Feb 18 2014

Chaplain on the Hall!

prison“101, Chaplain on the hall!” I call out, as the officer on duty buzzes me through the second of two doors leading to a long corridor. As I enter the hallway illuminated by fluorescent lighting, another officer sits on duty in the first small room to the left. I walk further down the hall and observe the many doorways; each door containing ID cards giving the names and faces of two inmates residing within. As I move deeper into the heart of the passage, I catch a glimpse through an open door of two obviously pregnant women dressed in prison attire, confined to a room and serving a sentence. Somehow, these pregnant women have landed in the Georgia Department of Corrections. Then the realization occurred to me that I came to seminary and now I have somehow landed myself in prison.

The past six months or so, I have spent time as a chaplain intern at the facility that houses all the pregnant female inmates in the state of Georgia. My time has consisted of building relationships with a group of marginalized women and offering a pastoral presence in the midst of unsettling circumstances. Candler’s Contextual Education program has provided an avenue that intentionally placed me in the path of the marginalized and facilitated authentic relationships through community with strangers and peers.

Reflecting on the ministry of Jesus reveals that he was on the move. Where was he going? Towards the Cross. What was he doing? Intentionally placing himself in the midst of the marginalized. For example, Jesus encountered the Syrophoenician woman who because of the status of her daughter and the fact she is a woman would have been considered twice marginalized. He cured the deaf man—another marginalized person. Among many examples, Jesus continually placed himself among the hurting and oppressed.

The opportunity as a seminary student to serve prison inmates who seem cast aside by society has helped me see the presence of God and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of these women. The reality is that our world is indeed dark at times and yet, through this journey, God’s presence has been manifested through genuine relationship and has become ever so clear during my journey as Chaplain over the past months. What has become even more evident to me is the worthiness of these women and the reality that each woman at the facility is a child of our Creator God. There is not a soul on Earth that is not worthy of the Grace of God.

Mark 8:34-35 says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.”

So, let’s get movin’, friends!  We’re all going somewhere—I challenge each to take the scenic route in life and see the unmistakable richness of God and experience wholeness through community with one another.

–Emily Edwards

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


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.


May 24 2013

You Won’t Learn That Here

“School did not prepare me for this.”

Despite the excellent academic education that I received at Candler – the rigorous instruction in Christian history, the intensity of my Greek classes, the thought-provoking learning of the “symbolic worlds” of the New Testament – those are the words that came to mind when I first began my journey in hospital chaplaincy.

Because, really, what can prepare you to make a hand print of a recently-deceased infant? Or explain to a five-year-old that his brother won’t be coming home with him? Or sit with a scared and exhausted mother while her child is undergoing surgery?

As a Chaplain Resident in the Clinical Pastoral Education program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, I face all of these situations and more on a weekly basis. When I first felt the call towards chaplaincy, I eagerly piled my academic schedule with many pastoral care classes. I loved all of them, and have had opportunities to reference the materials I learned there. At the end of the day, though, I discovered that no amount of reading, lectures, or memorization prepared me to do the actual day-to-day work I engage in as a Chaplain in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

What it did prepare me for – critically – is how to think theologically in every situation.

During my orientation week at Candler, I remember then-professor of New Testament studies Dr. Michael Joseph Brown relating a discussion he had with a recent graduate and new pastor. She was telling him a story about how the pipes in her church’s bathroom burst, and jokingly complained about how “she didn’t learn how to repair church plumbing at Candler.” He relayed this story to us, and plainly stated, “I’m going to tell you right now, you’re not going to learn anything about church plumbing here.” He went on to tell us, however, that there is a significant difference between pastors who simply perform tasks – be they repairing plumbing or preaching – and pastors who know how to integrate everything in their world – from the stories of the saints of the faith, to an understanding of how Greek philosophy influenced the New Testament – into a way of being that can respond pastorally, theologically, and prophetically to any situation, including burst pipes in the church basement.

Dr. Brown’s words have been prophetic in my own life and work. Many of the tasks that I perform in my current role I have just had to learn by doing. The difference between the pastor I am now and the person I was when I entered seminary, however, is that I can seamlessly reflect on every experience I have, and can place it within the broader context of Christian history.

When I had to pray with and give care to a man who shook his baby to death, I thought of the discussions I had in Dr. Andrea White’s Systematic Theology class about the doctrine of sin. The learning I did there gave me the framework to even begin to make sense of such a complicated tragedy. In my reflections on this event and others like it, I would be completely undone if I didn’t have a firm grasp on what this doctrine means to me, and how people of faith throughout time have used theology in order to understand their own tragedies.

The counsel of Dr. Barbara Day Miller in my Liturgical Writing class to expand our usage of adjectives in our prayers, confronts me every time I am tempted to lazily open with “Gracious God,” at the bedside of a child in the ICU.

The pipes will burst. The copier will stop working right as the bulletins need to get printed off. The call will come for you to get to the hospital as soon as possible. The corpse of a little one will need to be washed and dressed and placed in her mother’s arms. Candler won’t give you the book you need to know how to do all this. But it will give you the tools to make sense of it all, and respond pastorally.

- Whitney E. Walton

Whitney graduated from Candler in May 2012 with an M.Div. degree. She is training to be a board-certified hospital chaplain at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.