Apr 22 2014

“What Does It Mean To Be Saved?”

The question came from a 13-year-old girl in leopard print skinny jeans and black Converse All-Stars.

This is exactly the type of question I had anticipated in teaching the confirmation class as part of my second year of Contextual Education. In fact, I had been trained to shape my lessons around the questions I wanted my students to ask. I had also been taught Wesleyan theology by Dr. Rex Matthews, so I thought I was ready to jump into these deep theological issues head first.

Despite all of this formal preparation, I was not ready for the responses that the lessons would generate among the adult mentors who had volunteered to be part of this process. My senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Cyndi McDonald, had told me time and again that the number one factor in determining whether or not a young person will return to church as an adult is the number of meaningful relationships that young person has with adult members of the church. So when we sat down to make plans for the confirmation class, it was a no-brainer to invite adults to participate. I had hoped they would share their personal stories and experiences with the youth and build lasting relationships. After all, I am only placed in this church for one year as an intern, and Pastor Cyndi is a United Methodist Elder, so she will eventually be appointed to a new congregation. That means that the adults of this church are the ones who must take responsibility for nurturing these youth into mature disciples, just as the community has done since they were children.

I was prepared to watch the intrigue and curiosity of the youth who are discerning what it means to be a follower of Christ, but I was shocked by the joy and delight that these classes generated among the adult mentors.

They are loving learning and re-learning why we do what we do. They marvel at how the youth raise questions about the Bible and their challenges to understand God in the confusing politics of middle school. They cherish the honest moments when we reach the point of admitting that God is good, but God is also mysterious.

I must admit, all of this excitement and education is not a direct result of my pedagogical efforts. Candler has absolutely prepared me to mold a lesson to fit the learners and the location, but Candler could not have prepared me for the moment that I could witness God moving hearts.

We recruited the adult mentors to help engage the youth, but the youth have engaged the adults. It only makes sense that love would grow in both directions, but my focus on the youth blinded me to that truth. We are in the process of affirming what we believe and how we worship, but God is in the process of confirming that the Spirit is moving among those who seek to be disciples of Christ.

–Clair Carter

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


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.


Nov 19 2013

Keep Going

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

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

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

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

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

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor –

Bare.

But all the time

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometime goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

‘Cause you finds it kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now –

For I’se still goin’, honey,

Ise still climbin’,

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

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

But she kept going.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I encourage every dreamer to keep going.

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

Keep going.

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

Keep going!

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

–Sam White

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


Nov 12 2013

Following the Call

Katie O'DunneWhen I first came to Candler, I had a very clear idea of my plans for my course of study, for ordination, and for my vocation…or so I thought. Over the past year and a half, I have discovered God’s sense of humor. I can imagine God chuckling at me through my moments of believing that I had a plan for the future.

As prospective students visited Candler last year, I always told them to be prepared for the shifting and shaping of their calls to ministry throughout seminary, but I never recognized that statement’s application in my own life. I had a plan…didn’t I? I may have prepared, but God had different ideas.

As a result of experiences in the Contextual Education program, Candler course work, and Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, I felt God shifting me in a different direction. I knew when I entered Candler that I felt pulled towards specialized ministry, but my experiences have specifically led me to clinical chaplaincy and a denominational change.

This summer, as I worked with veterans on end of life issues during CPE, I felt God in so many new ways. I saw God in each of my patients, and I knew God wanted me to serve his children during the most difficult times of their lives. I could not have imagined being anywhere else. At this very same time, I was exploring other denominations as I discerned and entered a new church community very much “by accident.” However, I now know that there are no accidents with God. God was gently pushing me in a new direction and paving the way for a new path in my life.

RoadBut what did this passion for chaplaincy and new place in a church community mean for my ordination process: the process I had been in for years? Should I change denominations? Should I change course? I worried so much about disappointing those around me: my family, my friends, and my home parish. However, finally I decided simply to trust the path that God had laid before me through a denominational shift in my personal life, a withdrawal from my previous ordination process, and a shift to the Faith and Health Program here at Candler. I knew that God would be walking alongside me throughout the process, and he continues to do so.

Despite some initial discomfort, as change is never “comfortable,” I am so joyful in following this new path and the passions that God has set before me. The new classes that I am taking feed my passions, and my new church community feeds my soul. However, I still cannot help but fall into the trap of trying to plan the rest of my life and my vocation, as I consider the possibilities of clinical chaplaincy, campus ministry, urban ministry, prison ministry, spiritual advising, Christian counseling, and athletic chaplaincy. I feel like this “need to plan” and “need to prepare” is human nature, especially within the confines of graduate school. The options seem endless, and I cannot help but try to determine where I will be a few years from now or a few decades from now. However, just as God placed a new path before me this summer, I am certain that God will continue to be the leader in my life.

Paul’s letter to the Romans continually reminds me to discern the call of God, not where I think that I should or will be called:

Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The best advice that I have for any of you entering seminary, in seminary, or at any point in your life is to simply follow the path that God has set before you. You are welcome to plan, but do not be surprised when God’s sense of humor comes out and a new path stands before you. More importantly, do not be afraid to take that new path. Simply follow the Lord and enjoy the journey!

–Katie O’Dunne

Katie is a second-year MDiv student in the Faith and Health Certificate program, a graduate of Elon University in North Carolina, and a Candler Student Ambassador.


Sep 27 2013

Laboring for the Kingdom

Aaron CarrTomorrow morning, on a rare day off from studying systematic theology, reading the New Testament, and parsing Hebrew nouns, I am headed to my Contextual Education site, Berea Mennonite Church, for a solid day of work. Unlike many of my peers, however, I won’t be keeping office hours or preparing a sermon for Sunday morning (though I certainly do those things). Instead, I’ll be wielding a hammer.

There’s a leaking well-head out behind the education building that needs to be fixed. I’ll build a concrete form so that someone else can pour the concrete and keep the plumbing stable. Additionally, the congregation is interested in growing its flock of chickens, so I’ll be researching and building a brooding box for the four-dozen chicks we hope to order before it gets too cold. Sheep pens need to be rotated on pastureland. Vegetables need to be harvested in the community garden. There is always work to do!

If this description of one (admittedly atypical) day doing Con. Ed. sounds a little different, it is because Berea is a different congregation. Our two simple buildings (one for education and fellowship) occupy roughly nine acres of land on the borders of East Atlanta Village and Gresham Park. Much of the land is rented to a commercial farmer who shares our ethical convictions about food (sustainable, local, organic), and the rest is used by the church for its own farm project. We maintain a flock of chickens, a herd of sheep, and a large permaculture garden out front. It is a different kind of congregation.

At first, I was nervous about how doing Con. Ed. at Berea might shape up. After all, I’m taking a degree in theology, not horticulture, and there are important ministerial skills one needs to acquire during this yearlong internship. I didn’t (and still don’t) want to function as just a theologically reflective farm hand. Thankfully, this hasn’t been the case. Instead, my time at Berea has helped me reconcile old divisions in my thinking, especially the gap between theological (read: intellectual) activity and physical labor.

I’ll begin with the theological. We typically take communion once a month at Berea. One of the things I’ve come to realize during these moments is that Jesus is mediated to us by means of a meal (I was raised in churches without much focus on the table, so it’s taken me a while to get this one). Of course, this statement is full of theological meaning. To meet with someone at the table is to share intimacy and vulnerability, and it is amazing to think of God sharing that kind of life with us in the bread and wine.

But this theological claim – that God meets with us at table – also reveals important claims about human labor. If we insist that God reveals God’s self in a meal, we come to realize that, in a profound way, God cares about food. And if God cares about food, God must also care about the way that food is grown, transported, prepared, and consumed. This is where the labor comes in. We mustn’t be content to simply claim that God cares about food. We must be willing to work at creating just food systems in the world. That’s why tomorrow is a work day. The well-head provides water for our livestock. The new chickens will be raised ethically and will provide fresh, cage-free eggs to the congregation and the neighborhood. The sheep remind us where our food actually comes from, and challenge us to remember our place as creatures in this creation.

At a deeper level than all of this, however, is the simple fact that labor can be a good and holy thing. It is not a failure for a well-off, modern, educated human being to work with his or her hands. In labor, there is a sense of accomplishment and the deep fatigue that comes from expending energy in a positive way. There is a fellowship in common labor that I have rarely encountered anywhere else. Even when working alone, there is fellowship with God, who labors with us to build a kingdom where everyone will have enough to eat.

In many ways, I am still unlearning the old division between the life of the mind and the work of the body. Join me in thanking God that communities like Berea exist, that Candler sends its students to work in those places, and that there is good work to do, wherever you are.

–Aaron Carr

Aaron is a second-year MDiv student at Candler and a student ambassador. Originally from Cumming, GA, Aaron was a religion major as an undergraduate at Samford University.


Mar 29 2013

Community…

This is a word often over used or misused. But this is what I came to Candler to find. I came to Candler intentionally to be a part of a University community – to build relationships across schools and across ages. Candler has provided ample opportunity for me to do so.

Prime example…

NYC Group PhotoThis year I spent Spring Break with a unique and diverse community of students and staff. Yes, just a few weeks ago, I traveled to New York City with 20 Emory undergraduates, a fellow graduate student, staff and faculty of the Office of Religious Life where I am a Chaplain/Religious Life Intern for my second year in my MDiv experience. Our theme for the trip was Sacred Sites on the Margins. We explored various temples, churches, community centers, art exhibits, and hospitals where sacred work was taking place. We met doctors who chose to work in the poorest congressional district in the country because their heart told them it was the right thing to do. We met religious leaders who wrestled with staying relevant in an over-worked, over-stimulated society for in their hearts, they were committed to persevere. We met members of a Sikh community who offered hospitality to any and everyone – no questions asked. We met Muslims blocks away from Ground Zero committed to providing a safe community for people of all faith traditions. In all our encounters, we met people doing works of love, sacred work though doing it very differently. The trip really made me consider what it means to be a part of a community – what it means to be welcoming, accepting and honest.

As I journey toward the completion of my second year at Candler, I do so with intentionality. My experiences as a University chaplain intern this year have encouraged me to consider my calling – a calling to be faithful in whatever community I find myself. Faithfulness is what links people across race, age, gender, religion, sexuality; what makes us able to do sacred work. Faithfulness is what makes for great community.

I appreciate the opportunities I have had at Candler to take classes with Public Health graduate students, to listen to a lecture by a Law professor or to listen to music or grab a bite to eat with a group of undergraduate students studying anthropology or religion. I appreciate the opportunities to eat with said students in a Sikh temple while pondering what it means to be in a sacred place.

I appreciate the community I have come to known, the community I have grown to cherish.

- Rachelle Brown

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


Jul 31 2012

Keeping it Simple

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.

 

I’ve learned plenty this summer.

On time management:

Small groups in your home = big housecleaning crusades in your home. Think “Love and Marriage,” that corny old love song: you can’t have one without the other. Plan accordingly.

On communication:

The only things guaranteed in life are death, taxes and church people getting up in your business. When you find yourself in the line of fire, make like Jesus and doodle in the sand. A reactive response is a dangerous response: give it a solid 24.

On event-planning:

There are lots of people in your church who are really good at this. You, on the other hand, are a bit of a spaz. Put the talents of others to use. They want to help.

As my Candler Advantage Advanced Summer Internship comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the countless lessons I’ve learned from this 10-week experience. While many of them have a practical application, many, too, have been lessons of the heart.

I’ve learned that most fulfilling moments in the church are, without fail, the simplest. When one’s calendar is spilling over with to-do lists, it’s easy to forget that all of these activities are merely avenues for an opening of the heart.

I’ve thought a lot about the “KISS principle” a lot this summer: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” And I’ve actually made it my mantra for church work. For as much as we try to complicate the gospel, we’re working with a pretty straightforward message: Let your love be contagious.

I’m grateful for the many lessons I’ve learned this summer. But I’m even more grateful for the simple moments that this Candler Advantage opportunity has afforded me–the simple moments in which I have witnessed the transformative power of love.

Thanks be to God.

-Suzanne Ecklund

Suzanne is a rising third year MDiv student serving at Grace United Methodist Church in Atlanta, GA.


Jul 23 2012

Grace Dances Amidst Holy Chaos

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.

Christopher Szarke at Haywood Street CongregationGrace dances amidst Holy Chaos.

This lesson doesn’t come naturally after previously embracing the structure of Roman Catholic religious life (Benedictine and Franciscan) and spending two years as the seminary intern in a calm Episcopal parish.   It has been the most challenging and freeing lesson of the ten-week Candler Advantage summer internship at Haywood Street Congregation, a United Methodist mission church that primarily ministers with homeless people in Asheville, North Carolina, population 85,000 people.   Pastor Brian Combs, a 2006 Candler graduate, founded the congregation three years ago and ministers with Co-Pastor Shannon Spencer.

Our motto is “Come as you are.”   This might mean not having showered for several days, being drunk or high, or without medication that keeps psychosis at bay.   Many members of our community have been asked to leave other churches, which is interpreted as rejection by God.    We understand that God embraces everyone and that we are called as Christians to embrace Jesus in our midst.   Each of us has our own brokenness and it’s better to err on the side of grace, leaving room for God to do the work that we cannot possibly accomplish on our own.

Grace dances amidst Holy Chaos.

The Welcome Table is a huge meal serving 275 to 455 people every Wednesday, followed by an optional worship service.   The choice for liturgy on Wednesday is intentional after receiving feedback that the opportunity to attend church in the middle of the week gives the strength to carry on through Sunday.   It’s a chance to encounter Jesus in the sacrament of communion, to be surrounded by community, and to gain support to remain sober another day.

A cross-section of Asheville is present at worship: business people, who may have hidden addictions to alcohol or prescription medications, and homeless people with addictions that society judges with less forgiveness; people who meet survival needs through prostitution; church grandmothers, youth groups, and formerly homeless people – including many veterans – who return to encourage our sisters and brothers along the journey.    I recognize God working through the congregation when a man is welcomed back after being incarcerated in the county jail.   We shake rattles in response to prayers and concerns of the people: hopes for housing, rejoicing at receiving housing for the first time in 22 years, remembering brothers and sisters who are not with us today because they are in jail or a hospital psychiatric unit or are recently deceased.

Sermons are conversational, with the pastor asking the congregation for responses to the Scripture reading.   Sometimes people are ramble on in response or are argumentative.   Somehow the pastor is able to affirm all of these voices and connect them back to Scripture and how this speaks to us today.

Grace dances amidst Holy Chaos.

I spend little time in an office, joining our congregation where they are throughout the week.   On Monday I am at a day center for homeless people, followed by serving lunch in Pritchard Park with Be Loved House (a nondenominational house church), where people ask for prayers about jobs, housing, or reconciliation with estranged family members.   I have joined Pastor Brian at the local shelter, staying overnight in the men’s dorm following a chapel service.    On Sundays I participate in liturgy at the Church of the Advocate, an Episcopal worshipping community that is primarily attended by homeless people.   Here communion extends beyond church walls.   Two of us leave the church and take communion to our sisters and brothers on the stairway, under the trees, and on the sidewalk.   I participate in two homeless advocacy groups; one promoting a Homeless Bill of Rights similar to the one recently passed in Rhode Island.   Members of Haywood Street Congregation gather once a month at Habitat for Humanity.   I am humbled by the people who work on homes for people while they themselves are sleeping by the river or in the shelter.

I lead the offertory by calling out to Haywood Street Congregation, “What does God love?”    They respond with shouts and shaking rattles, “A cheerful giver!”   I describe how each of us is called to share our blessings, whether it’s the gift of patience and kindness, or praying for each other, or sharing a few coins, or boiling three hundred eggs to pass out at the Welcome Table, or writing to our friends in jail, or gathering trash in the parking lot.   People write on the service bulletin about how they share, coming forward to put notes and coins in a basket.   I hold the basket above my head and pray for God to bless and multiply the offerings so they may continue the ministry of Jesus in our congregation and the larger community.

Grace dances amidst Holy Chaos.    The Incarnate Jesus is present with us each day and I remain in awe of this blessing.

– Christopher Szarke

Christopher Szarke, a rising third year M.Div. student in the Episcopal Studies and Faith and Health Certificate Programs, is currently in the discernment process with the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.


Jul 17 2012

A Vital Church

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.

What’s a vital church in today’s world?

To me it’s a church that looks like the rest of society.  Our world has changed; we no longer live in communities where everyone looks just like us.  My life experiences tell me this is a good thing.  I am greatly enriched by the experiences, customs, traditions and backgrounds of all people that I have met in my life!  Our churches need this enrichment as well to be vital places of worship in today’s world.

This summer through the Candler Advantage program, I have been exploring what makes a church where everyone is welcome work.  Through my internship at Park Avenue UMC I am gaining valuable ministry experience, and I get to do it in my home conference, the Minnesota Annual Conference of the Methodist church.  This vibrant church is a place of acceptance where people are free to pray, sing and worship in a manner that meets each individual’s own needs for connecting with God.  There is a high percentage of laity involvement in the leadership of worship services, and there is intentionality in who leads each portion of the service.  Every service also includes a variety of types of music, which vary from week to week, to provide the opportunity for each parishioner to connect with God and the Holy Spirit during worship.  The service is a place where all are uplifted and this tone is conveyed throughout the worship service.

For one of my contributions I recently lead the evening prayer group.  In the spirit of the church, I wanted to think of a way to include the many different ways that people pray during this prayer time.  I chose a creation theme, and we began by experiencing small bowls of water and soil (earth).  As we stood together, I offered a meditation on these foundational elements of creation which I tied to scripture readings.  Then after sharing prayer requests, I began our prayer and invited those in the group who wanted to pray aloud for others in the group.  This offered an opportunity for many different prayer styles to be expressed.  I am discovering that I need to think broadly when I am planning worship, prayer groups, studies, etc. to include many different ways of responding to God’s presence.  I am also learning that this practice adds to the vitality of this church and emphasizes that everyone is welcome and appreciated.

Through these experiences I – and hopefully the church – are learning how to live together honoring each other.  Once we as a worshiping community live this way we can go out into our communities and honor each other every day in all that we do.  To me, the church then becomes a vibrant teacher of how to live together in our 21st century communities.

- Bonnie Buckley

Bonnie is a rising third year MDiv student from Minnesota.


Jul 3 2012

Go far, together

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.

Kenyan Children

“We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now.  And it’s not only the creation.  We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free.” Romans 8:25-26.

You know that scene in The Sound of Music when Maria Von Trapp leaves the convent for the first time and bursts into the song, “I Have Confidence”? That’s kind of been my life lately—minus the tacky tweed outfit and hat.  From the moment I boarded the plane to Nairobi until now, I have had to silence this quiet, anxious voice inside me that says, “You really don’t know what you’re doing- do you?”  I hate that voice.  It’s so lonely! With that voice, all of my successes and failures become mine and mine alone.  But this past month, when I shush that voice inside me and listen, really listen to the Spirit move and work around me, I realize that I am far from alone.  It’s the stories and people around me that give me confidence that God really is at work through God’s people and if look closely, you can see it right in front of you.

Emmy in KenyaThis summer, through Candler Advantage, I have the opportunity to work at New Life Home Trust in Kenya.  New Life Homes has six homes across Kenya that provides care and support for abandoned and orphaned children.  New Life has been a part of my life since 2004, when my parents adopted my youngest brother and sister there.  Over the years, I have gotten to watch sickly, malnourished infants grow into healthy, happy family members.  Most of the children at the homes are adopted into Kenyan families.  But, there are twenty-five children who are in two family-style homes that have not been adopted due to special needs.  Though the majority of these children are HIV positive, some have been diagnosed with other developmental or behavioral disorders.  Over the years, only a handful of these children have been adopted.

Before I arrived, I tried to put together the perfect religious education curriculum that would take care of everything—feelings of loss and abandonment, Anti-retro viral adherence, self-love and acceptance, etc.  Here is an exaggerated example, “Class 1 Theme-Parents; Goal-Help kids understand that God is a father and a mother.  So, even if they never are adopted by parents, they will feel loved by God.”  Pretty lofty goal for one Saturday afternoon, eh? It should come as no surprise that my first few classes were relative failures.  Fortunately, those experiences have forced me to listen and watch those around me.  “Pole, pole” (slowly slowly in Swahili), I am realizing that what I am part of is a process that began long before I came here and will continue long after I leave.  In the meantime, being a part of this community has made me watch the Spirit groan, but it has also let me watch the Spirit dance in the lives of these children and their caregivers. There’s a Kenyan proverb that reads, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  I’m realizing lately just how far you can go, together.

-Emmy Corey

Emmy is a rising third year MDiv student and a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, AL.