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.


Sep 13 2013

The Word of God in the Country of Paradox

(For a version of this text in Spanish, see below)

On a sunny morning in a working class neighborhood of Medellín, we set plastic chairs out along the walls of a scrubbed, white-tiled garage. We sit down facing each other around a wooden table decorated with a Bible and flowers. Each Sunday, a handful of dedicated, socially conscious Christians gather here at El Gozo de Dios Methodist Church and try to contextualize the gospel amongst the paradoxes of Colombian society. Theirs is the country of the richest resources and the sharpest inequalities. They enjoy vibrant cultural diversity and are beholden to homogenizing global consumerism. They were ranked last year as the happiest people in the world and they continue to suffer one of the world’s longest, most fragmenting civil wars.

We sit beneath the logo of the Colombian Methodist Church, in which the old familiar cross and flame morph into a dove: the Holy Spirit straining its wings towards peace, in the yellow, red and blue of the Colombian flag. We sing praises over the calls of the mazamorra vendor passing in the street. His wooden cart is full of the thick boiled corn drink that sustains Colombians with the very substance that some of their indigenous ancestors believed that God used to form human beings.

El Gozo worship

Our singing and the mazamorra vendor both compete with the bells of the Catholic Church a few blocks away. Here in the department (equivalent to a state or province) of Antioquía, home of the most picturesque colonial towns and the biggest drug lords, traditionalism reigns and the majority remain Catholic. However, in isolated villages in the coastal regions, the crossfire between guerilla groups, paramilitaries and the military have become so intense that even the Catholic Church has fled. In some of these communities, the Colombian Methodist Church is the only religious and social organization that has had the courage and the faithfulness to accompany populations ravaged by violence, land appropriation and lack of basic amenities, such as health and education.

When we arrive to the reading of the word, we talk first about what we’ve read in the news as part of the “contextual reading” that God is speaking to us that day, and then we read the lectionary texts. Afterwards, someone stands up and gives a sermon, often peppered with interjections from other congregants. One member of the congregation is the internationally renowned feminist Biblical scholar Elsa Tamez; another is an ordained reverend, theologian and former dean of the Latin American Biblical University, José Duque; another is a disabled man named Jorge with garbled speech and incorrigible jokes; another is a 9-year-old girl named Gabriela who directs herself to “lovely little God” when she prays over the offerings every Sunday. All of these voices are given equal space to offer their thoughts during the sermon.

Sari wth logoThe conversational sermons at El Gozo de Dios reflect an even more intentionally democratic method of Christian education called “Popular and Communal Bible Reading,” or in Spanish, Lectura Popular y Comunitaria de la Biblia (LPCB). I immerse myself in an LPCB group on Tuesday nights, up on a little farm in the municipality of La Estrella, which climbs a foothill surrounding Medellín. La Estrella gives the impression of a relaxed, ecologically friendly little town, yet it also seethes beneath the surface with drug trafficking and violent crime. The farm is home to Juan Esteban Londoño, a humble spirit who has sought an alternative to the culture of violence that surrounded him as he grew up in La Estrella, and has become a brilliant theologian, philosopher and goth-metal musician. Juan Esteban and his wife Natalia act as hosts of this space where pastors, musicians, students, hairdressers, blue-collar workers, and high school teachers gather in the crisp mountain air, surrounded by tangerine trees and sleepy dogs who plead for the food we bring to share. We read a text and then the facilitator, usually Juan Esteban himself, uses a series of questions to lead the participants through analyzing the original context and then applying it to their own contexts and lives. This way of reading involves the critical thinking and wisdom of all members to arrive at collective interpretations of the scriptures. Juan Esteban takes notes and sometimes he synthesizes our theological reflections and publishes them in his blog: teologiaunderground.blogspot.com.

FarmA large part of the work I did in Colombia over this summer was furthering the practice of LPCB and others processes of social and spiritual formation. Thanks to a Candler Advantage grant, I was able to immerse myself in this work and gain invaluable insights into the connection between Christian education and social transformation in the local church. I was inspired by the work of the local church and LPCB groups to bring the challenges facing their society to the light of God’s word. The difficulty, as I have found in progressive churches in the US, is that we often discuss and discern how things ought to be, without actually translating our discoveries into transformative actions. But one of the most important things I learned is that translating education into action is a gradual process, much more gradual than an intensive ten-week internship. Therefore, during this semester off, I have chosen to continue living in Colombia so that I can witness the gradual growth of the Kingdom of God in this beautifully paradoxical place.

—Sari Brown

Sari Brown is a third-year MDiv student at Candler. A native of Michigan, Sari majored in anthropology and religion at Marlboro College in Vermont, and has carried out anthropological research and mission work in Bolivia. Through the Candler Advantage program, she served the Colombian Methodist Church for a ten-week internship. Next year she will be studying abroad in São Paulo, Brazil through the Luce Program, where she plans to work in ministry with Bolivian immigrants.

 

Versión en español: La palabra de Dios en el país de paradoja

En una mañana soleada de un barrio de la clase trabajadora en Medellín, ponemos sillas de plástico contra las paredes en un garaje bien aseado de baldosa blanca. Nos sentamos cara a cara, alrededor de una mesa decorada con una Biblia y flores. Cada domingo, unos cuantos dedicados cristianos de consciencia social se reúnen aquí en la Iglesia Metodista El Gozo de Dios y tratan de contextualizar el evangelio en medio de las paradojas de la sociedad colombiana. Su país es el de los recursos más ricos y las desigualdades más marcadas. Gozan de vibrante diversidad cultural y se someten al consumismo global homogenizadora. Fueron calificados el año pasado de la gente más feliz del mundo y siguen sufriendo una de las guerras civiles más largas y divisivas del mundo.

Nos sentamos bajo el logotipo de la Iglesia Colombiana Metodista, en la que la conocida cruz y llama se transforma en una paloma: el Espíritu Santo estirando sus alas hacia la paz, en el amarillo, el rojo y el azul de la bandera colombiana. Cantamos alabanzas sobre las llamadas del vendedor de mazamorra que pasa por la calle. Su carreta de madera está llena de la bebida espesa de maíz que sostiene a los colombianos con la misma sustancia que algunos de sus ancestros indígenas creían que Dios utilizó para formar los seres humanos.

Tanto nuestro canto como el vendedor de mazamorra compiten con las campanas de la Iglesia Católica a un par de cuadras de nosotros. Aquí en el departamento de Antioquia, hogar de los pueblos coloniales más pintorescos y los narcotraficantes más grandes, el tradicionalismo reina y la mayoría sigue siendo católica. Sin embargo, en pueblos aislados de las regiones costales, el cruce de fuego entre la guerrilla, los paramilitares y los militares se intensificó a tal punto que hasta la Iglesia Católico huyó. En muchas de estas comunidades, la Iglesia Colombiana Metodista es la única organización religiosa y social que ha tenido la valentía y fidelidad para acompañar a poblaciones acosadas por violencia, apropiación de tierras, y falta de necesidades básicas, como la salud y la educación.

Al llegar a la lectura de la palabra, hablamos primero de lo que hemos leído en las noticias como parte de la “lectura contextual” que Dios nos está hablando en este día, y luego leemos los textos del leccionario. Después, alguien se para y da la predicación, lo que resulta muchas veces intercalada con interrupciones de otros congregantes. Un miembro de la iglesia es la biblista feminista de renombre internacional, Elsa Tamez; otro es un reverendo ordenado, teólogo y decano anterior de la Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana, José Duque; otro es un hombre discapacitado llamado Jorge con una forma de hablar borrosa y chistes incansables; otro es una niña de 9 años llamada Gabriela que se dirige a “Diosito lindo” cuando ora por las ofrendas cada domingo. A todas estas voces se les otorga espacio igual para ofrecer sus pensamientos durante la prédica.

Las prédicas conversacionales en El Gozo de Dios reflejan un método de educación cristiana todavía más democrático, denominado “Lectura Popular y Comunitaria de la Biblia (LPCB). Participo en un grupo de LPCB los martes por la noche, en una pequeña finca en el municipio de La Estrella, que se encuentra subiendo un cerro de los alrededores de Medellín. La Estrella aparenta ser un pueblito tranquilo y ecológico, pero a la misma vez se agita bajo la superficie con narcotráfico y crimen violento. La finca es el hogar de Juan Esteban Londoño, un hombre de espíritu humilde que ha buscado una alternativa a la cultura de violencia que le rodeaba desde su nacimiento en La Estrella, y se ha convertido en un brillante teólogo, filósofo, y músico de metal gótico. Juan Esteban y su esposa Natalia son los anfitriones de este espacio donde pastores, músicos, estudiantes, estilistas, trabajadores, y profesores del colegio se reúnen en el aire fresco de montaña, rodeados por mandarinos y perros soñolientos que nos ruegan la comida que traemos para compartir. Leemos un texto y después el facilitador, normalmente el mismo Juan Esteban, utiliza una serie de preguntas para guiar a los participantes por el proceso de analizar el contexto original y después aplicarlo a nuestros propios contextos y vidas. Esta forma de leer conlleva el pensamiento crítico y la sabiduría de todos los miembros del grupo para sacar interpretaciones colectivas de las escrituras. Juan Esteban toma notas y a veces sintetiza nuestras reflexiones teológicas y las publica en su blog: teologiaunderground.blogspot.com.

Gran parte del trabajo que hice en Colombia durante este verano fue desarrollar la práctica de LPCB y otros procesos de formación espiritual y social. Gracias a un beca de Candler Advantage, pude dedicarme por completo a este trabajo y sacar entendimientos inestimables de la conexión entre la educación cristiana y la transformación social en la iglesia local. Me inspiraban la iglesia local y los grupos de LPCB en su esfuerzo por considerar los desafíos que se presentan a su sociedad a la luz de la palabra de Dios. Lo difícil, como he visto también en iglesias progresistas de los EEUU, es que muchas veces discutimos y discernimos cómo las cosas deben ser, sin verdaderamente convertir nuestros descubrimientos en acciones transformativas. Pero una de las cosas más importantes que aprendí es que convertir la educación en acción es un proceso paulatino, mucho más paulatino que una pasantía intensiva de dos semanas. Por lo tanto, durante este semestre libre, elegí seguir viviendo en Colombia para poder presenciar el crecimiento paulatino del reino de Dios en este lugar hermosamente paradójico.

—Sari Brown

Sari Brown es una estudiante en su tercer año del programa de Maestría de Divinidad en Candler. Oriunda de Michigan, Sari estudió antropología y religión en Marlboro College en Vermont, y ha realizado investigación antropológica y trabajo de misionera en Bolivia. A través del programa Candler Advantage, sirvió a la Iglesia Colombiana Metodista en una pasantía de diez semanas. El próximo año estudiará en extranjero en São Paulo, Brasil a través del Luce Program, donde piensa obrar en ministerios con inmigrantes bolivianos.


Aug 27 2013

Something Interesting

“Tell us your name, and something interesting you did this summer,” instructed my August term professor on our first day of class. I had encountered the all too familiar first day of class introduction cue numerous times, but this time it was different. Unlike previous first days, I did not have to work very hard to conjure up interesting or exciting memories from a less than exciting summer. Considering the time constraints of the brief introductions, I asked myself, “Which one should I choose?”

I will never forget Summer 2013. My mind, ministry, and imagination were stretched like never before. For three weeks, I traveled with the Middle East Travel Seminar (METS) to Israel, Jordan, and Greece.  Although I had traveled abroad prior to METS, exploring the lands and cultures that shaped Judaism and Christianity was more enriching than any previous travel. My time traveling with METS was filled with unforgettable moments including dancing with Bedouins in a desert camp, leading an international group of Christians in song in Jerusalem, and standing atop Mt. Nebo with a breathtaking view of the Promised Land. Without doubt, these details would have made an interesting introduction.

Mario at Parthenon

Following METS, I was privileged to teach a Bible and Leadership class at Camp Summer Hope hosted by Emmaus House Episcopal Church in Atlanta’s Peoplestown. This would have been a fitting introduction for the class: Teaching the Bible. I could have shared with my classmates some of the challenges of teaching the Bible, and anything else for that matter, to grades 3-5. Teaching in an urban classroom after METS grounded me in real ministry “lest I should be exalted beyond measure.” After attempting to share the Good News with a group of middle schoolers, who some most days couldn’t care less, I could tell my classmates how I was reminded of God’s grace and patience in my own life.

I could also share my experiences working with Candler’s own Dr. Greg Ellison. My small group, led by Dr. Ellison, planned and hosted a community conversation on ways every citizen can address the issues facing young black males. The event, held at Candler, featured music, group discussions, and Dr. Ellison’s stirring call to action. A careful blend of tent revival and community forum, the event provided for me a model of ministry with a social conscience.  (For more about “Fearless Dialogues” click here.)

While my classmates and other people that I will meet may not have the time or patience for me to elaborate on all the details of this transformative summer, I am certain that its effects will be evident in how I minister, the ways I engage my community, and in how I view myself in the world.

–Mario Stephens

Mario Stephens, a native Atlantan, is a third-year MDiv student at the Candler School of Theology. Mario is a graduate of Morehouse College. He currently serves as interim pastor of New Generation Baptist Church.

Photo captions: Mario on Nebo (top right); At the Parthenon (middle left).


Jun 18 2013

Belfast: Community Split, Community Shared

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 have been serving here for a month. The words seem strange to me as I utter them, and as I realize that I have been here in Belfast, Northern Ireland for nearly half of my time given to working with this congregation. Through Candler Advantage I’ve gotten the opportunity to spend 10 weeks with Skainos and the congregation of East Belfast Mission (and reaching beyond).

the squareThis place is unique. As a Methodist Mission it is the umbrella organization that encompasses Hosford House transitional housing, Stepping Stone employment guidance and training, Compass community and family outreach, the East Belfast Mission Congregation, Re:Fresh Café social economy café, and countless Re:Stores and charity shops around the city of Belfast. This place is also unique in that it is housed in a new building and the new Skainos Square, which is focused on the idea of shared space. With architecture based on the vision of the tent of meeting, there are apartments, classrooms, offices for other organizations such as Tearfund, AgeNI and New Life Counseling, a dance studio, a sports hall, roof terraces and vertical gardens, and plenty of space for use by anyone who needs it.

Now, this idea of sharing is unique because it is very unconventional here in Northern Ireland. So…some history…Northern Ireland is still in the peace process that began with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that marks the end of the ethno-national conflict that is well known as “The Troubles” that took place from 1969-1998. This conflict was political with religious undertones, based simply in the idea of nationality. The Protestant Unionist Loyalists and the Catholic Nationalist Republicans had different ideas of whether the country of Northern Ireland should be Irish or British. Paramilitary groups of the IRA, INLA, IPLO, CIRA, RIRA, UVF, UDA, RHC, UR, and LVF fought each other with car bombs, petrol bombs, guns, fire, and even rocks and bricks. With over 3,000 deaths and approximately 47,000 injured throughout the near 30 years of conflict, many scars were left in the community…particularly here in Belfast.

Now that’s the history, but here’s the present: today there are “peace lines” that run through pieces of Belfast, separating the Protestant Loyalist and Catholic Nationalist neighborhoods. These are walls resembling the peace walls separating Israel and Palestine. I look out my office window and see Union Jacks and 1913 UVF Flags (Ulster Volunteer Force) flying. I am in UVF territory. Murals are on nearly every corner. The one directly to my right under those flags says “We owe it to the future and the victims never to forget the past.” A few streets down there is a UVF mural of two men in balaclavas poised to shoot, with the statement “We seek nothing but the elementary right implemented in every man: the right if you are attacked to defend yourself.” The whole city is filled with murals, ranging from peaceful and celebrating Belfast to violent imagery. You become conditioned to seeing them and walking straight past each day. The mentality that exists here is still separate and unequal. Each side believes the other has something they don’t, and the peace process is difficult. But the thing is, you can walk into town, go into Victoria Square and not know the difference from one person to another. There is no visible difference between the parties, they are the same, but have different political and religious leanings. It is when one party begins to march, to protest, or to riot that you can see the tension that underlies the everyday life of all these people who look the same.

Part of the ministry and mission here at Skainos and East Belfast Mission is to be a safe space for all walks of life and every part of the political and religious spectrum. This is to be neutral ground. With this mentality, the building is host to Irish Language Classes. Nearly every day of the week, members of the community come to learn the language of their heritage, the language that is readily seen in Catholic communities, and the language that I now know very few verbs in…and I can only tell you things I did in the past tense. The building is also host to children and youth from the community, home to FridayFusion for primary aged children and Drop-In on Wednesday and Friday nights for the teenagers of the community. Women’s Group combines with a women’s group from a local Catholic church, and kidzGAP is a safe space for moms and tots from the community (and a few dads). The outreach programming here is endless. While I participate and help with a handful of these, I realize the congregation of East Belfast Mission is far beyond the group that meets for church on Sunday morning, but is rather the entire community of East Belfast, and every person that comes through this building and can feel the effects of its ministries.

But for that congregation that does meet on Sunday mornings, the transition into Skainos Square has been a difficult one, sacrificing the old church building, making shared space a necessity, and creating some insecurity about ownership of the church within this space. Part of my job as a response to this is to administer a congregational survey that seeks to hear from every voice of the congregation, understanding how they feel in this place and what can be done in the next year to help with the process of settling in. This is a big undertaking in the final 5 weeks of my time here, but I have become a part of the congregation and I am invested in letting each one of them understand that their voice matters and is important. This is the body of Christ, feeling the pains of change and transition, feeling the pains of trying to be open and accepting in a city that is so divided. And even while the body may be feeling some growing pains, this does not deflate the meaning of 1 Corinthians 12:14-31. Each person making up the fuller body of Christ plays an important role, and I am working to empower this congregation in the knowledge that their roles are truly important.

This is a difficult task, but as the G8 summit meets here in Northern Ireland this week, and Obama has given the youth of Northern Ireland the message to keep up hope and to keep reminding everyone that this place is dedicated to peace, we can look hopefully toward the future for the congregation, for Skainos and East Belfast Mission, for Belfast, and for the country of Northern Ireland.

Thanks to Candler Advantage I am able to be in this place and see how communities can react to the ideas of sharing space and embracing change and peace. I look to my third year at Candler hopeful that I can bring my experiences back and look at community development in the United States with a new perspective and vision. Until then, and until I’m back in Hot-lanta in August, cheers!

–Carrie Harris

Carrie is a rising third year MDiv student at Candler. Read more about her summer experience with Candler Advantage in Belfast at her blog: www.carrieisbelfastbound.blogspot.com


May 17 2013

More than a Shepherd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Karl Kroger

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


Sep 5 2012

If Only To Be, More Fully

Mat and students at Wesley Resource CenterWhen I am asked the question, “What did you do this summer?” most people laugh when I reply, “I served churches in the Bahamas.” They want to know how the beaches were (pristine) and the water (crystal clear), but those topics only have so much depth. Pastoring in paradise presents challenges to the budding minister on all fronts. This summer I worked with Rev. John Baldwin 09T 10T, overseeing five churches on three different islands, building a Family Resource Center with the help of youth mission teams, and being present in the five different communities we served. I learned that with the right outlook and the proper orientation, one begins to see how God has been moving and is moving throughout a community.

Before coming to the Bahamas, I had had nominal experience with the Black church. I knew that this would be a difficult transition—which it certainly was—but I had no idea that it would be so transformative.

In the first week I preached three times, led a bible study, tore out a wall in our house (intentionally), and attended the funeral for a matriarch of the community. The quick pace forced me to keep up. I thought to myself, “When do I get a Sabbath rest?” Ha! I soon realized that you can take a break, but when you come back, the action has not slowed down, only become backlogged.

I learned the meaning of “concentrated rest.” In what will be the first of two plugs for Dr. Gregory Ellison II, Dr. Ellison preached a sermon last year around midterms. With the papers due and the exams approaching, taking a Sabbath would have been both wise and unrealistic. So Dr. Ellison instead encouraged us to take “concentrated rest.” To take time where you focus on your health—spiritually, emotionally, physically—knowing that that period of rest will be short-lived. While I could not take a full day off in the Bahamas, I learned to practice “concentrated rest” in my morning and evening time. Mornings became a time of preparation, not requiring much energy, but rather like the sprinter pausing on the blocks before the sound of the gun. Likewise, my evenings became a time of rest as John and I debriefed on our day.

This personal transformation in my private life began manifesting in my public life. My practices of rest at home gave me energy and clear vision when I went out into community. Dr. Ellison said in Pastoral Care, “Once you see, you cannot not see.” My eyes began opening to the unique needs within the communities I served.

I saw that young children needed safe places where they could come to get away from abusive or unsafe home lives. The Family Resource Center will go a long way towards addressing those issues, but in the time leading up to its completion, I knew that I needed to be present among the youth and children in the community who had few advocates. In response, John and I opened our house to any kid who needed a place to escape. We also went around the community often checking in on the children and youth. As the future of the community, they need care and support.

It is often said, “Ministry occurs often at the intersection of the head and the heart.” I want to suggest that ministry comes alive as the pastor becomes a more fully integrated, authentic person. As my hands, head, heart, eyes, and ears all begin working together, I began to open myself up to a community, able to bring my whole self to serve them.

- Mat Hotho

Mat is a second year MDiv student and a graduate of Florida Southern College.  He served as this year’s Bahamas Summer Intern – a program that sends a Candler student to the Bahamas Annual Conference each summer.


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.


Jun 3 2011

Exploring the World’s Parish: An Indonesian Journey

The journeys God takes us on, and the unexpected pit stops along the way, are rarely ever dull, and rarer still are they purposeless. My recent trip to Indonesia with the World Methodist Evangelism Institute reminded me of this. Traveling with four fellow students, Candler professor Dr. Arun Jones, and a stellar team of Institute staff and volunteers, I spent ten days in capital city Jakarta learning about Christianity and ministry in the South Asian context. This was more than just an educational endeavor, however. In the truest sense of the word, travel itself is a process of self-refinement and personal growth.

This process began for me before we ever left Atlanta. I struggled with the conflicting desires of wanting to break out of my ordinary routine and wanting to stay safely within it. School had just ended for the summer and I craved the freedom of lazy evenings, fiction novels, and movie marathons. Instead, I was packing my bags for a seminar halfway across the world. A strange blend of emotions churned within me: the longing for adventure and new experiences mixed with an unsettling anxiety about traveling such a great distance and stepping so far outside my comfort zone.

Indonesia is about as far away in the world from Atlanta as you can go. However, after disembarking in Jakarta and spending ten days there, I came to discover that, in some ways, Indonesia is not so different from our fair southern state. In Indonesia, the air is just as heavy with humidity, the tea is just as sweet (though served piping hot!) and the hospitality is warm and welcoming. Our hosts made us feel right at home, even many thousands of miles away. For example, our host mother made us hamburgers and French fries for breakfast one morning! She also gifted one of us with a package of Kraft singles after he mused that he had been missing cheese. These seemingly small and somewhat quirky gifts of hospitality that brought a piece of America to Indonesia warmed our hearts as much as our later gifts of handmade traditional shawls that assured we would bring something of Indonesia back to America.

Many of my anxieties crumbled in the face of the overwhelming hospitality of my new Indonesian friends. What was left of my defenses toppled as I heard more and more ministry stories from local church leaders. There was the pastor who had baptized a young woman from a Muslim family who now has to mediate between her and her displeased father. Then there was the woman who is pastoring in an area devastated by a recent volcanic explosion; she loves and cares for her neighbors (physically and spiritually) without expecting anything in return. There was also the passionate young pastor with a skill for church planting who has his sights set next on the province of Papua. The challenges facing Indonesian pastors seem daunting to American Christians whose greatest fears in evangelism are embarrassment and rejection; Indonesian Christians work within a majority Muslim context in which Christianity is still considered taboo from its colonial associations. Yet these Methodist pastors are filled with God’s fire and minister to their communities with a zeal that would make John Wesley proud.

Before we left Atlanta, our group was asked to share what our greatest expectation was for the trip—our purpose in going. My answer was that, as an aspiring United Methodist minister, I have a responsibility to engage myself in the work of the global church. No Methodist pastor is an island, to borrow from Donne, and our connectional ties should extend beyond annual conference lines. To be a Methodist minister anywhere implies a bond with Methodist ministers everywhere. The struggles and triumphs of my Indonesian brothers and sisters should be mine, and mine theirs. I found this to be overwhelmingly the case; my greatest teachers were the pastors in my Wesley group (a small group of intimate sharing and accountability) during the seminar. They candidly shared the stories of their ministries and exposed their own vulnerabilities and challenges. Not only will I always remember them in my prayers, but I will remember them also during my studies of preparation for ministry. They are my ‘on-the-ground’ teachers, the ones who have shown me what passion for ministry looks like.

There are great things happening in Indonesia. And it is amazing how God can use a powerful tide of faith in a distant country to impact the singular faith journey of this one seminary student. With one more year of school before me and the looming question of “what’s next?” pressing ever closer, there are as many challenging months before me as there are behind. But I have been renewed in the living remembrance of what ministry is all about: living a passionate, infectious life of discipleship. It has taken a journey away from the familiarity of home to show me how to renew the faithfulness of my life and service. Our home environments can easily become all too comfortable so that even the most stretching of callings—that of the pastor—can ease into dull routine and habit. I thank God for the education that takes us outside of ourselves and shows us the bigger picture in which and towards which we are working: the very kingdom of God on earth.

-Whitney Pierce

Whitney is a 3rd year MDiv student from North Carolina and a regular contributor to the Beatitudes Society blog.


Apr 15 2011

The Seminary Experience

With two weeks to go, my time as a first-year seminarian is almost complete. Like every other academic year, the exams and papers have whirled by and the summer welcomes my return. But this year has been different, and it deserves some reflection.

When I applied to seminary, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but hoped that my role as a minister and person of faith would be clarified simply by applying – as though seminary would be some kind of all-knowing crystal ball. What a funny thought.

At the time, I was living in France, teaching English to French students and traveling to new locales every other week. The two years prior had been spent in coastal Mississippi, teaching 9th-12th graders History, Government/Economics, and Geography and coaching Track and Cross Country. On top of teaching, I had spent two summers in South Bend, IN participating in an intensive summer-long graduate program. By the end of May 2009, I was exhausted and in need of sleep and self-care. France had become not just an opportunity for adventure, but also a respite from the exhaustion that comes with teaching in the United States.

After four months of relaxation, I became restless. Sure the 12-hour work week was nice, and I loved each of the bakeries lining our small community’s streets, but I needed a challenge. So I applied to seminary.

When August rolled around, I couldn’t contain myself. Eager to meet my classmates, and even more excited to dive into my studies, I began Contextual Education at Metro State Prison as an intern prison chaplain four hours a week, I enrolled in classes, and  immediately connected with people in my advising group. Life was perfect.

It wasn’t until October that I started panicking. In the middle of writing a paper for Old Testament, my knees started to buckle. “What am I doing here? I don’t even like this stuff!” “Ugh, I hate writing this paper. I mean, I’m not even going to be ordained!” When my boyfriend looked at me and said, “You don’t really seem to be enjoying what you’re learning,” I thought “Oh, crap. I think you might be right.”

After that, I started to look for an exit plan. I made a pros and cons list. I talked to my sister, my mom, and my cousin. I cried to my boyfriend. I prayed, sort of.

Gritting my teeth, I entered January term with uncertainty. Not only was I uncomfortable, but I felt strange. I’d always been the person to say, “Grow where you’re planted,” and here I was trying my hardest to avoid my commitment to seminary. I was scared about what others might think, worried about what it would mean if I left, and mad that I had made a poor decision. Most of my questions ended with the question all of us ask as some point or another, “Do you even know who you are?”

My existential crisis did not end with one decisive event. Instead, it morphed into a process of discovery in which I started to examine more closely the elements of seminary that had made me most uncomfortable. What I realized is that I had been sitting in an Old Testament classroom discussing the significance of the three worlds of biblical interpretation, redaction theory, and exegesis, but I didn’t have the faintest clue what any of those things meant. I had spent every Friday working in the lock-down ward of a women’s prison, speaking to women through a rectangular flap in the door and feeling exhausted by and disenchanted with our justice system. I had absorbed myself in research about the American sex industry and the ways in which pastors can help care for all persons involved in such forms of entertainment. I missed teaching so badly, that I blamed seminary for robbing me of my gifts and talents. And lastly, I struggled to establish for myself a place in which I could foster my artistic side and produce creative projects. It seemed that I had become so overwhelmed that I couldn’t see the proverbial forest through the trees.

When I awoke to this realization, I was able to see seminary for what it is: a place in which human beings come to learn, grow, and be challenged in the name of God. It’s not about earning a formal degree or a collar so that you can become a minister in a church someday. If it is, you’ll probably burn out pretty quickly. It’s not about having all your ducks in the row. If it is, you’re in for a messy surprise (see: Job). It’s not about loving every single service experience, every single lecture, or even every book of the Bible. If it is, you are a better person than me. It’s not about being holier than thou or about power. If it is, we’ve lost Christ in the midst of it all. And, it’s not about always being comfortable, always knowing what it means to be a minister, or always liking what you’re doing. If it is, no one would last. Instead, it’s about journeying alongside other creatures of God who seek to discover new ways of conceiving of the Divine, communing with the cosmos, and living into the fullness of Life. We seminarians do this not because we think we have the answers or because talking to others about God is easy or even always natural, but because we know that our lives are sustained and enriched by union with the Most Gracious.

If you’re contemplating seminary, I’d encourage you to pursue the journey. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. If you’re a current student, I appreciate your presence, thank you for your endurance, and admire you for your voice. If you’re a graduate of seminary, I pray that the three years you spent at Candler continue to challenge you and inspire you for the rest of your ministry on this earth.

I have no doubt Candler was the right choice for me, even if there are days I wish it were otherwise. Not only has it shaken me, but it has also grounded me and changed me for the better. And, when all is said and done, there is not much more I could ask for in a seminary.

Amen.

- Jacqueline Jeffcoat

Jacqueline is a 1st year MDiv student from Fort Worth, Texas and a Student Ambassador.


Nov 5 2010

Candler Class of 2011: Reflections on a Global Education

Maria in MexicoSome call it wanderlust. Others tell me it’s the result of growing up in a small town. My parents’ conclusion is that they let me watch the Travel Channel one too many hours as a child. Whatever the reason, I’ve never been able to sit still for long. Whether it’s backpacking across Zimbabwe, studying Ancient Christianity in Greece, or even just climbing on my bike to get out of town (and into some of the amazing trail rides outside of Atlanta), I’m usually found wherever the rubber meets the road.

During my undergraduate years, I learned how to put my thirst for travel to good use. I felt a strong desire to seek an education influenced by classroom learning and on the ground experience. Beginning my freshman year, I came to understand academia not as an ivory tower set apart from the world, but as the ivory composing the tusks of the elephants that live as part of our world. I traveled to Mozambique, Turkey, Ireland, and other locales, seeking practical application for all that I was learning. In the process, I met people who challenged me to speak, think, and care in diverse and life-giving ways.

View from MozambiqueWhen I decided to apply for divinity schools, my number one priority was finding a university where education wasn’t limited to the classroom. I looked at many places that viewed theology as an integral aspect of a global community, but Candler stood out as a place already engaged in the world even from its home space. Atlanta is a city where global NGOs converge with refugee communities, where church is not limited to local neighborhood, and where a school of theology utilizes the international perspectives all around it. Because of these reasons and more, Candler became the obvious choice.

Moving through AustraliaTwo and a half years later, I enter my last semester of divinity school having spent almost as much time inside the classroom as outside of it. Hours of contextual education in a women’s prison, three and a half months of the summer working for a development organization in Africa, two weeks at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Australia, and an additional summer in Mexico are all opportunities that were made possible to me because the faculty, staff, and students at Candler believe that education is at its best when it is inclusive of global perspectives. Thanks to Candler, I am equipped for leadership in the real world, and it feels bittersweet to be preparing to leave an institution that has supported my passion for a global education.

- Maria Presley

Maria is a 3rd year MDiv student from Mississippi and a Student Ambassador.