Oct 29 2013

The Heart of Worship

CannonI sit in a room full of scholars and students asking hard questions, searching for justice, and hungry to engage their faith in the world. The architecture in this room is wonderfully symbolic. We sing from hymnbooks. We read liturgy. The organ is our lead singer. Sometimes we have choirs in robes, sometimes a drumline, sometimes a string quartet, and sometimes a soloist. We follow the liturgical calendar for preaching. There is a pulpit. There are no fancy lights. No fog machines. The room is full of contemplative focus.

Now I sit in a large auditorium that seats 2,500 people. It is full of many different types of people with many different agendas. There’s a full band, a billboard sized projection screen, and a backdrop to the stage that’s of the same quality found at a major rock concert. The band sounds like a professional rock band. The lyrics are on the screen, not in your hand. There are lights, lots of lights. There is fog rolling from the stage. There is not a pulpit when the preacher preaches, just a round bar table and a plasma screen to his left. The room is full of energy.

Now I sit in a room in Venezuela that serves as a bar or event space during the week and a church on Sundays. The people gathered are hungry for worship to begin. There is no A/C, only fans blowing at full speed. There is a band but no fancy lights, no flat screen TVs, no fog, and no pulpit. The sound system is loud for sure, but not of any great quality. We are led by a band of students with one adult guiding them. The words are not in our hands nor on a screen, but in the hearts of the people. The room is full of anticipation.BuckheadThis past year has been a journey for me in the realm of corporate worship. My first year at Candler was one of interesting paradox. I attended a mainline Methodist seminary with a chapel service that, most weeks, was liturgy-driven, with an organ as our worship leader. Then I would attend non-denominational churches such as Passion City Church or Buckhead Church, where worship was more like a rock concert and liturgy was hard to find. My weekly worship experience was drastically different most of the time. Then this summer, I went down with World Methodist Evangelism Institute and worshiped in a small charismatic Venezuelan Methodist church. Each one of these uniquely different worship spaces was meaningful and wonderful.

So, worship.

Is this a matter of style? Is this a matter of theology? Is this a matter of liberal vs. conservative? Traditional vs. modern? Fundamental vs. progressive? Is this a matter of what is the right/best/most real/most personal/most collective way of worshiping?

Well, in short, yes. Of course it is, and it would be a lie to ignore all of those things when considering what worship means to us. I wonder though if we, in our modern church culture, couldn’t do more to learn and appreciate from one another.

I grew up in a church that had three worship environments: “contemporary” “modern” and “traditional.” Putting aside that these are slightly ambiguous terms, I found myself naturally being pulled towards the “modern” worship. As I grew older (I’m only 26 now), the traditional service began to eat me alive. Why is this even around anymore? Who really sings these songs and means them? Is there any Spirit found here? So needless to say, I would put myself in the camp of people that didn’t like a high liturgical or “traditional” worship setting.

VenezuelaThis year has changed me. Candler has stretched me. I have experienced an authentic encounter with God in so many different spaces and styles. Whether that be at Candler’s chapel services, Passion conferences, or small Venezuelan congregations.

I don’t think it is about style, or low-church vs. high-church, or any of that. I think it’s about the heart of the worship.

So it comes to this. It’s not how I worship, but whom I am worshiping. Am I worshiping style, or am I worshiping the God of all creation? And this God of all creation, doesn’t this God deserve and need to be worshiped in a multitude of ways? It’s really less about my style and more about my heart.

I have found this to be true: a community that is singing with its heart makes worship powerful. The community gathered in that space makes it powerful. Sure, what happens in the worship is important and should be done well, but style and liturgical preference will never trump the community gathered and the Spirit they bring to the space. So, whether I’m singing “Take Me As I Am,” “Your Love Never Fails,” or “La Creacion Hoy Canta,” if the community is worshiping as one, it is truly a moment that is special. The body unleashing its heart in true praise to God gives us worship. Give me that, in any style, and that is something I want to be a part of!

–Mark Kimbrough

Mark is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler.  From Springdale, Arkansas, he completed his undergraduate studies at The University of Arkansas.


May 3 2013

At Table

My first Easter at Candler opened my eyes to what Easter worship could be. The singing was beautiful, the preaching was simply fantastic. But what impressed me the most were the yards and yards of sheer fabric soaring through the vaults of Canon Chapel proclaiming, in a visual way, the Risen Christ.

That seed, planted at Candler, became the Westfield Center for Liturgical Creativity which allows neighboring churches to borrow our worship visuals (whole installations or just pieces of them) to use in their services.  Our goal is to help other churches find new ways to use old spaces.

The truth is, however, you don’t have to borrow items from us.  Chances are you’ve got most of what you need right in your own church.

The first time I toured Westfield Church, I found, on the third floor landing, a 19th century farm table. It’s beautiful table.  Chunks of wood are missing here, scrapes and scratches there. There are spots of paint dotting its surface and support reinforcing it’s old legs.

This past Lent, during my Holy Week planning, my mind wandered back to that table. Stored in that third floor corner for who knows how long, I wondered who had gathered around that table over the years. How many confirmation classes had be taught around it? How many crafts had been made on its old planks? How many meals had been shared over it?

I decided that this Holy Week, this Maundy Thursday, we would share communion around that table. How fitting to gather on the night we particularly remember the last supper around a table that generations of our faithful found themselves sitting around.

That night, as we sat in groups of twelve in a mishmash of wooden chairs, we shared communion in the company of that great cloud of witness who had gone before. That meal shared around that table nourished our spirits not just in the meal but in who we were sharing it with that night.

Jon ChapmanAnd in that sharing we knew that we weren’t alone, that we were, indeed, in it all together. That the church through time and around the world was in it with us.   We claimed our history–our stories, our table. And we looked to future–to the good we can accomplish having been nourished by such a meal and reminded of all those whose shoulders we stand on.

Pretty amazing what some fabric, an old table, and God can do.

- Jon Chapman

Jon is  a 2010 graduate of Candler School of Theology and is the pastor of Westfield Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Danielson, CT.  You can find him online (along with visual worship photos and how-tos) at revjonchapman.com.


Mar 1 2013

A Depth of Expression

The first time I saw the inside of Cannon Chapel was the first day of my orientation. I made a gutsy move in coming to Candler having never visited the school, or even Atlanta before, so after being funneled through check-in I quickly made my way to a seat in the worship space. Knowing the days of endless introductions and getting-to-know-you conversations were beginning, I felt comfort in the familiarity of stillness in a quiet sanctuary.

As I took in the space, I remember appreciating the raw and unfinished characteristics of the natural wood and bare concrete, as well as the seating in the round that gave even the architecture a dynamic quality–an expectation for something new. I don’t remember anything about that first service except the perspective I had from my floor seat near the organ and the distinct expectation that in that place I could expect the Spirit to move.

I chose Candler for many reasons, but their emphasis on student involvement in worship was a top selling point. I imagined, and it proves to be true that the chapel serves as sort of laboratory for students to experiment with different elements and styles of worship. It is a place to try things on, to mix genres, to do something somewhat radical with the expectation that the Spirit will use what we bring, provided it is an authentic gesture pointing to the Word.

This school is ripe with artistic and liturgical gifts. From trained and professional vocalists to seasoned and gifted musicians, plus the added hundred or so robust congregational singers, the musical elements of worship are offerings worthy of the One they praise. Add to that the occasional dramatized reading, non-traditional (read: not-so-cheesy) liturgical dance, or poetic prayer, and the embodied Presence is witnessed among us.

While I am ever challenged by the intellectual prowess of my peers, and grateful for the thoughtful engagement of difficult and problematic theological perspectives, I am also captivated by the artistically pastoral gifts that are selflessly lent to prayer and praise in worship each week. The enlightenment and growth in the classroom seems to spill over into what is offered in worship–adding to the depth of expression and interpretation within that space.

I am only a little over halfway through my time in seminary, but already sense that when I leave it will be our worship together that I miss most. Some of my most treasured and moving experiences on this journey have taken place in that chapel. While seminary can feel overwhelmingly taxing and sometimes even isolating, it is together in worship that I am reminded of our commonality and shared mission as leaders of the Church. It is where I sense most strikingly that when we offer all of ourselves–our gifts and will– to God that we will truly be used for the transformation of the world and the building of the kingdom on earth.

May it be so.

- Darin Arntson

Darin is a second year MDiv student from Southern California, a member of the Candler Liturgical Dancers, and a Student Ambassador.


Dec 7 2012

Who is a theologian?

This is a question I never cared to ponder until seminary. I have a business background as well as an ecclesial one but defining a theologian was never a concern … until now. Who constitutes the classification of theologian? Before coming to Candler, I may have answered that question with a list of erudite scholars, many of whom are no longer living.

A theologian is someone who dedicates her or his life to the scholastic vocation of seeking after knowledge of God and the things of God….

For some, that may have been a sufficient answer but life has taught me differently. While I have learned a great deal from the noted theologians of the past, I have learned, perhaps most deeply, from the theologians who would never classify themselves as such. Some of the most impactful learning experiences I have had over the course of my time in seminary have not been from books but from lived experiences.

Voices of HopeA few weeks ago, the Voices of Hope Gospel Choir of the Lee Arrendale State Prison for Women came to sing during chapel service. The ways the songs soothed my soul and the way the melody wrapped me in comfort is something words cannot adequately convey. Excuse my colloquialism but you just had to be there. One song in particular struck me in a way no scholarly reading ever has. The choir full of women who were incarcerated for crime sang the words I AM FORGIVEN, I AM A CHILD OF GOD. It was as if all of the theological discourse in my being came to an abrupt halt to listen again to these words of truth. What does it mean to be forgiven? To belong to God? To be children of grace? By singing these words, these women became for me at that moment, theologians, encouraging me to learn something new and think about God in new and fresh ways.

I am teaching a class this semester at the same prison the women in the choir are from. On the first day, I began class by saying – “whether you know it or not, you are all theologians.” I wanted to affirm the voices of these women relegated to the outskirts of society. I wanted to do for these women what my theological education has done for me – affirm the voice within. God in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit speaks to me, in me and through me…and to these women as well. I have a voice, I have something to say and my words matter. So do theirs. So does yours.

The pursuit of theological education is a blessed one. It will often times lead you to the wonders of great writings and texts and if you are patient enough, it will lead you to the lives of people whose experiences will stay with you for a lifetime. These people will never call themselves theologians but you and I know better.

- Rachelle Brown

Rachelle is a second year MDiv student from Cincinnati, OH and a Candler Student Ambassador.

You can see an earlier blog about the Voices of Hope here.


Jun 5 2012

Finding Deeper Meaning

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.

Jonathan teachingOver the summer, I am working in a local church setting through the Candler Advantage Summer Internship program. This program, in which rising third-year students engage in full-time supervised ministry for ten weeks during the summer, presents a number of opportunities for me. One of these is to preach on a fairly regular basis. With this role, I have been preparing an upcoming sermon for a set of lectionary readings that includes Mark 3:31-35. In the NRSV, this short passage is entitled, “The True Kindred of Jesus,” but I have found that a title such as “Jesus Rethinks Family” would be just as appropriate. Through the words of Jesus, Mark communicates that it is not simply one’s biological relationships, but whether or not one “does the will of God,” that defines who one’s brothers, sisters, and mothers are. I am sure this passage challenged the notions of family of Mark’s earliest readers, as it does ours today.

Just as this short passage challenges us to think anew of what it means to be family, my time at Candler has challenged me to view faith, scripture, ministry, and a host of other subjects in new and meaningful ways. I would like to briefly share some of the ways some of these understandings have changed during my time at Candler.

I still say, as I did before coming to Candler, that scripture is the “word of God,” but I now have new, much richer, understandings of what I mean when I say that. In scripture, we hear a chorus of witnesses, from over the course of centuries, who have sought to express encounters with God. Each word of scripture has been written in a particular historical setting to a particular audience, yet these words still speak to us today.

Similarly, my Candler education has deepened the meaning of “faith” for me. Faith is no longer merely belief, i.e. intellectual assent to a proposition. Faith involves trust, whether belief is possible or not. Perhaps most importantly, faith involves living faithfully.

Jonathan at ConEdIn seeking to live faithfully along with others at Candler who seek to do the same, ministry has taken on new layers of meaning as well. When I first came to Candler, I saw ordained ministry as primarily involving preaching, with a number of other responsibilities such as pastoral care, administration, and outreach. While I still see each of these as significant components of ordained ministry, I now have a better understanding of how I am called to live out each of these aspects of ministry. Through my contextual education experience, I have seen that ministry involves formation through practices that shape us and give us identity, such as the reading of scripture and participation in the sacraments. However, ministry also involves formation through activities that stretch congregations out of their comfort zone, such as interfaith dialogue, outreach to members of the local community, and programs that teach and encourage faithful environmental stewardship.

Finally, Candler has challenged me to think through what the word “education” means. Certainly, education has occurred in the classroom. However, learning has also taken place in conversations with other Candler students outside of class time. Connections between academic coursework and people’s concrete circumstances have been made through Contextual Education I and II site work. As much as I learned about United Methodist polity in class at Candler, much more was gained simply by travelling to General Conference with other Candler students and professors this past April. Education, like these other things, has taken on a deeper meaning through my experiences at Candler. It is my hope and prayer that by being challenged to think through theology and practices in new and fresh ways, we will all come to new appreciations of what it means to live faithfully in our own time.

- Jonathan Harris

Jonathan is a rising third year MDiv student and a graduate of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC.


Apr 13 2011

Lenten Meditation #3

During a Candler chapel service known as “Songs and Prayers for the Lenten Journey,” several students shared spoken word reflections.  For the next few Wednesdays we will share some of these reflections with you.

This week’s reflection is from 1st year MDiv student Hillary Watson.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You can find more of Hillary’s work at these sites:

http://www.myspace.com/hillarykobernick

http://www.catapultmagazine.com/users/hiwatson09/

http://www.seattlemennonite.org/2011/01/sermon-december-26-hillary-watson/

Hillary was born and raised an urban Mennonite in Seattle, Wa.  She is a graduate of Goshen College (Ind.) and prior to attending Candler she spent a year with Mennonite Voluntary Service.  She describes herself as a compulsive poet and thinks a good poem is worth a four-course meal.


Apr 6 2011

Lenten Meditation #2

During a Candler chapel service known as “Songs and Prayers for the Lenten Journey,” several students shared spoken word reflections.  For the next few Wednesdays we will share some of these reflections with you.

This week’s reflection is from 1st year MDiv student Marques Harvey.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Psalm 121 Lenten Reflection

By: Marques Harvey

March 2011 (Copyright pending)

‘I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

In this season of Lent, my time is being spent discovering that this God of Israel- IS REAL and I mean that environmentally. For God is stretching me to break- fast from traditions of seeing God just as some ‘cosmic sugar Daddy’, this Agape poppy, who whenever I need a blessing I just send a praise up, and my blessings come down.  But this time around, in this season of Lent, less time is being spent craving the obesities of life. You know the fat ride, with the extremely large house, even though it’s only occupants are you and your spouse. All those things which contribute to this energy crisis- in which the inflation in the prices- has got us wondering just where Christ is.     So like the Psalmist, we lift up our eyes to the hills, only to discover they aren’t there anymore.  Cause the country’s economic plan of mountain top removals has crossed the burning sands and Mt. Zion is being converted into a mole hill – things are getting REAL in Israel.

In this season of Lent, my time is being spent discovering that this God of Israel – IS REAL – and I mean that sociologically, God is really challenging me to break-fast from traditions of simply fasting the sweets, treats and meats in my diet.  Moving from Daniel’s fast to a fast so REAL Isaiah encourages everyone to try it.  It’s a fast that’s not about just me, but with just-us.

It beckons that us who too often fuss with us, would begin discussing trust with us so that God would no longer find disgust in us…where the words of one KRS & the One Christos help remove the proverbial planks from our eyes until we realize that this God of Israel – IS REAL – and I mean that ontologically.  God is awakening us to see that Israel is not just a man, not just some ancient land, not just the daughters of the dust but Israel is in each one of us.  I ask you, from where will my help come when the earth’s hidden faults cause disasters in the land, when impenetrable levees can no longer stand? You responded our help comes from the One who made heaven and Japan, from the One who made heaven and Iran, from the One who made heaven and Sudan.  For the God who keeps Israel is the One who will not sleep nor slumber. For at times like these, we no longer have to wonder.  All we have to do is take notice and know this – that this God of Israel – IS REAL.

Marques holds a Masters in Public Health from the Morehouse  School of Medicine and is a graduate of Benedict College.


Feb 18 2011

The (Not-so-) Hidden Treasures of Candler

As a second year MDiv student at Candler School of Theology, the outstanding aspects of the institution continue to reveal themselves to me.  Unfortunately, it has taken me over a year to realize that my academic course-load has the potential to envelop me, causing me to miss the many treasures on campus.  More overpowering than academia, however, is life.  Life is busy, life is fast, life is short. It seems that more often than not, I have deadline to meet and an agenda to fulfill.  I am constantly running on a tight schedule in an effort to accomplish the task at hand in a timely fashion.  This being the case, I have overlooked some of the most awesome displays of God’s presence in this place.

First, I have recently slowed down to appreciate the John August Swanson masterpieces that are scattered throughout the building.  John August Swanson is an artist and independent print-maker of limited edition serigraphs, lithographs, and etchings, of which Candler has the largest collection in the world.  His ability to capture scenes from Scripture with such vivid color and detail is truly remarkable.  His serigraphs are completed through an extensive process of stencils and layers of color – the number of colors in the painting is the number of stencils he must make.

Often times, these works of art are much more complex than any single image.  For instance, the “Ecclesiastes” masterpiece, which hangs on the third floor, contains almost 100 miniature works depicting the seasons of life, biblical images and symbols.  Upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that each and every minute detail was careful and intentional, just as every gift and flaw with which each individual has been blessed is purposeful.  Another exquisite example of John August Swanson’s attention to detail can be seen in the “Triptych of Noah,” which can be found on the fourth floor.  The word “triptych” means that this work is composed in three separate parts.  Each section of this illustration captures the chaos that is described during the flood in the Bible, or I would suggest the chaos that many of us experience in our daily lives!  It is far too easy to rush through the halls, ignoring the exceptional artwork that Candler is so fortunate to have.

Another aspect of Candler that I hate to admit I have missed during much of my time here is worship in Canon Chapel.  The internationally acclaimed architect Paul Rudolph designed this sacred space for Emory University in the late ‘70s.  Its appearance of being somewhat unfinished is intentional, and with great theological meaning.  Just as we, human beings, are unfinished and continuously being molded, so too is Canon Chapel.  We are constantly transformed by those with whom we come in contact, just as the chapel is shaped and changed by each moment of worship and each diverse class of students that passes through.

While classes are not even offered during the times in which worship occurs in Canon, stress is a constant excuse for missing these services.  Somehow writing a paper in the library, going to work, or even a nap seems more important than attending worship in the chapel, which is conveniently located next to the theology building!  The few times that I attended in the past year and a half have been incredibly moving experiences, for so many reasons.  The natural light that the architecture allows to shine in is breathtaking.  The diversity in worship styles and congregation members unifies the community.  I must confess that I have been brought to tears on multiple occasions in this space, and I am not an emotional person!  The ways in which the Spirit moves in that building is undeniable.  But one must take the time to slow down, and acknowledge its beauty.

All in all, I have come to deeply appreciate the abundant blessings that surround me at Candler.  It is just a matter of me not getting in the way of myself in order for me to experience such fortune.  I am now the biggest advocate for putting down your calendar and enjoying the wonders that surround us on a daily basis, because if we continue to cling to a tight schedule, we will remain blind to them all!

- Mia Northington

Mia is a 2nd Year MDiv student from Tennessee and a Student Ambassador.

Image copyright John August Swanson.


Feb 14 2011

Noise

As I entered Cannon Chapel, I was greeted by noise.  Several students were spread throughout the Brooks Commons foyer and up the staircase towards the Chapel.  They were reading, praying, meditating in unison.  I was surrounded by sound, but it was not the unpleasant sound of large crowds or chatty groups.  It was the sound of God ushering his children to worship, leading them towards Himself with His words.  I felt guided up the stairs, almost as if I was being moved forward by the nudge of scripture and praise.

The diversity of worship life at Candler allows for many different student groups and denominations to lead worship throughout the semester.  This week, the Black Student Caucus led of large group of students, faculty, and staff in yet another unique style of worship to help celebrate Black History Month.  Noise is of course a component of every worship experience in Cannon Chapel, but the noise this week had a certain power and force to it, as I noticed before I even entered the space of worship.  The noise seemed to move.  It moved in and out of mouths and ears, up and down walls and ceilings, over and around bodies and clasped hands.  It not only moved throughout the space, but forced the space to move with it.

The service began with singing.  An organ, a saxophone, a piano, a drum set accompanied rich, vibrant voices.  There were not words to read from a hymnal or off a screen.  The words of the song were on repeat, it seemed.  Everyone joined in, participating in the repetition of noise.  Some shouted the noise out of joy and happiness; others whispered it out of reverence and humility.  Different tones, different inflections floated around the chapel, offering themselves up to God in their diversity.   The variations of the noise became unified, for each distinct sounds moved in the same direction.  Upward.

Singing rarely involves just the movement of the mouth.  Arms, legs, and heads were moving, too, adding to the rhythm of the noise being created in the space.  The whole chapel was noisy with movement, from the swaying of hips to the raising of hands.  Bodies became instruments as they harmonized with the notes being played and sung.  Every single body participated in the song as it reacted to the noise.  Each person added their own personalized notes, creating a song that God had never heard before.

A time of prayer was sandwiched between the sounds of song.    Individuals approached the middle of the chapel floor one by one, uttering words of both praise and sorrow.   The Candler community gathered around these bodies and their noise as a petition to God, a petition to grow them closer and more unified.  Working to tear down boundaries and to end habits of division were the words of these few, but the cry of all.  The noise of both verbal and silent prayer rose, again, upward.

The loudest sound of the whole service was indeed the footsteps exiting the chapel – the sound of God’s noise moving out into the world.

-Sara LaDew

Sara is a 2nd year MTS student from Greensboro, NC and a Student Ambassador.


Apr 10 2009

Quaker Service at Candler

A Quaker Meeting in Candler’s Cannon Chapel

Diversity is something that is celebrated at Candler. Diversity is something sewn into the basic fibers of the Christian faith. Christianity emerged from a complex mix of cultures, languages, religions, ethnicities. It was a Jewish Sect, from a Greco-Roman world, spread among fellow Jews and Gentiles alike, in Greek and Aramaic language. The New Testament itself talks about the multifaceted nature of the Church from the very beginning, with Peter, Paul, and James not always on the same page as to what it means to be followers of Jesus (Acts 15). By the way, a great introduction to the diverse cultural and religious context of the New Testament and early Christian church is Candler professor Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. Minneapolis; Augsburg Fortress, 1999. pp.1-91.

As a student here, I was exposed to many different theological perspectives, and had pleasant conversations and heated debates—inside and outside the classroom—with people from various ends of various spectrums. Worship is another place where diversity at Candler is celebrated. Last week the Candler community got together for a first in our chapel: we had a Quaker Meeting/worship service. Dr. John Snarey, (pictured right, blue shirt) Candler professor of human development and ethics and a Quaker, relates that students have held Quaker meetings in the past, but never in the chapel.

Christina Repoley, (pictured above right, orange shirt) a first-year student at Candler, planned the Quaker Meeting service at Candler. It was attended by roughly 35 people, and featured a capella singing, a brief introduction to Quakers, and a proper meeting. For Quakers, there are traditionally no clergy members, so no one “in charge” of a Meeting. George Fox (1624-91), an Englishman and one of the founders of what became known as the Quakers, or the Society of Friends, spoke of the “Christ within” everyone. Fox reasoned none are set above any others, and each member of the community has the spirit of Christ within them. Meetings take place in silence until someone in the community is lead by the Spirit to share with the rest of the meeting. Sometimes many people share, sometimes no one shares. Sometimes people share for several minutes, sometimes the words are very brief.

According to Candler professor Brooks Holifield, early Quakers’ “aim was …to recapitulate the experience of the same Spirit who had moved the first Christians.” “Their worship—which alternated between devout silence and ecstatic outcry—game them the name Quaker” (Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003: pp 320-327).

Quakers today are sometimes confused with Amish, who are a religious group of the Anabaptist tradition. Quakers today don’t tend to look like the guy on the Quaker Oats box. Quakers were known for their opposition to slavery—many abolitionists were Quakers—and today are often involved in pro-peace movements. Along with Mennonites, and the Church of the Brethren, Quakers are a historic peace church, meaning they believe that Jesus advocated non-violence and that violence on behalf on governments is contrary to Christian teachings and morality. The American Friends Service Committee is a national Quaker organization, with offices all across the country, that advocates for non-violence, justice, and reconciliation, and human rights.

Candler’s Quaker service featured four people sharing during the 30 minutes of otherwise silent time. I personally loved the service, but I have a special place in my heart for the contemplative side of religious practice. It is a time of listening to that “still small voice” (I Kings 19: 11-12) of God that is drowned out in so much of our busyness. I appreciated the time to sit with my mind, to let it wander, and to bring it back, letting it wander, and bringing it back until it settled down a bit. It was kind of like letting a child run around and tire herself out before resting.

As a United Methodist, I appreciate John Wesley’s idea of the Quadrilateral. The concept of the Quadrilateral is that individual Christians (and institutions, denominations, churches, etc) have four sources of authority from which they draw: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. We all use these different sources, and all of have a different combination of these four. Whereas some Christians place priority in Scripture or Tradition over Experience, for instance, Quakers hold Experience as the primary source of God’s revelation. Holifield mentions that early Quakers revered the Scriptures as the inspired word of God, but believed that God continues to speak to each individual, and this ongoing revelation is primary: “In dealing with the relationship between the Inner Light and scripture, for example, early Quakers could both cite the Bible as an authority and insist that it remained subordinate to the Spirit within” (Theology, 321).

Quakers are one of the Christian voices here at Candler. Come visit with us, worship with us. We’ll probably worship in your tradition, whichever one you come from, and you’ll worship in the traditions of others. Our Quaker service reminded me to listen, to stop talking, to stop thinking, and just listen. I saw an apros pro bumper sticker to this point: “Don’t just do something, sit there.” A time for speaking and words, yes, and a time for silence and listening, too.