May 3 2013

At Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Jon Chapman

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


Apr 26 2013

The Space Between Glory and Agony

Will singing at Christmas serviceMy time spent sitting in the hallways of Candler discussing idyllic images of ministry in The United Methodist Church seems a world away. Things such as church council, SPR, itinerancy, district superintendents, and Annual Conference always seem to work like clockwork as instruments of God’s hands in the world within the walls of the theological institution. When I walked into my office on June 20, 2012, and hung my beautifully framed Master of Divinity diploma over my desk, I knew that these attitudes regarding the United Methodist “system” were sound.

Now is probably the point where one might assume that I am about to rip the system to shreds and talk about how denominations and the UMC are broken organizations that can’t effectively minister in the world. I cannot and will not do this. My calling is to effectively live into ministry as a pastor in The United Methodist Church, and I believe strongly that there is much life in the pastors and faith communities across our connection. What I have found, though, is a sense of realism that I lacked during my time at Candler.

When I walked into my office for the first time in June I was walking into my position as the associate pastor at one of the larger churches in my Annual Conference. In a short time I began to grow to love the people of the church, to work well with the staff, and to develop a healthy relationship with my senior pastor. I saw good stuff happening in the halls of our church on a weekly basis.

My whole system and world in ministry abruptly changed when my senior pastor was placed on leave one week prior to Christmas. I am still processing all of this, but, in essence, the bishop felt as if my senior pastor could be more effective as a pastor if he took continuing education leave and received a new appointment at the next Annual Conference. It is hard on a church when they lose their senior pastor, and, as you can imagine, it is incredibly difficult when this loss happens a week before Christmas.

Over the past several months I have been working closely with my district superintendent and part time interim senior pastor. I have learned much from both of these men as they have faithfully worked to bring healing and transformation in the midst of a difficult situation. Because of this interesting pastoral change, I have taken on much more responsibilities, worked longer hours, and have learned more in four months than I could have hoped to learn in four years.

Through these past few months at times it was easy to blame “the system” for some tough ministry situations, but I have also found that ministry is not the system. The denomination does not work as smoothly as I imagined it did while I was at Candler, but this is not something that has brought me into a sea of cynicism about church organization. Instead, what I have found is that the conference leadership is composed of faithful people with names like Joe and Richard and David and Mary Virginia and Mike. These people are not their positions, but they are working to faithfully minister through their positions in the same way that I am.

As we discussed this almost sacrosanct denominational structure from the halls of Candler I did not have the entire picture. The structure is important, but structure is comprised of names and faces that have families, and therein is the realism. Nothing is perfect, but I am now colleagues with these people and we are all working faithfully to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

During my first semester at Candler I had the privilege of taking one of the final Methodist history courses taught by Russell Richey. In talking about the “machinery” of the denomination, Dr. Richey said that “American Methodists have gloried and agonized [it], from the very beginning.” I am finding that the true value in the Church and life within The United Methodist Church comes in the space between glorifying and agonizing. It is easy for seminarians to glorify our structures (or other ideals) and it is equally as easy for clergy to agonize over the realities of our denomination, but I am finding that real ministry and real life change happens in the space between. It happens in the relationships we have with others in our congregations, with other pastors, district superintendents, and bishops. This is the contextual piece that I learned at Candler. Theology, Biblical scholarship, and polity are incredibly important, but only when they inform our relationships and help to strengthen our love of God and neighbor, that is, after all, the telos of faith.

- Will Conner

Will is the associate pastor at Ooltewah United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, TN and a 2012 graduate of Candler.  As a student Will participated in the Candler Advantage program and wrote about that experience here.


Apr 19 2013

Getting Dirty with Theology

Krista transplantingI recently spoke at my former high school’s chapel service on the topic of vocation and faith. I started the chapel by showing the students my e-mail signature lines of recent years. A year ago at this time, I would have signed my e-mail as: Krista Showalter Ehst, MDiv student, Candler School of Theology. Right now, I sign my business e-mails as: Krista Showalter Ehst, Farmer, Valley Run CSA. Quite the jump, right?

Those high schoolers, as well as many other folks who learn about my recent transition may wonder—what’s the connection? Three years of theological education and then…farming?

I’ll admit it. Sometimes when I’m feeding our pigs or collecting eggs, Candler’s classrooms seem a world away. But I don’t, in fact, think that these two pieces of my journey are disjointed. When I consider the recent shift from theological education to farming, I often remember Dean Love’s words at my Candler orientation– “we are,” she reminded us, “called to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.” She went on to challenge us to consider the next three years as an opportunity to love and worship God with our minds.  That framework was helpful for my time at Candler, and it’s continued to be helpful in the current season of my life. While farming, I have the chance to worship God with my strength; with the work of my hands and of my body.

Of course, as a good non-dualist, I hope that the activity of my mind and body are connected. While at Candler, in fact, I began to discover the intersections between theology/ministry/biblical studies and the hands-on tasks of caring for our landscapes. Reading Ellen Davis’ Scripture, Culture, Agriculture in Dr. Strawn’s OT class; working on a gardening curriculum for Georgia Interfaith Power & Light during my Candler Advantage experience; taking a directed study with Dr. Ayres on Religious Ed. and Ecology; exploring my tradition’s relationship to rural identity and agriculture through my thesis paper. Each of these experiences helped me to discover that the world of Christian ministry and theological studies need not exclude my passions for sustainable farming and food justice.

But now I’m out of the classroom and into the time of weaving these worlds together on a daily basis. It’s not always easy. Now that I’m away from the context of engaged students, provocative lectures, and assigned readings, it is harder to find folks who share and support my passions. Now that I’m away from the resources of summer internships and an academic community, it’s more of a challenge to explore creative vocational pursuits.

There was a part of me that hoped that by the time I left Candler, all my vocational aspirations would crystallize and come together in some ideal job. For me at least, it’s proving to be much more of a process. I’m farming now. And some days, farming seems totally unrelated to my Candler classes. Other days, the weaving together happens. Sometimes in more explicit ways: when I serve on the board of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light or advise the Mennonite World Conference planning team on how they can make the gathering more “green;” or when I work with a local church to plan a week-long “Peace and the Earth” camp. Other times, it’s in less obvious ways—attempting to nurture the diversity of the Genesis 1 creation poem by cultivating a small, interdependent and diverse farm. Attempting to heed the prophetic call to feed the orphan and the widow and the poor by offering a sliding scale program through our CSA. And then other days, the weaving together happens in dreams—dreaming of the farm as a site for youth and adults to consider their Christian discipleship through the lens of their relationship to land; dreaming of the farm as a site where our local community can find both physical and spiritual nourishment.

For now, though, morning chores beckon and I must go tend to those chickens and pigs. The journey has not been an obvious one. It has not been easy. But I am trying to trust that God is in all facets of the journey, weaving them together in her mysterious ways. And I’m trying to find ways of continuing to cultivate the love of God with all of my being—heart, mind, soul and strength.

- Krista Showalter Ehst

Krista is a 2012 graduate of the Candler School of Theology and is currently a farmer in Pennsylvania.  In addition, she serves on the board of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light and acts as an adviser to the Mennonite World Conference planning team.


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.


Mar 22 2013

A Purpose in the Wrestling

Jacob Wrestles an Angel

Detail of “A Visit” by John August Swanson

The time is drawing nigh.

In just a few weeks we will be bringing to an end our destined journey together.

As these days and weeks sail by, my colleagues and I, well at least some of us, are giving much thought to what’s next.

Many of us are thinking about who we will be once we leave this place. Many of us appear to have it all figured out.

Some of us have plans to go back into the workforce. Some will be leading parishes or parish ministries. Some of us, like myself, will be going into another year of MORE school.

Much of it, these decisions of what is next or what we will be doing next, are centered around this idea of purpose.

What is my purpose? Who am I? Why am I here? What is my gift?

These questions are, to some extent, unavoidable. And recently, these questions were the centering focus of a session in our Howard Thurman course.

They are difficult questions to answer. To an extent, they are overwhelming and intimidating questions to answer. And why wouldn’t they be? We did come here, to this place called the Candler School of Theology to get some clarity, right?

During the session, our guest lecturer, Dr. Gregory Ellison, had us consider these questions in small groups with others. It was what he calls a laboratory experience. The experiment, as I will label it, was not necessarily for us to find any answers, but for us to at least engage them. We were instructed to wrestle, seek and question. But not one time were we instructed to answer them.

In my searching, I had an epiphany.

The story of Jacob comes to mind when considering this process of wrestling. In the 32 chapter of book of Genesis we find Jacob in a series of conundrums. I have always found this story of Jacob to be intriguing because of its imagery and storyline.

He is running, hiding, moving possessions and family and dealing with the result of some choices – he is dealing with life. And eventually he comes across this individual. Different translations say it’s a man. Some say it’s an angel. Some say the individual is God. What is shared by all of the translations is that a wrestling match takes place between the two; Jacob will not let go of the “entity” without a blessing; and then his name is changed.

Jacob walks away from the situation changed. After some wrestling – and determination – he has been changed, made new. He has a new name, but not only that he has this limp. Now, some have come to consider the limp as an impediment. But I consider the limp to be more of a testament. The limp is a lifelong reminder of the experience and how he has overcome.

Now, you may be wondering what any of this means and the point I am trying to make. It is actually quite simple. Dr. Ellison pointed something out in our wrestling with the questions he posed to us on this Thursday, during a session of our Howard Thurman course. And it is something that I believe regarding this story of Jacob, now known as Israel.

There is a purpose in the wrestling.

As my colleagues and I approach the final days of our time here at Candler, we have wrestled and are continuing to wrestle with a vast array of questions. Who are we? Why are we here? What is our purpose?

They are all questions we have come into contact with and I suspect we should continue to come into contact with; and rightfully so, right? But in the wrestling we are changed; we are made different from the experience. And once we are done wrestling with one thing, God blesses us in God’s own way. The blessings may come in the form of epiphany. The blessings may come in the form of answers and greater clarity on the journeys we have embarked.

And there will be scars along the way, scars that will remind us of the experience of wrestling – scars that will heal, but will also serve as the evidence that in some way, we have been touched by God.

We do not always have to have answers. And in reality, the answers are not as important as the experience of wrestling with the questions.

So, I leave this place called the Candler School of Theology renamed and limping, embarking upon a new journey of purpose and intent – wrestling with a new set of questions and seeking God’s blessings along the way.

Won’t you journey with me?

- Mashaun D. Simon

Mashaun is a graduating MDiv student at the Candler School of Theology where we served his final year as President of the Candler Coordinating Council, worked as a Student Ambassador and will be starting a ThM program in the fall in Toronto, Canada.


Mar 15 2013

Hearts were Made to be Broken…

My discovery of the tenacity of the human heart began in 7th grade. I was asked if I wanted to care for a family at church’s foster baby who I had fallen in love with over the summer. I remember my mother looking at me and asking, “You know you’re going to get hurt right?” and I said yes and did it anyways. I didn’t realize then that this would be a returning question in my life. I just have to tell people that I’m going to be a chaplain in a children’s hospital and the usual response is, “That sounds so hard/miserable/sad. I would never do that.” Add in the clinical child psych piece and wanting to work with abused/neglected children and then people start telling me that it will only break my heart, and I should consider doing something else. I know this is not a unique response. I have talked to people who are hospice chaplains or nurses in children’s hospitals or who work in Children’s advocacy centers or are social workers, and the response is similar. They are frequently asked why they do something that pretty much guarantees a broken heart. But here’s the thing, hearts were made to be broken.

Before you write me off as a complete masochist, let me explain. I believe that our hearts were made to break at the things that break God’s heart. If I could be present at the death of a child and not have my heart break, that would be a problem. It would mean that there was something wrong with my heart. If hearts are made to be broken it means two things – 1. hearts should break instead of harden and 2. If God designed hearts to break, then they are also made to be mended.

So thing 1, are hearts were made to break not harden. A heart that can break is a very different thing than a heart that gets so hard and bitter that it ultimately shatters. Pain (as I’ve been told) is meant to send a message to one’s body to stop or change what it’s doing. If you touch a hot stove, the pain tell you to get your hand off the stove before you do further damage. In the same way, a broken heart tells you something is wrong. When you learn that there are still millions of children in slavery in the world working in making chocolate we eat all the time, your heart should break. That’s a sign that you’re not numb to the suffering in the world. People can take this knowledge in different amounts before they become overwhelmed, but this just means people need to take in difficult information at different speeds, not that some people get to tune out of the world’s suffering because they’re sensitive.

Also, I believe we are called to build the Kingdom in different ways. Just because I am willing to have my heart broken working in a children’s hospital does not mean that is the place for everyone. There are some who care for the places the earth is broken and those who work alongside different groups of people who have been marginalized or oppressed. There are some whose jobs they get paid for are their direct work for the Kingdom, and there are others for whom that is not the case. I do believe we all have a place though.

People have different physical pain tolerances and different emotional pain tolerances as well. We all have a different place where we’re pushing our hearts past the breaking point to the brink of shattering. It’s important to acknowledge that and to consider all the other sources of hurt in one’s life at a time. Our hearts can also be broken in ways that we do not run headlong into like serving the Kingdom, such as loss, broken relationships, and life’s challenges. I am not suggesting that we are to be open to that pain in the same way. We are to adventure into life with courage even in the face of inevitable pain, but only as the natural consequence of making our way in the world. We are not to be victims and doormats. We will face breakups and failures and losses without any desire to do so, but the good news is that all types of heartbreak can be included in the mending.

I jokingly told people when applying to grad school that I am getting my PhD in clinical child psych to have my heart broken and going to seminary to learn how God can put it back together. This only proved to show my naiveté at how much heartbreak is involved in the process of theological education. Despite that, it has only served to further strengthen my belief in redemption. I strongly believe that God does not put suffering or pain in our lives (see All Good Gifts) but that God can redeem all situations. Redemption does not mean that the pain disappears and everything is all better. It does not mean that it “was all part of God’s plan” as if God needs tornados and AIDS to bring about God’s Kingdom. Instead, it is the idea that God can bring growth and love and hope into and out of the darkest situations. I believe this because I have seen it in my life and the life of others. Just think, we serve a God who was and is willing to have his heart broken for us and with us. We serve a God of the crucifixion– there was no heart more broken, but we also serve a God of the resurrection, and there was and is no better redemption. With God’s grace and with time, our hearts come back together and we are able to venture back into the world with the understanding that they might be broken again.

I’m not a med student, but I remember being told that where broken bones come back together they are stronger in the broken places. To me, that is redemption, not that we are back to where we were or that we don’t have sore places or scars, but that there are new places of strength that came despite the pain. It is with this promise that I can venture into dark places, not of my own strength.  And to be perfectly honest, I think the alternative, to never have your heart break, is much much worse.

You know the cliche, “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?” I think most people will acknowledge that as true in the area of relationships. Most people will agree that, in a majority of cases, even in relationships that ended poorly, hopefully we learned something or enjoyed part of it, or experienced some personal growth. The idea is that some pain is a part of the learning process in romantic relationships. Well, some heartbreak is required in living a life for the Kingdom as well. There are things to be learned and work to be done that cannot happen if we stay on the sidelines covered in bubble wrap. It is a much more painful idea to think that I missed a chance to grow the Kingdom, to serve my neighbor, to be a source of peace or hope, than to experience pain from doing any of those things. This is because when we are working for the Kingdom we are open to sources of hope and joy and peace that are not available elsewhere. I found that, even going into rooms and places I could not walk into on my own, when all I could say was “Holy Spirit come,” I was never left empty.

So, what are we to do? First, I think we are to open our eyes wide enough to actually see things or learn things that might hurt. Awareness is the first step, but really only the first. If we stay there then we’ve fallen into the hardened heart category. Next we pray and act and ultimately leap. We buy fair trade coffee even when it’s more expensive, maybe we become foster parents even though we don’t know what will happen, maybe we volunteer to tutor children who’s life stories make us want to cry, maybe we work with refugees. Whatever it is, we enter with open arms, with the honest understanding that we might get hurt. We do not tiptoe into the work of the Kingdom, I’m pretty sure you can’t get in that way. We jump, we dance, we fall, we might even crawl in, but we move forward boldly knowing that there is work to be done in a hurting world but that we do not do it alone, and that the God of redemption is always there to help us pick up the pieces. And at the end of the day, all I can ask is that I live my life with a heart that can always be broken, for a Lord who will always redeem it.

- Katie Sack

Katie is a second year MDiv student from Kentucky and a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College.  This post originally appeared on her blog Musings From a Tiny Chaplain.


Mar 8 2013

Seeking Spiritual Disciplines

While in seminary we spend a lot of time studying the bible, theology, history of the church, pastoral practices and church music. Essentially, we study everything  or anything remotely connected to religion. Through the Contextual Education program we work in pastoral ministry constantly during our seminary educations. By our third year, most students either work in a church or have become very connected to an Atlanta church community. We spend Sundays and Wednesdays at churches (at least), and then we go to school and talk of nothing but God, Trinity, pnematology, escatology, missiology, and every other ology having to do with the Christian religion. In seminary our lives literally revolve around Christianity, the church, and Religion.

As a seminarian, I spend so much time studying religion or leading worship that I often forget to do Christianity or worship. I get so caught up in what I have to do for school or church I often forget to do the things I am supposed to do as a Christian. We talk about the importance of spiritual practice, talk about different types, and creative ways to connect to God, but that doesn’t mean I always remember to do them.

Don’t get me wrong I have spiritual disciplines. I pray. I read my bible. I listen for God. It’s just that when I get busy, it is easy to let these practices get pushed out in order to get papers done, sermons written, parishioners visited, etc.

My problem is not in finding new or more creative ways to live out my disciplines. It’s not in finding a new way to read my bible. It’s not about finding new meditation techniques or new ways to pray. It’s about actually taking the time to engage in the practices I study and preach. We can all benefit from knowing a wide range of techniques for spiritual disciplines, but what it comes down to is actually doing them.

I know Lectio Divina. I have seen every type of journaling you can imagine. I have mediated and prayed in more ways than I can count. Knowing these things doesn’t change the fact that I need to do them, and that they need to be done before everything else.

It’s a discipline. It is something that is hard to start, and challenging to keep up. If you go to any seminary worth it’s salt, they will tell you to develop your spiritual practices. Let me tell you a secret now, before you actually start the writing, reading and spiritual leading that will encompass your seminary life…  Seminary is busy! Start developing practices now!

In life you can generally get away with knowing about a subject without ever actually doing or practicing it. Spiritual practices are different though, its not about what you know, it’s about what you do.

Spiritual discipline isn’t reading for class.
Spiritual discipline is intentional practice.
Spiritual discipline is a time set aside from everything else.
Spiritual discipline is a time for God and God alone.

Start praying. Read your bible. Stop finding excuses. Stop putting it off. It’s not easy and there are always reasons not to practice right now. When we actively seek out spiritual disciplines and practices, we grow closer to God and the world becomes clearer. When we live out our disciplines and practices daily it becomes easier to see God in this world, in our world.  Our daily disciples allow us to see the busy things like work and seminary much more clearly as activities done in and for the Kingdom of God. They slow us down and fill us up. They remind us why we are here.

- Jonathan Gaylord

Jonathan is a third year MDiv student from Deland, Florida, a Student Ambassador, and the pastor at Providence United Methodist Church in Lavonia, Georgia as a part of Candler’s Teaching Parish Program.


Mar 1 2013

A Depth of Expression

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

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

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

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

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

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

May it be so.

- Darin Arntson

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


Feb 11 2013

Thou Shalt Love Your Facebook Friend?

Facebook memeOnce upon a time there were two topics that were supposed to be off limits: politics and religion. These were the topics that were considered inappropriate to discuss around company. But then internet happened and brought with it facebook and twitter and thousand different ways to express our every opinion, and we decided to throw all that decorum out the window.

So now I’m learning to navigate facebook at my own risk, because my facebook can be angry place to be.  There are sweet church folk posting hateful statuses about the government, high school friends ranting about conspiracy theories, and old college friends angrily picking fights about religion.  At times it seems that all the internet is good for is showing me racist, ignorant, angry, awful things from all directions. So when I see statistics about how divided our country is, I’m not really surprised.  Because it appears to me that everyone’s angry, and no one seems to do know what to do about it.

My first thought is that maybe this social media experiment has failed. Maybe it was better when we didn’t know what everyone thought about everything. Before anyone would could find a blog post supporting their point view and offer it as “evidence.”  Before 140 characters became an acceptable way to share your religious views with the world.

Because, Lord knows, it was a lot easier to love our neighbors before they became our facebook friends.

Frankly, it seemed like too much of a mess for this seminarian to want to deal with it. But then my (wise) husband made an observation as I was ranting about pastors who post hateful things on Twitter and how I’d rather people just stick to posting pictures of their cute babies.

“That’s what’s both good and bad about it, I guess. It’s life without the filter. It’s the whole human experience right there for us to see.”

The whole human experience. What it means to be human somehow displayed on our computer screens. A whole mess of a world.

A world that God still loves.

And somewhere along the line, I’m pretty sure I’ve learned that as Christians we are called to love it too.  I’m not sure how as ministers we are supposed to speak love and truth on the internet. I’m not sure what it looks like to be a witness to Christ online, and unfortunately, Candler doesn’t offer a class on how to do pastoral care over Twitter.[1]

Jennifer WyantI’m not sure how to love facebook friends as they offer hate.  I’m not sure how to offer grace in the midst of frustration and anger.  Or when to comment on a post and when to just leave it alone.  Or what it looks to be an example of Christ in a hurting, messy, angry, lovely world.

But then again, I’m still figuring out how to do all that in real life too.

So maybe the only thing we can do is pray for grace as we figure out how to best love God with our digital selves.

And try to love our facebook friends as we love ourselves.

- Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a third year MDiv student from Atlanta, a graduate of The University of Evansville, and a Candler Student Ambassador.



[1] Other classes I wish Candler would offer include “How to Use Church Copiers” and “How to Eat all the Food Your Church Feeds You and Not Gain Weight”


Jan 25 2013

Light Amidst the Darkness

It often becomes difficult for us to appreciate what we have when everything in our lives is going well. We take those around us for granted and seem to look directly past the abundant blessings in our lives. However, during times of struggle, we witness the blessings we have in our lives in a new way: more specifically, the people we have in our lives.

At times, I became stressed during my first semester at Candler, as I sought to balance a difficult academic schedule with a variety of other activities. Towards the end of the semester, I learned that each “task” was a blessing from God to be cherished and a new way to connect with my Lord and Savior. However, even in the midst of this significant discovery regarding my daily tasks, I breezed by another significant part of my first semester at Candler: the people that I had encountered.

I am not by any means suggesting that I did not feel close to those at Candler after my first semester. In particular, my Episcopal Studies cohort seemed like family. I was the youngest, and the group always seemed to look out for me. However, since everything seemed to go well my first semester, I feel as though I took the concept of this group always being present in my life for granted.

Katie and MomThis past Friday, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. While my mom has had a number of health problems since I was in the second grade, this particular case cut like a knife. I am 12 hours away and have been filled with guilt that I am unable to physically be there in support of my mom. However, I have had difficulty discovering how I am “supposed” to feel. I have always been the strong one and the positive one. Even amongst my Episcopal Studies cohort, I feel like I am known for positivity and “holding it together.” I wondered if it was acceptable not to “hold it together” for even a few moments.

I was comfortable enough with the Episcopal Studies group at Candler, after knowing them only four months, to share the news in our private Facebook group. To my surprise, I received a public or private message from almost every one of the 18 students within a matter of hours, even though it was a holiday weekend. While each one was comforting and expressed sorrow for my family, one private message in particular touched me. One of my peers had written me a letter within the message. She told me that she hoped I would be able to find solace through those reminding me of God’s love, God’s purpose, and God’s comfort for those who suffer. However, she also told me that if these things did not help and felt like hollow reassurances during this time of darkness, that was completely fine. She would be there for me regardless.

This particular message gave me permission to be myself in front of my family, my peers, and God. I did not have to “hold it together” for anyone, especially my friends at seminary. Throughout my spiritual journey, I have typically been in the position of a caregiver. However, for the first time, I have been put in the position of someone who realistically needs the support of others. The response of my classmates to my newfound role has showed me what incredible friends I am surrounded by at Candler.

It is comforting to know that the Candler students will always be there for each other in good times, such as my first semester, and in more difficult times of struggle. It is even more comforting to know that these same individuals reaching out to me will reach out to the world as priests and as workers of God. As a result of Candler students, I have found a glimmer of light amidst the darkness.

-Katie O’Dunne

Katie is a first year MDiv student, a graduate of Elon University in North Carolina, and a Candler Student Ambassador.