various approaches – sermons, field works, a retreat.

In the first sermon, I challenged Sunlin youth members to realize their devotion to the Korean SAT system as their faith system, and I invited them to the journey to form/transform their genuine vacations from God. In the second sermon, I explained some crucial features of Christian vocation and suggested them to be good Samaritans (or good neighbors) with marginalized people in our society as a communal vocation at Sunlin Methodist Church (Actually, the Korean term Sunlin means a good neighbor, which is based on the parable of a good Samaritan in Luke).

Won Chul with the Sunlin youth in the War and Women’s Human Right Museum

Then, I designed an educational program to encourage the youth group to be good neighbors in our society: “Becoming Sunlin: Sunling Camp, Joy From WITH.” In this program, we visited “The War and Women’s Human Right Museum” so that we carefully listen to stories of women whose human rights have been violated by wars and sincerely understand their pain and suffering. Specifically, this museum is an open space to remember ‘comfort women’ who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II and now are marginalized women in Korea. After visiting the museum (understanding the pain/suffering of ‘comfort women’), with comfort women, our youth members directly participated in a Wednesday Demonstration to seek sincere apology and appropriate reparation from the Japanese government (The Japanese government denied that they did not force them into sexual slavery; they voluntarily chose to be a prostitute or some private organizations, not the government, forced them into sexual slavery). From the reflection times after the program, some youth group members realized Joy, importance, and power of “WITH” – having solidarity with the marginalized.

 

Covenant Group and Jesus Prayer

Won Chul’s covenant group during the retreat as he prepared the Jesus Prayer.

Finally, I supported the 3days Sunlin youth group’s retreat. Under the supervision of Rev. Gu Hyun Kwon, a senior pastor at Sunlin, we had an opportunity to take a rest both spiritually and physically. We formed covenant groups and each group practiced several methods of spiritual meditation and prayer instructed by Rev. Kwon: Jesus Prayer – breathing in while calling out to God (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God) and breathing out while praying for mercy (have mercy on me, a sinner) and Lectio Divina – reading and contemplating the book of Jonah . These spiritual practices in calm nature allowed youth members to have a time of being free from their pressure and to think of their calling from God.

During this summer, my Candler Advantage Internship has (trans)formed my vocation as well as Sunlin youth member’s vocations. Through the Candler Advantage, I found a real possibility of my congregational leadership, and re-affirmed my vocational calling: academically seeking virtues (specifically, love and justice) of a Christian community and practically empowering a congregation to practice the Christian virtues.

- Won Chul Shin

Won Chul is a rising third year MDiv student.  He is president of the Candler Social Concerns Network and a graduate of Yonsei University in Soul, South Korea.


Apr 20 2012

The Exit

There are various benefits to being a student at Candler School of Theology, and one of them is the numerous opportunities to use resources from Emory University that relate to your specific interests. My primary academic interest in Christian Ethics drew me to apply to the 2011-12 Ethics and Servant Leadership Forum offered by the Center for Ethics at Emory University. This program is a weekly, interdisciplinary forum focused on service, community building, and leadership development. The Forum’s topics include racism, sexism, classism, relationship to the environment, urban development, and intersection between ethics & the arts.

Specifically, in the ESAL Forum, we formed three subgroups focused on a particular topic, and I belong to the group – Arts and Ethics. Our group collaborated to make a short film – “The Exit” – concerning the issue of child sex trafficking in the city of Atlanta. Through this movie, we intend to raise critical awareness of such a serious ethical problem near our life – the reality in our society. Please, watch the film first and then continue to read.

The term “child sex trafficking” can be defined the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The use of force, coercion, and slavery-like conditions are specific features of child sex trafficking. Atlanta was named by the FBI as one of 14 US cities with the highest of children used in prostitution. Letitia Campbell – a Ph.D. candidate in Christian social ethics at Emory –   insists that Atlanta’s busy airport make it an easy destination for men who desire to buy sex with children, as well as a domestic and international hub for distributing trafficked women and children in her article, “Selling Our Children.” According to the Schapiro Group’s demand study conducted in fall 2009, in Georgia, 12,400 men purchase sex with young women in a given month; more than 27,000 men purchase sex with young women in Georgia more than once per year; Craigslist is by far the most efficient medium for advertising sex with young females.

The short film, “The Exit” is based on the real story of one victim of child sex trafficking (we made a few artistic modifications to the story). She was lured by a pimp and became a victim of child sex trafficking in her teenager years. Once, she escaped from the pimp’s house, but found she could not live by herself outside of the house. Tragically, she had no choice but to return to the evil house. Finally, she became a madam – female pimp – in her twenties. Her story is tragic itself.

I understand that making a film concerning the issue of child sex trafficking is a beginning in the whole process to address this ethical problem. I am planning to disseminate the film more widely with assistance of colleagues and professors at Candler. As a president of the Social Concerns Networks for the next academic year – a student organization at Candler focused on promoting social justice, I will collaborate with our committed members in order to make concrete ways to respond to such tragic problem in our society.

- Won Chul Shin

Won Chul is a second year MDiv student from Incheon, South Korea.  He will return home this summer as part of the Candler Advantage Program where he will serve a paid internship in a Methodist Church in Incheon.


Feb 21 2012

Thinking Globally with Candler

Patrick and Global Health TeamCandler School of Theology has offered me many opportunities to develop as a pastor.  One of the most formative experiences has been participating in the Emory Global Health Case Competition.  The event, which is funded in part by Candler’s student government the Candler Coordinating Council and other graduate school’s student governments, brings together students from the entire university to compete on teams to propose solutions to a current global health issue.  In one competition we proposed training community health workers and providing farmers subsidies in order to bring relief to the economic and health burdens of tobacco use and production in Gujarat India.  In the other competition we proposed funding food trucks with health food options, community/school gardens, and building capacity around an existing maternal health program to address the issues of childhood obesity in Mexico.  The problems were complex and the teams competing to propose the best solutions found out that solutions were even more complex.

Though neither team that I competed with won the competitions, a few Candler students have been on winning teams and earned the cash prize offered.  Though I am a competitive person this was truly a time when the experience was worth the time investment required to participate.  The interdisciplinary teams were composed of colleagues from the graduate programs in business, law, public health, development practices, theology, medicine, and nursing as well as the college of arts and sciences .  I was randomly assigned to a team in my first competition and was part of a intentionally formed team in my second go round.  In each competition we received the case and background information on a Monday and had until Saturday morning to research, brainstorm, and put together a professional proposal.  On Saturday morning the teams competed against each other with expert judges deciding on the best presentation and navigation of questions following.

In this experience I had my global perspective broadened.  I was able to think about and research how faith based organizations around the world were addressing the issues of people living on the margins.  As a theology student on the team it was often my role to consider people’s responses to programs based on their faith commitments and the overall ethical foundations of our proposed solutions.  Even more importantly I learned how to better communicate with people who have different ways of seeing and interpreting the world.  We all had a different way of talking about justice and health and had to either find a common language or learn each other’s languages in order to effectively communicate our ideas to one another.  I believe this will be an amazing tool for me in the local church as a pastor who believes we should be engaged with community health issues.  Empowering a congregation full of doctors, lawyers, nurses, business women and men, etc. will require knowing how to effectively translate theological themes that inform our involvement, effectively hear what other disciplines have to offer, and then translating that for other members of the congregation who have different vocations all together.

Candler is fertile ground to grow as a student of life and especially as a pastor.  The Global Health Case competition will be one of the things I miss the most about my time at Candler.  There are many other ways to get involved in community health at Candler.  One could do a dual degree with the public health or development programs, go on a trip half way around the world with organizations like International Relief and Development, take courses that introduce the intersection of faith and health, get involved with the Religion and Public Health Collaborative or Interfaith Health Program, or make friends with like minded people from one of the other 6 graduate schools at Emory.  If you are interested in how the church can be involved with community health, then Candler is the school for you.

- Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick is a third year United Methodist MDiv student from Kansas, a member of the Candler Singers, and a Student Ambassador.


May 6 2011

Candler Student Jason Meyers, “Why Church?”

Young Leaders of the Church is a series from Day1 designed to highlight the young talent of today’s churches, and their ability to reach the next generations.   Candler MDiv student Jason Meyers was selected to share a short message about “Why Church?”

This series is being done in partnership with The Fund for Theological Education, for more information please visit http://fteleaders.org and Day1 today!

Jason is involved in a variety of activities at Candler – including Creation Keepers and his work as a writing tutor – and in the greater Atlanta community.  He is also an accomplished poet, and regular blog readers may remember his Lenten Meditation, “Thinking of Romans” from a few weeks ago.


Dec 3 2010

Considering Context at Candler

Recently, I’ve spent some time reflecting on my experience at Candler School of Theology.  One thing that continues to stick out to me about why Candler is a great place for a seminary education is its focus on context.  This context plays itself out in the classroom but also in our city.  Atlanta is an international hub of activity – an urban epicenter – but nestled in an otherwise rural region.   Candler students discern their vocation while serving Church and secular organizations addressing issues like homelessness, immigration, and equal rights among all people.

Context is built into the academic program for most students through Contextual Education; the MDiv degree requires that first year students serve four hours a week in a social service agency and second year students serve eight hours a week in an ecclesial setting.  My first year offered the opportunity to serve at the MUST Ministries in Cobb County.  While serving at MUST I learned a great deal about ministry with those experiencing homelessness.   I remember helping one gentleman with an online job application, and he was more grateful for my help than I expected.  It wasn’t just about being one step closer to a job; it was about overcoming the injustice of getting a job with an unaccommodating application process for those who had the job skills but lacked the computer skills necessary to apply for it.  Furthermore, he told me that he would be able to sleep that night thanks to the peace that came from submitting a job application.  My heart was broken as I considered the few nights of sleep I’d lost worrying about money or finding a job.  How much more stressful it must be to want so badly to work, but not be able to.  I learned quickly to respect those who are experiencing homelessness.  Their ability to survive and cope is admirable amidst a world that often chastises rather than helping them in appropriate ways.  Fortunately, the academic side of ConEd meant that we also had weekly reflection groups to help us process these new experiences and ways of seeing the world through a theological lens. But, the transformation I experienced at MUST made contextual education much more than an academic exercise.

Context is also experienced through voluntary service: a central part of the community life at Candler.  Most student organizations and individuals are highly involved in outside programs that continue to contextualize this education.  Some organizations focus on being in service to those within our community while others focus on issues that are world-wide.  The leaders of student organizations gather every other week to make proposals and allocate student activity fund money to programs that center on justice issues.  One local work day, organized by a fellow justice minded student, offered us the opportunity to get to know each other better, learn some new skills, and to make someone’s holidays a little better by helping them have their own home to celebrate in.  Spending the day on a Habitat for Humanity build with other Candler students reminded me of the conditions of those more immediately around us.  In the past month the Social Concerns Network also raised over $3000 for Haiti.  In one event students from all of Emory were invited to participate in a chili-cook off and students who have served in Haiti presented on the organizations with which they served. The cook-off proceeds then went to support those organizations.  It was great to see so many students from other schools come out and rally around an urgent need.  In another event the community donated hundreds of shoes for a region that has no paved roads, very little electricity, and no public sanitation.  The shoes will help prevent disease and gave the community an opportunity to give to a cause in which they might not have been able to otherwise.  There are often opportunities to be involved like this for local, national, and international causes.  It gives me a lot of hope about our future as the church to work and study with people whose hand is always on the margin.

I am grateful to be in a place that generates so much energy around contextualizing our vocational discernment process.  Whether next door or on the other side of the world, there are a multitude of opportunities to be in service and to experience transformation.  I am hopeful for the future of the church in which I intend to work because of the way I see and experience the preparation Candler offers.

-Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick is a second year MDiv student from Hutchinson, KS and a Student Ambassador. In addition to his time serving the community, he serves as a class representative to the Candler Coordinating Council and is a member of the Candler Singers.


Nov 26 2008

Student Feature: Karl Kroger

Reflections from Karl Kroger, Third Year MDiv student from North Dakota.

As a Candler student one of my hopes has been that we would seek social justice together as a community. What would it look like for Candler to live out Micah 6:8, not just in our individual ministries, but as a community? What kind of impact could we have in Atlanta if we collectively worked on issues like sex trafficking, homelessness, or the death penalty?

During the past two months I have had the pleasure of being able to see my hope and dream become a reality. The Candler community has been actively working to stop the execution of Troy Davis. Troy Davis was convicted of killing a police officer, however he has a strong case of innocence. Despite poor evidence and the recanted testimonies of the majority of witnesses, as well as opposition from pro-death penalty advocates, the state of Georgia has attempted to execute Troy Davis three times. Each time, growing numbers of the Candler community have been fighting to save Troy’s life. Staff and faculty have signed letters to the governor. Students have organized vigils, attended rallies, and marched in the streets. Students have also collected petitions, hung banners, and strategized other non-violent tactics. Working together with lawyers, faith leaders, college students, other seminaries, Amnesty International, and Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Candler students have been actively seeking justice.

As I write, Troy’s fate on death row remains uncertain. Because of Troy’s faith in God, his ultimate destiny is known. Shortly before his execution in September, Troy wrote, “I can’t wait to stand with you, no matter if that is in physical or spiritual form. I will one day be announcing, ‘I AM TROY DAVIS, and I AM FREE!’” I give thanks to God for Troy’s life and the inspiration he has been to the Candler community. Troy has helped us be more faithful to God.

For more information about Troy and the status of his case visit www.gfadp.org.


Karl Kroger (
pictured top) is a third year MDiv student at Candler School of Theology. He is currently the chair of the Social Concerns Network and is a member of the Candler Singers,one of Candler’s choirs. His blog, krogermix.com, features social justice news, video resources, and advocacy opportunities. Karl was recently selected as the Student Leader of the Month by Emory’s Office of Student Leadership and Service.