This has been a week speckled with services of sending forth, good byes and honoring graduates. With only one week of classes still remaining here at Candler School of Theology, the community is in a season of transition and closure. Though various student groups and classes mark the end of the year with celebrations and gatherings, I’d like to share with you four of the larger events that bring the Candler community together as the year comes to an end.
On Tuesday evening, the Women in Theology and Ministry Program sponsored a graduation dinner, as they do each year, centered on the program’s theme this year of “Women & Peacemaking.” Before Amanda Hendler-Voss 05T, Faith Communities Coordinator of WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions) and Minister of Christian Education at First Congregational UCC in Asheville, NC, and Dr. Elizabeth Corrie 96T 02G, Interim Director of Youth Theological Initiative and Lecturer in Youth Education and Peacebuilding spoke to the gathering, all the names of the graduating women were spoken aloud and those present were invited forward to accept a gift.
This year’s gift was a Peace Pole, which is an internationally recognized symbol of hope for the human family, standing vigil in silent prayer for peace on earth. Each Peace Pole bears the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in different languages. The graduates’ poles were made especially for Candler School of Theology, and the cost included a donation to the Peace Pole Project. Peace Poles have been planted in front of churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples, as well as sites of human conflict, such as the War Museum in Viet Nam and South Africa’s Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.
Sacred Worth, a student group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, those questioning their sexuality, and allies, offered a Service of Sending Forth on Wednesday, which took time to recognize the open LGBTQ graduates in the Candler community. Because sexuality is such a divisive issue in many of the mainline Protestant denominations of which our students are members of, Sacred Worth intentionally honors seniors of the LGBTQ community, knowing some of their denominations may not honor and recognize them as pastors and leaders in the church. It was an intimate service in the chapel that included communion and words of affirmation. Seniors, who were willing to come forward, were given a stole in recognition of their calling. A stole was also placed on the altar and later will be donated to the Shower of Stoles Project to remember that there are many people who have to remain silent about their sexuality in order to be in the church and answer their call to ministry.
During chapel on Thursday, the community gathered for a Celebration of Gifts and Honors. The service affirmed the gifts of the Candler community and thanked those who have made contributions to our life and fellowship together this year. From our communion bread bakers and readers of scripture in worship to those part of a student organization or have helped with a Candler event, we honored each person. Students, staff, and faculty who were nominated for awards were also named in conjunction with Honor’s Day awards.
Thursday evening was the Elder’s Send Off, sponsored by the Program of Black Church Studies, in conjunction with the Black Student Caucus. The evening included dinner, creative expressions performed and shared by members of the community, and ended with a blessing of the seniors, as well as staff and faculty who are also leaving our community at the end of the academic year. Kirstyn Brown, who is graduating with her Master of Divinity in a couple of weeks describes, “The Elder’s Send Off was a night of remembrance and celebration that served as a source of motivation and encouragement as I transition from Candler. It reaffirmed the sacredness of my cultural, personal, and spiritual formation.” After graduating, Kirstyn will be teaching English with the Baltimore Teaching Residency Program in Baltimore City Public School System.
Clearly we are a community who loves to mark the seasons of life and honor times of change and transition. There will certainly be more celebrations, tears, and hugs next week, but I can’t imagine anything that could top this week’s schedule of events. Tonight is Candler’s Spring Banquet (AKA “Candler Prom”), and next week, two guest bloggers will share their experience at the banquet.
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