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).


Feb 13 2012

Why I’ll Miss Candler

Mia NorthingtonAs graduation quickly approaches, I find myself reflecting fondly on my time spent at this wonderful institution that I have called home for nearly three years now.  While graduations are always exciting, I find myself feeling particularly bitter sweet about this one.  It is difficult to narrow all of the reasons down to only a few paragraphs, but I will do my best to keep it brief.  Below are the reasons why I am forever grateful that I chose Candler and that Candler chose me:

ONE: The Community.  I began my career at Candler with a bit of anxiety – I was three years out of college, and was unsure how I would fit into the mix at Candler.   Immediately, however, I found my niche.  My fears were relieved within the first month as I settled into classes and began developing relationships with my ConEd group.  Again, those in the Admissions Office warmly welcomed me as I began working with the Student Ambassadors each week and was invited on a retreat as a small group leader.  I was amazed with the sense of community that existed within Candler, both among the students, staff, and faculty.

TWO: The Curriculum.  Since I had been removed from school and had not practiced good study habits for a few years, I was very intimidated by the coursework at Candler and feared that I would struggle in maintaining good grades at such a prestigious institution with such renowned scholars as my professors.  Yet again, I was pleasantly surprised with the willingness of the professors to help and even build relationships with the students.  Furthermore, the variety of coursework offered at Candler is truly remarkable.  Classes such as Old and New Testament, History of Christian Thought, and Systematic Theology could challenge my theology.  And I was able to develop practical skills and lifelong knowledge through courses such as Pastoral Care, Empowering Youth for Global Citizenship, and Vocational Discernment.

THREE: The Contextual Education Program.  This internship program, in my opinion, is Candler’s biggest selling point! I was able to cater my ConEd experience both my first and second year to my vocational goal, which involves youth ministry.  My first year, I did ConEd at the United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH) in Decatur.  So I worked four hours each week with the youth who were living in this group home, sharing meals with them and leading them in Bible studies.  I would then bring my experiences back to my small group, all of who were also doing ConEd at the UMCH, during class each week.  My second year, I chose to work eight hours each week with a large youth group at a UMC in Decatur.  This experience helped to clarify my calling and even offered me a paid job for my third year of seminary.  God is good!  But having these “internship” experiences fulfilled during the academic year, alongside my other coursework, enabled me to apply the things I was learning in the classroom to my ministry.

Mia and friendsFOUR: Summer Opportunities.  Since my ministry internships were completed during the academic year, my summers were free to experience other transformational opportunities.  Among these summer opportunities is the Middle East Travel Seminar (METS), which I applied for and was accepted.  This gave me the opportunity to travel the lands of the Bible with other seminarians for three weeks.  The experiences and relationships that this trip was able to offer me forever changed my life.  My vocational dreams and my personal priorities were made clear and I was able to come home a better person.  Had I chosen a different seminary, I could have missed this once in a lifetime experience.

Ultimately, I could not have found a better match for my three years in seminary.  My life was transformed in my time at Candler and I will forever be grateful for the relationships, courses, and practical ministry experience that I encountered in and through this place.

- Mia Northington

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