May 10 2013

Mother’s Day!

Stacey HarwellSo I am preaching this Mother’s Day, and I find myself deeply relying on my Candler education as I prepare for this sermon.  By the time you read this, I hopefully will have crafted a sermon that has toed the line between celebrating all the wonderful mothers in the world and yet recognizes that this can be a painful day for some. One of the best things my Candler education offered was awareness of two things: 1) those on the margin with whom Jesus spent a lot of time, and 2) critical re-readings of the Bible.

In my job as Minister of Community Building at Centenary United Methodist Church, I minister with many folks who may have difficulty with Mother’s Day. Many of them come from one parent (most often mom) homes, and their mothers have done the best they can, but between working multiple jobs – to make ends meet while trying to pay the stack of bills that never will seem to go down – these mothers are stressed to the max. Some of the folks I’m in ministry with in my community have been abused by their mothers. Others are mothers who have abused their own children. Within the context of my 11 o’clock congregation, we’ve recently had one woman lose a child shortly after childbirth, another who had a miscarriage, and still others who have tried fertility treatments for years with no luck.  Some folks have children who have run away, others have children who are addicted to substances, and others will have children who will spend this Mother’s day behind bars. And then still further, we have couples who have decided not to have children for many good reasons.   These persons or some representation of all of these types and more, will come to service this Sunday.  When I rise to preach, all of them will be in my mind.  I was well-taught to think about the whole congregation, not just the ones part of whatever “normal” might look like.

When I go to my text on the creation of humanity (Genesis 1:26-31) I will remember this lesson. Fraught with misinterpretation, I will have to use all of my Candler tools to help save this text from where we most often find it at churches.  Instead of deciding whether it’s history or myth, and making a judgment call on my Christianity either way, we will approach it as a proclamation narrative of a creator who created us on purpose, whose work in creation we continue whether we are mothers or not.  Instead of focusing on the sin and fall, we will look at the “very good” imago dei and explore for a minute together in our community of faith what that might look like and what it might call us to do.

Because I want this to come out right, in a way that allows people to really hear what God has revealed in the text of this ancient sacred story in our lives today, I will rely on the many things I learned about preaching and worship planning, weaving the sung salute to God with the prayed petition of God’s people and the spoken sermon. I work closely with a worship team at Centenary to make sure the songs, prayers, and litanies reflect the context and content of the sermon. This idea of nurture from the imago dei is important. We need to get this right.

Then on Monday, I will go back to the Monday-Thursday job I have of figuring out how to find echoes of God’s Eden in our world – to be part of the restoration of the world to God’s shalom for mothers, fathers, and children the world over.  Part of that work will be pastoral care for those who have had difficulties with their mothers. Part of the work will be the joy of visiting a newborn baby in the hospital or the anticipation of life at a congregant’s baby shower.

We could just say Happy Mother’s Day on Sunday. But because of God’s work in my life, I will have to say so much more.

-Stacey Harwell

Stacey is Minister of Community Building at Centenary United Methodist Church in Macon, GA and a 2010 MDiv graduate of Candler School of Theology.  You can read more about Stacey’s work at Centenary in the most recent Candler Connection.


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.


Nov 16 2012

Windows to Christian Difference

WindowChurches seem to fight over a lot of things that in the grand scheme of things don’t matter (or at least seem unimportant to outsiders). One fight that goes on in most every church is over buildings and how buildings should be set up, what renovations should be made, what paint color should be used to repaint the Sunday school rooms, etc. Some of these arguments revolve around practical concerns and they must, since resources and physical location limit the church. The thing we often forget however, is that all of these seemingly insignificant or unimportant modifications and changes are architectural decisions that have heavy  theological implications to conveying the beliefs of the church. What does it mean if the Pulpit is center behind and elevated over the altar? What does it mean if the Altar is center and the pulpit is off to the side? What does it mean if there is center aisle or a central section of pews?

Many of the architectural features common to churches can be altered over the years. Pews can be moved, platforms added, altar position changed. One thing that will stand the test of time are the windows. Windows are often only redone when the walls themselves have to be moved. Even if stained glass windows are falling apart, a church will often choose to repair and maintain them as they always have been instead of altering them completely.

The windows in a Church stand as a permanent statement of the churches theology. Every time there is a reforming movement in the church, architecture and window style come under review.

Stained glass developed as a way to tell the stories of the Christian faith, and enliven and enhance the worship space. When light hits stained glass the result is often one of the most breathtaking views in the world. As the sun moves throughout the day the light in the sanctuary, chapel or cathedral moves with it, and the experience becomes new again. In each hour, we experience the light and the church in a whole new way. It is always the same, but it is always changing.

Some reformers saw the stained glass as a way that the church had gotten away from the fundamentals of the Christian faith. They see stained glass and the extravagant architectural often associated with it as a way to show off, as something done for the glory of humans and not for the glory of God. For this reason, several religious groups have constructed their churches with plain glass. They let the light stream into their places of worship unmolested by human creation or interpretation. Light is a sign of God, and does not need anything human added over it.

In some “modern” churches windows are excluded from the building plans all together, in order that the worship space might be completely controlled. If there is not natural light then screens, tvs, stage lights can be used to maximum effect. Darkness becomes darkness, and a single candle on the altar becomes a powerful symbol undimmed by an inflow of sunlight. But can humans every fully control God in this way? If there are no windows how do we understand God to be the creator of everything both outside and in? Can worship not become very insular?

What is interesting is that these viewpoints are absolutely valid. You can stand in a large cathedral and soak in the reds, blues, and purples of the stained glass and feel God, just as easily as you can experience the divine through clear panes of glass, or through the atmosphere created in a windowless church. None of these theological positions as demonstrated through architectural design choices prevents God from showing up in worship, or in the lives of the faithful. But these standpoints can be taken to an extreme where God is forgotten and pushed aside for human pride and posturing. The same is true of any theological doctrine or thought. What is the real difference between a high church Catholic with a view of transubstantiation of the Eucharist and a Baptist who sees communion as a remembrance that happens only in the hearts and minds of the faithful? They both believe that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and that Christ will come again. What is the difference between denominations that baptize infants vs. denominations that do not? They both believe that we are baptized by water and the Spirit.

What the argument of differences comes down to is conflicting emphasis. We choose what single aspect of the divine we find to be the most pivotal, and play it up. This division of focus is well and good, because there are so many aspects of the Christian faith and God that we would likely forget a part of our story if it were not for our brothers and sisters who believe differently from us. The shame of it is that we see these differences as making our ‘faiths’ incompatible, and we shut ourselves off to a whole section of our sisters and brothers. Maybe the issue is Eucharistic presence, architectural decisions, written vs. extemporaneous liturgy, the humanity or divinity of Christ, or Christianity’s response to the LGBTQ community.  What we see instead of our common beliefs are our differences on these issues and we stop talking, or worse we start yelling.

It is important that we as Christians, no matter our denomination, beliefs or background encourage an open dialogue on every issue. Behind every position and every stance that we don’t agree with, is a thought or idea that we hold about God and the church. When we speak to those we disagree with we might be infected by their passion, challenged to grow in our beliefs and/or reminded of an aspect of faith that we forgot about. Differences are good. We are not all the same person and We do serve the same God. A professor at Candler once said in a lecture that a peer stood up after he had given a presentation at a conference and before beginning to lambast this professor’s argument said “I completely disagree with what he has said, but I also recognize that there is a chance we will someday have to share heaven together….”

We have our differences, but we serve one God, a God who loves us despite our shortcomings and our inability to see the big picture. So the next time you encounter someone you do not agree with remind yourself that you serve the same God, and that there is a chance you will someday have to share heaven with people you disagree with. When it comes to the windows, remember that the same God gets in no matter what. That little reminder might just change things.

- 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.


Oct 12 2012

Any questions?

While studying in Panera the other day I was cornered by a talkative stranger. (How people think open books and vigorous typing on the laptop is an invitation for dialogue, I’ll never know…)

Unfortunately, I missed the warning signals telling me not to divulge my current course of study to this person, and he wasted no time in rattling off every negative stereotype and over-generalization about Christians he could think of. (Nice to meet you, too…) Luckily, I had just been working on a small group study about engaging in difficult conversations, so I listened patiently to his critiques and concerns. As it turns out, virtually everything he dislikes (ok, hates) about Christianity I am not so fond of either.

It is incredibly disheartening to meet people who are curious about faith –often deeply spiritual– who have for one reason or another been completely turned off to the Church. Some examples my new friend mentioned include arrogance, hypocrisy, judgment (especially regarding persons who identify LGBTQ), and general closed-mindedness. For someone like him with deep philosophical questions about the roots and guts and core of life, the faith presented to him by Christians seemed presumptive and shallow.

If there is anything I have learned in seminary thus far it is that this faith is not shallow….

Not having a background in religious studies upon entering Candler, I have found my Old and New Testament classes to be extremely challenging (and I don’t just mean the work-load). The Bible is meant to be our most instructive, concrete illustrator of the character and works of God. But as such, it is a conflictive, confounding document– creating in us more questions than answers every time we read it.

Studying the scriptures in such an academic environment has instilled in me a greater awareness of all that I still don’t know. Adding to biblical knowledge centuries worth of theological nuance and doctrinal subtlety, ethical standards and practice, liturgical tradition and the arts of care, I wonder how I might ever be well-enough equipped to bear the Good News, the Word of God, to the world in a way that is not only faithful, but honest and true.

There is just so much to learn.

Conversations like the one today, with strangers or even close friends and family, remind me why this work in seminary is so important. It is not only a time to receive information (though one might often feel reduced to a sponge-like existence), but to wrestle with the meaning behind the text, biblical or otherwise. It is a time to test the waters. To push against things to see how far they will lean before toppling over. To discover one’s own boundaries, and explore those set by others as well. Because in the real world people have real questions, and I know I cannot in good conscience ever claim to have all the answers.

But I can say I have wrestled, and have been faithful in listening for God’s voice among the multitudes of others. And I can do my best to provide the space and encouragement for others to do the same.

God bless us all on the journey.

- Darin Arntson

Darin is a second year MDiv student from Southern California and a Student Ambassador.


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 17 2012

A Vital Church

This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program.  Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.

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

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

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

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

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

- Bonnie Buckley

Bonnie is a rising third year MDiv student from Minnesota.


Jul 10 2012

On Jordan’s Stormy Banks: My Experience with the Methodist Itinerancy

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.

Eric at St. Paul's in Grant ParkI’ve heard a litany of criticisms against the United Methodist Church’s practice of pastoral itinerancy: the practice by which pastors are assigned to service by a bishop and then remain with one particular congregation for a limited length of time.  These criticisms come from both non-Methodists and Methodists alike. “The itinerancy is outdated,” some have said. “It doesn’t take into consideration ministers with dual career families, or the stability of their children’s home life.” I never know what to say to these complaints because, very often, I agree with them. I don‘t really get it either.

Full disclosure here: I’m not 100% United Methodist. I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene—a Wesleyan holiness tradition—with which I still partly identify. However, this year I’ve come to feel at home in the UMC through my contextual education internship at St. Paul United Methodist Church. I had a wonderful experience here and was fortunate enough to get a paid internship at St. Paul through the Candler Advantage program this summer. It has afforded me the opportunity to further discern my ministerial calling.

One reason for my returning to St. Paul for a second internship was the exceptionally talented minister under whom I’ve worked. I’ve learned much from her and under her guidance I’ve begun to seriously consider ordination in the UMC. So when I learned my minister would be itinerating in early summer I was crushed.

This pastoral transition has also meant a major change in many of my summer internship plans. It has, however, afforded me the unique opportunity to journey with the congregation through the itinerancy process. Together we have reflected on the meaning of this transition for our community, both practically and theologically. It has reminded us that, ultimately, it is not our ministers in whom we put our faith and trust, but God alone. What is more, this transition has obliged me to take on an important leadership role in the church. For example, I led the transition service on the Sunday in-between ministers, functioning as the leader of the congregation. This responsibility caused more than a little anxiety. However, it proved to be wonderfully formative experience, one from which I grew significantly as someone preparing for leadership in the church. This has taught me much about what real life ministry requires: change, adaptation, and plan Bs.

I still don’t really know if the itinerancy is the best practice for ministers and churches. However, I do know that my experience of it this summer has taught me much about leadership and responsibility in the church. It has helped our community to grow closer together and put leadership in perspective.

- Eric Mayle

Eric is a rising third year MDiv student and a graduate of Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN.


Feb 1 2012

In the Home Stretch!

A note from someone who only three years ago was anxious even applying to seminary and will celebrate completing the MDiv program feeling enabled and affirmed for ministry in the church in the world. 

Patrick McLaughlinI was completely unsure if I was what seminary was looking for.  I even had an application in for a nursing program thinking I could partially put my biology degree to use and be guaranteed a job upon completion.  Then I got a phone call from the Candler admissions office, the only place I had applied for seminary.  I knew this must be good news as they surely would just send a letter to tell me no.  My intuition was correct; apparently the feeling about my fit at Candler was mutual as they even offered me a generous scholarship from the Sherman foundation.  I figured I would just put on hold my vocational calling into a health field while I discerned what Candler and I had to offer each other.  Little did I know these weren’t two separate vocational callings but just parts of a calling that would be complemented by biblical, theological, historical, and justice courses.  As someone who doesn’t consider themselves a great student, I am living proof that a hard worker with a willingness to learn can be transformed and be successful.  It has not been easy but has by far been the best investment I’ve ever made.

While at Candler I have been inspired by Old and New Testament instructors;  they are intent on making scripture real for students of the word.  Issues of racism and sexuality were common in our small group conversations in addition to learning how to read difficult passages, how to offer pastoral care through scripture, and how to offer a prophetic word to communities for justice.  My history instructors, in real and creative ways, helped me to understand the foundations of the complex paradigm in which we live today.  Finally, my justice oriented classes have prepared me to be a better pastor by giving me assessment tools, a better vocabulary for theological community engagement, and helped me focus on a root cause issue that is relevant to the church.  A consistent quality of instructors at Candler has been that they are focused on preparing future pastors.  Many of them admit that the reason they believe in Candler is because of its mission to prepare pastors.  Instructors also take great care of students who study in our other programs. Although coursework has been a very hard thing for me to find life in, I know that I have been very blessed to have taken so many courses that are of interest to me, even some at Emory outside of Candler.

The summer internships offered to me through Candler were formative.  A summer in Memphis and a summer back in my home conference, which I’d been away from for nearly a decade, offered me intensive opportunities to put into context the pastoral training I had received to that point. Furthermore I was able to flesh out how to raise questions of justice with parties invested in the issues from a multitude of complex angles.  These experiences offered me new insights into the proceeding semester’s classes.  Being able to say in class “this is how this scripture is being read by people on the margins” or, “I saw this particular theme, borne in some ancient thought, alive in the community” makes the theological education I received at Candler very real.

Engaging with student organizations Emory wide and as the president of one has enabled me to learn from other students perspectives and to enable other students to make their theological educations real.   I have been able to think theologically and respond pastorally to issues around global health, the Israel Palestine conflict, homelessness, immigration, and food security.  All of these opportunities have contextualized my education and will make me a better pastor after graduation.

And now here I am, sprinting towards home plate where they will hand me a diploma!  I’m on the road to ordination in the Kansas West Conference of the United Methodist Church where I look forward to one day being a pastor.  I started this journey not knowing anyone and am leaving with lifetime partners in ministry.  I am very thankful that I did not let my anxiety get between me and this amazing experience.

- Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick is a third year United Methodist MDiv student from Kansas, a member of the Candler Singers, and a Student Ambassador.


Dec 1 2011

Finding One’s Place at Candler

Candler group at Explo2009During my last Thanksgiving at Candler and as I approach graduation in May, I couldn’t help but think of the diverse communities of friends that have touched me and shaped me during my time here.  My first year, I had the opportunity to travel to Dallas, Texas as a small group leader for Exploration 2009.  Through this trip, I became connected to all of the staff in the financial aid and registrar office, as well as some other student leaders within Candler.  Despite the fact that I knew no one on the trip prior to arriving at the airport, we were instant friends only a few hours into our weekend together.  We remained friends through the time that they graduated (as I was the youngest one on the trip), and still have lunch dates to this day!  Furthermore, I became involved with the Student Ambassador Program, which provided yet another community within which I found great friends and support.

Mia's ConEd 1 GroupAnother community that fully embraced me in my first year was my Contextual Education (ConEd) community.  The group of seven of us who worked four hours each week at the United Methodist Children’s Home was pretty much inseparable.  We shared “brother/sister”-type relationships with one another and had an incredible chemistry.  By the end of our first year, we were truly family to one another – we laughed together, cried together, and supported one another free of judgment, no matter what the situation.  We truly carried one another through a year full of both trials and celebrations.

I was anxious entering second year, because I knew that the people in my ConEd group would change and I would not see those from my first year group as much as we had the year before.  What did I have to fear, though?  Yet again, I grew incredibly close to a whole new group of people, while maintaining my previous friendships.  That year, we worked eight hours each week in an ecclesial setting.  I began to really wrestle with whether or not I wanted to continue with ordination in the UMC.  Hesitant to share these doubts with many others, my ConEd group embraced me and provided a safe space for me to continue my discernment process.  They challenged me as to what I would have to lose should I not follow through in the process, as well as what the Church could lose if I were to give up.  Having help in thinking through some of these things was really beneficial for me, and formational in my ministry.

Mia and Friends

Finally, outside of the small groups I was placed in as a result of my coursework, I developed a strong friendship with a group of five girls that I have no doubt will be lifelong friends.  During the stresses of second year, we became close, realizing we shared a lot of things in common as well as a similar sense of humor.  We spend a lot of time together both inside and outside of classes.  I have truly been greeted with open arms by each and every group I came into contact with at Candler.  I firmly believe that there is a wonderful and affirming place for everyone within this community.  I have no doubt that each individual who passes through this special place is touched and transformed in a way that will positively impact the future of their ministry, whether it be inside or outside the church, and for that I am very thankful.

- Mia Northington

Mia is a 3rd Year MDiv student from Tennessee and a Student Ambassador.


Mar 25 2011

The Worship that Surrounds Us

It is no small thing to ascend the stairs behind a pulpit.

When I walk up those two maroon-carpeted steps at my contextual education church, Haygood Memorial UMC, I shake with something other than nerves. If I quake for any reason, it is for the fear of God–the good kind–and my vast unworthiness to approach such a lectern and stand before the people of God . Yet it is my calling to be there all the same. Taking the pulpit is a privilege of the highest regard–what an amazing thing to be called upon to do–truly a sacred task.

My voice was one thing that did not waver or falter (even as I question my decision to wear heels on those steps!). The first thing I did as liturgist at Haygood was read an opening collect taken from the Hebrew Bible. There is a power and an authority that flows from the thousands of years of tradition in those words, a power to which I am privileged to lend my voice–in this time, in this language, in this context, for these people. Hear, O Israel! Shema, Y’Israel! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad.

It was the Shema that I was asked to read. The beauty of these words nearly brought me to tears when we sang it in Hebrew at the Shabbat service I attended as a part of Beth Corrie’s world religions course. This is the text that is at the core of the Jewish faith, the text, too, that Christian children know from  Vacation Bible School songs, the text that has initiated in me the practice of writing reminders of God’s love for me on my inner wrists, the text that led me to hang the cross I received from my church upon graduating high school on the upper door frame in my room–a living reminder of the faith I carry whether I’m in my room or without.

It is no small thing to read these words. And as I did, I was reminded of the first time I ever read Scripture in church. As part of my sixth grade confirmation class, we each were required to read in big church, and though I didn’t know really anything of its context at the time, I still remember that my text as sixth grade liturgist was Isaiah 6. It is poignant now, to think of reading this famous call narrative, not knowing then of the call I myself would come to answer when I came to Candler. And like Isaiah, still even today as I approach the pulpit, I feel the truth of the words, “Woe to me, I am a woman of unclean lips!”

Yet we know God’s M.O. in these call narratives: the prophet complains, but God offers reassurance. Eventually we might get it, God–we will never be worthy of the tasks you call us to do. But still you want us. You cleanse our lips and put words in our mouths.

While these experience of Sunday morning worship with Con-Ed II have been such concentrated little bursts of ministerial formation, I was reminded today, too, that the awesome thing about the kingdom of God is that it is everywhere among us. I can have church while I’m listening to Ingrid Michaelson in my car, because she sings the words that are otherwise trapped in my soul. I can have church while I’m sitting with one of my best friends outside at Starbucks, and we’re talking about our frustrations with ourselves and with the church and with seminary. We say that maybe it’s okay if she decides to someday walk away from the faith of her upbringing, that faith that was once so sure but now seems distant–it’s okay because it’s a part of the journey. And as we say those things, God is so tangibly near to us that I can taste it in the air (and I pray that she, too, will feel God again, soon, close enough to taste and feel and sense). And there we are, having church, just being friends and loving one another.

Emily Dickinson has a poem that talks about the worship that happens everywhere, all around us. Some might use such a poem as an excuse to not come to Sunday morning worship–a trend that is becoming all too real in our society. I think we need to be in church on Sunday mornings, worshiping God corporately and coming before God’s presence with a bit of fear and trembling every now and again. But it is good, too, to see the God-force all around us. It is a reminder that yes, the pulpit is a sacred space of intoning the words of God before the gathered assembly, but (as any good Methodist will tell you) the world is our parish, and the words we say and the God we meet in our everyday moments, with each breath in and out, with those words we also can preach.

What is it, then, that I am saying?

-Whitney Pierce

Whitney is a 2nd year MDiv student from North Carolina and a regular contributor to the Beatitudes Society blog.