May 31 2013

Learning to Rely on God

“They don’t teach you that in seminary”, or “You do not learn this in seminary” is one of the common catch phrases I have heard being thrown around by pastors and laity alike. It is sometimes said with a snide undertone that conveys the idea that seminary education, when put to the real life test of pastoral leadership, is found wanting. And it always brings to mind my Candler education and learning experience.

My three years at Candler were among the most fruitful of any preparatory experience I could ever have to become a pastor. The academic rigor, the contextual programs, and the shared wisdom of my professors and fellow peers have indelibly shaped who I am and how I serve as a pastor.

My first appointment after seminary as pastor-in-charge of a small church in the heart of Atlanta became the litmus test for my seminary education. Though the church was small, the worshipers who came were very diverse. They ranged from the very elderly members, to the transient national and international Ph.D. students from Georgia Tech, along with the visitors who came because they were invited or were in need of a place to worship. They were Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and Seekers. I had to serve all in their different life journeys, attending to their needs, while guiding them to the constant awareness of their souls’ worth. We had numerous conversations about Scripture and the interpretation, the Kingdom and reign of God, and death. One can imagine what those conversations were like with such a variety.  In one Bible study session about sin, one of my aerospace engineering graduate students drew a diagram that showed the Holy Spirit as a “sin-dampener function” to explain her understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work.  How more relevant could church be?

This small church was certainly not your everyday cut to fit church. Notwithstanding, it was certainly the best church I could have been appointed to because of the experience I gained. And I could not have been effective or make the impact I did without my seminary education. As the only pastor, with no staff support, I relied fully on God and put into practice what I had learned at Candler. I remember there were times I went back to my notes and textbooks from my “Leadership in Small Membership Church” class with Dr. Rogers to draw upon the insights I had gained. During the sermon preparation for my first funeral, I pulled the notes from my “Preaching about Death” class with Drs. Long and Kraftchick and crafted my sermon accordingly.

Now in my second appointment as the associate pastor at one of the biggest churches in the North Georgia Conference, I still draw on my seminary education from Candler. And I know this education will still be of great benefit to me in the many years to come. When writing sermons, or having conversations about Scripture, or making decisions about ordering the life of the church, or anything to do with ministry in general, I still find myself saying “Thank you, Dr. Rogers,” or “Thank you, Dr. Long,” or “Thank you, Dr Fry Brown,” or “Thank you, Dr. Carolyn StephensErskine.”

Thus the phrase “They don’t teach you that in seminary” should never be used as a broad spectrum brush to paint a picture of what is lacking in seminary education, for though I know that no one can ever learn everything in seminary, I know that what I have learned at Candler is taking me farther than where I would have been without it.

- Carolyn Stephens

Carolyn is a 2011 graduate from Candler and Associate Pastor at Cannon Church in Snellville, GA.


Aug 21 2012

Lessons Learned

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.

Candler students are privileged to have various internship opportunities during their time at Candler. I gratefully had the opportunity to participate in the Candler Advantage program this summer. My site was Wesley UMC in Charlotte, North Carolina. It will be an unforgettable experience for the rest of my life.

Jaeyong Hard at WorkAll ministries that I experienced at Wesley were meaningful and precious for me, such as Vacation Bible School, the Youth Mission Trip, several community events, and many visitations. However, leading a Bible study with members of the congregation brought me several life-changing questions.  At first, I heard that church members were excited to have a seminary student as a Bible study leader and expected to learn some recent theology. Therefore, I chose Walter Brueggemann’s“The Prophetic Imagination” as the subject of our study.

However, once we began several members told me that the Bible Study was not easy and a little uncomfortable for them. And, I agreed. So, I changed course and tried to figure out why we felt uneasy with the subject. The main reason is that the book talks about an image of God different from the image of God we usually think of.  To make it even more complicated, all of us have our own image of God we have formed throughout our lives.  Whether we come from conservative backgrounds or liberal backgrounds, each person has images of God accordingly. It is very natural to have an image of God according to one’s own backgrounds and characteristics.

However, the problem is the fact that we do not make an effort to expand our image of God – to enlarge our understanding of God.  Think about it.  How much do we know about God?  We are mere creatures on earth, and God is the Creator God.  What we know about God is probably like a grain of sand on a sandy beach.  With a small basket, we cannot scoop up the whole ocean.  With our small heads and with our small understanding, we cannot understand God fully.  Therefore, we should make an effort to learn about God more deeply and more broadly.

As the group continued together we found that the books of the Prophets that we covered in the Bible Study are barely taught and preached at church. How about Lamentations? Today’s Christians hardly read Lamentations. Lamentations is not shared in the church because we do not know what to do with the depressing passages; they do not fit contemporary Christians’ images of God. However those books are in the Bible and give us significant lessons to us for our faith journey, so we need to read, study, and understand them.

The Bible study at Wesley brought me several questions. First, do I keep making an effort to broaden my image of God, and do we keep making an effort to deepen our understanding of God? After all, the Bible says, “I God desires the knowledge of God more than offerings [mere worship service] (Hosea 6:6), so it seems important to do so.

With one of many host familiesThe second set of eye-opening questions came from living away from my home and living in others’ houses. During my 2 and half months in Charlotte, I moved almost every two weeks because the church couldn’t afford to provide lodging for 10 weeks. So, five church members hosted me and my family. My wife, baby and I really appreciated the host families for their generosity and hospitality. However, moving every two weeks was not easy. It was not easy to pack and unpack again and again 10weeks’ worth of baggage. Moreover, the baby’s baggage was bigger than we expected. It was not easy to move while taking care of Amy, my baby.

However, this moving every two weeks opened my eyes to think again about my life and our lives here on earth. Where is my real home? In Charlotte, North Carolina? Of course not. Atlanta, Georgia? No, I just pay rent every month. Seoul, South Korea where I originally came from? No, I don’t have any home there because my wife and I came to United State right after our marriage. My home is not here on earth. Most people live here on earth with their own houses. People who do not own their houses yet do their best to have their own ones. Even many people who already have their houses continually try to find bigger and better ones. We keep trying to settle in our houses. In fact, however, the houses in which we are living here on earth are not our homes.

The houses I have stayed in for ten weeks in Charlotte have not been my homes because I just stayed there for 2 weeks at a time for my internship, for my calling. Likewise, the houses we are living here on earth are not our eternal homes. We all are only staying here on earth for our calling. After I finished my calling there in Charlotte, I came back home to Atlanta. Likewise, after we finish our calling here on earth, we will come back our eternal home, Heaven. We live here on earth for 70 years, 80 years, or 100 years. However, compared to the eternal time in Heaven, those few years here on earth are like the 10 weeks of my internship.

Yes, I am a traveler here on earth, walking toward, coming back toward Heaven.  Then, how does my life look like?  Do I really live here on earth as ones who have their eternal home in Heaven?  Or do I live here on earth as if I will live here for-ever?  Do we often think about Heaven?  Or do we spend most time to think about here on earth?  And of course, how do we think about God?  These questions that I had from this summer internship will resonate throughout my life. Again, I am very grateful for Candler Advantage program and strongly recommend this opportunity to all colleagues.

- J.Y. (Jaeyong) Song, M.Div.

Jaeyong Song is a rising third year MDiv student from Seoul, South Korea and a traveler here on earth.


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.


May 11 2011

Unique Perspectives for Common Good

A few weeks ago, as the final project in our oral speaking class taught by Dr. Rubin, international students at Candler held a “Mini Symposium.”  The title of this symposium was “International Student Perspectives on Resolving Conflict in and through the Church.”  The presenters in our symposium consisted of six Korean students, including me, and two African students.  We felt wonderful community support from Candler faculty members (Rev. Ellen, Dr. Kraftchick, and Dr. Jenkins) and American students who came to listen to our presentations, and we had a great time sharing unique perspectives based on different social contexts and on resolving conflicts.  One purpose of our class was to enhance our ability of oral speaking in English, but as an international student at Candler, I also learned the importance of my presence at Candler.  Sometimes in my first year, I felt difficulties due to my different cultural aspects and social context from my American classmates.  However, through this symposium, I found that my differences contributed to diversity at Candler, and this diversity can serve to give unique insight to the dominant culture.

The topic of my presentation was a lesson from inter-religious dialogue in the ministry of Rev. Won Yong Kang.  First, I introduced a social conflict raised by some conservative Christian groups in South Korea.  In 2007, Christians Youth Union held a massive prayer gathering for the destruction of Buddhist temples; this gathering caused a serious social conflict among religions in South Korea.  In order to resolve such a conflict among religions, I suggested following the pattern of inter-religious dialogue among six major religions in South Korea like that led by Rev. Won Yong Kang in 1965 as an alternative in relationship among religions. (Rev. Won Yong Kang was a Korean Presbyterian pastor and studied at Union Theological Seminary, so he was greatly influenced by Christian Realism)  Rev. Kang emphasized that believers should transcend the issue of salvation for members of other faiths, because this issue often cause violent behaviors to other religions.  Rev. Kang hoped that through inter-religious dialogue, believers can be more morally and spiritually mature by learning from other religions and serve the common good, especially social justice and peace.  While preparing my presentation, I found that there is a “Christian Dialogue Academy,” which keeps alive the spirit of Rev. Kang’s ministry, and this organization leads inter-religious dialogue to seek the common good. For example, one project involved gathering leaders of various religions to discuss a way to revitalize the rural economy in South Korea.

Even though I could not search all the specific aspects of Rev. Kang’s ministry, I found one possibility to make peace in society as well as among religions. When we consider the relatively short history of Korean Protestantism (about 100 years), Rev. Kang’s leadership is very striking, and his ministry was a prophetic ministry which attempted to give alternatives to the dominant culture (according to Brueggemann’s definition). Social conflict among religions is not a problem of only South Korea.  This issue is prevalent throughout the world, and I am confident that a Korean Pastor’s peaceful and active ministry can be one example for resolving the social conflict.  Similarly, as a Korean student at Candler, I want to keep contributing to Candler’s diversity by introducing unique perspectives based on different social context from American’s.  For me, this contribution is one of best my “joys” at Candler.

-Won Chul Shin

Won Chul is a rising second year MDiv at Candler from South Korea.


Jan 21 2011

Not in Kansas Anymore

Students from all over the world converge at Candler. Each individual brings unique perspectives, passions, and gifts, and Candler offers students boundless opportunities to engage in conversations that generate a passion for further exploration of God’s multi-faceted creation.  When I joined the Candler community it became apparent right away that my theological education would be contextualized by a larger world view; an opportunity with which this small town Kansan was eager to engage.

After arriving at Candler I immediately answered the call to be a conversation partner.  Conversation partners are native English speakers who volunteer to meet with international students once a week.  I was paired with a Korean student who wanted to gain proficiency with his English.  Getting to know Wang has been a highlight of my seminary experience.  Learning about his family, his culture, and how he experiences God has been meaningful and humbling.  It has been meaningful in the sense that he has given me new perspectives into God as a father, a husband, and as a foreigner.  Humbling in the sense that he is very intelligent and has bravely chosen to study theology in English; a difficult enough undertaking in one’s own language.  It is a wonderful gift to me to help him learn to articulate his ideas about life and God in ways that I have never imagined.

One-on-one interactions are not the only way I have interacted with people different than me.  As a class representative on the Candler Coordinating Council, our student governing body, I get to meet with other student leaders on a regular basis to discuss the ways in which we utilize our student funding for programs.  The council also encourages collaboration between organizations and offers several opportunities a year to discuss, in open forum, issues of cultural competency that help our community grow together.

I have also been involved in cross cultural dialog through classes that are cross-listed with other schools at Emory.  Classes with Business, Law, Nursing, and Public Health students have given me the opportunity to hear about issues in the world from a different academic perspective and also to talk about the church in a way that many people often do not experience; one as an active agent for justice.  One of the most fun and intense of the interdisciplinary opportunities available to Candler students is the opportunity to compete in the Global Health Institutes Case competition.  Interdisciplinary teams are formed, given a global health issue and then over a few days analyze, produce, and present a viable solution to the issue.  Not only did I make many friends from other schools, but the lens through which I see issues now incorporates little pieces of their law, health, and entrepreneurial perspectives.

Candler has offered me an authentic world-view-expanding experience. Through individual relationships, participation in Candler student organizations and doing interdisciplinary work, it is clear that I am not in Kansas anymore.  I am looking forward to taking this experience back home so that I can offer a theological lens with a broader world view to the communities I serve.

-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, is a Candler Conversation Partner, and is a member of the Candler Singers.