Aug 16 2013

International Exchange: Visitor and Host

Haley at Morumbi

Gol! Haley at Morumbi Stadium

With my blue plastic Candler name tag affixed, flight numbers noted, and umbrellas packed, I drove to the airport ready to greet the newest Candler student. An airplane landed as a taxi driver cut me off from the hourly parker entrance. I walked into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport reliving my own arrival flight to a new semester, new country, new university, and new language.

A smile spread across my face as I remembered my hand clasping the Portuguese-English dictionary disembarking the plane and reluctantly releasing the book it to accept the handshake greeting Demétrio offered me at the arrival gate. Equipped with name badge, smile, and delightfully slow, articulate Portuguese, Demetrio welcomed me to Brazil, to Methodist University of São Paulo, and to an unforgettable part of my Candler journey. Refugee advocate and author, Mary Pipher calls this role a “cultural broker,” explaining they are the ones who “help ease people into each other’s cultures”. (The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community, Orlando, Harcourt (2002), 89.) Demétrio’s hospitality and grace at the threshold of my study abroad semester ushered me into the vivacious seminary community of Methodist University.

Haley dictionaryWith soccer matches, discussions of liberation theology as compared to Pentecostal theology, ever-present coffee, and an array of church visits behind me, it is my turn to do the welcoming. Hoping to practice the encouraging hospitality I received, I have and am currently working in the Office of Student Programming this summer to assist the incoming international and exchange students in their transitions to Candler. My summer has been filled with flight schedules, good questions, shuttle routes, and emails.

Haley, rodrigo, margarida

Rodrigo dos Santos and Prof. Margarida Ribeiro with Haley in Atlanta

Reflecting on the many welcomes that gave me the courage to ask challenging questions, to seek the wisdom and experiences of my Brazilian colleagues, and to knock on the doors of those friends, I pray that here at Candler we each continue to build relationships with people whose experiences are different from our own. May we each grow towards the image of Christ that resides in each “stranger.”  I am grateful for the adventure helping to ease the transition into the culture here at Candler, the South, and the United States. I thank God for the rich diversity of cultures represented at Candler as we each learn a bit about each other as we journey together asking, knocking, and searching for the Kingdom of God.

–Haley Mills

Haley is a third-year MDiv student at Candler. An Alabama native, last year Haley was a Luce Fellow through Candler’s exchange program with the Methodist University of São Paulo, Brazil.


Aug 13 2013

Where the Wild Goose People Go

“Why the Wild Goose Festival?” the reporter asked me.

He was a freelance journalist working both for the local newspaper and The United Methodist Reporter, an independent news site that covers the denomination. He wanted to know what Candler, as a United Methodist institution, thought about the festival. Why was it important for Candler to be there?

As I thought about my answer, a lot of ideas ran through my mind.

First, I thought about Candler and the students in my own cohort. In many ways we’re “Wild Goose People.” My classmates are creative folk, passionate about the arts and anxious to pour their creativity into everything they do, whether in the classroom or in the chapel–music, dance and the visual arts are prominent in the life and worship of the Candler Community.

Karen Slappey

My classmates are also prophetic and compassionate. They are wrestling with the world, seeking God and striving to create a culture that does justice and loves mercy. Social justice isn’t just a commitment at Candler. It’s a value deeply rooted in the United Methodist heritage of Emory University and the Wesleyan tradition of social holiness. Wesleyan theology teaches that living the Gospel means living in and working to transform society. John Wesley defined salvation as a recovering of the divine nature endowed by God in the creation of humankind. The fruit of that restoration is, as Wesley put it, “true holiness in justice, mercy and truth.”

eARThSo why would Candler attend an event like Wild Goose? Well, “Wild Goose People” hold the values we do: creativity, passion and a fervent heart for restoring society through ministry, worship and community. And it’s important for pastors-in-training like myself to meet and hear from other like-minded people. It’s these kind of connections that make an event like Wild Goose an invaluable experience for those who attend year after year.

Candler participates in festivals, conferences and other events throughout the year. And the reason we do is not only to meet and connect with alumni and potential students; we also go to drink deeply from the community well, to cement our connection to the larger Church and to remind ourselves that the shared life we are creating at Candler is one tile in a bright and beautiful mosaic that covers the world.

–Timothy Hankins

Timothy is a second year MDiv student at Candler from Knoxville, TN. He coordinated Emory/Candler’s exhibit table at the 2013 Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC. In September he begins his appointment as the pastor of St. Stephen United Methodist Church in Marietta, GA.

Photo captions: Timothy at the Real table; Candler student Karen Slappey meets presenter Nadia Bolz-Weber; Cool art shirt; fellow student Sara Relaford.


Jul 30 2013

Oh, The Hats

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.

Meg LacyAs I pulled onto Sydney Street this morning and parallel parked my car, I decided to stay seated for a moment before going in to the church. I took a breath and looked around. The green hills of Grant Park sprawled out in front of me. Joggers doing their thing, moms with strollers headed to the pool. I looked in the rear-view mirror. The hustle and bustle of Boulevard during rush hour surged behind me, sprinkled with leathery men holding signs that read of their need.

Finally, I got out of the car. I began walking toward the large brick staircase that serves as an entryway to Park Avenue Baptist Church (Park Ave), the neighborhood-church where I have been serving this summer. Before I even reached the building, Eddie, a developmentally challenged man who recently moved into the neighborhood, stopped me. He needed to use our phone. Oh, and while he was here, could I help him with his GA Food Stamps Review online? “Of course I can help!” I said.

Park Ave worshipAfter spending time with Eddie, I went to work on the bulletin for Sunday morning. Scripture Readers? Announcements? Sermon title? I hadn’t gotten very far when Linda walked in. Linda is probably only in her fifties, but her frail body and worn skin make her look much older. Linda is chronically homeless and is dying of AIDS. Park Ave has offered to be Linda’s payee so that she can receive her Social Security benefits and have a bit of security in the last few years of her life. Today, Linda was looking for some cash to help pay for her medicine, and bus-fare so that she could make it to her doctor’s appointment downtown. I talked with Linda, prayed with her, and tracked down the resourced she needed. When she left, I went back to the work on the bulletin.

The rest of the afternoon was a conglomeration of disparate activities. I helped prepare plates of dino-nuggets and applesauce for the Literacy Camp students that fill our halls during the month of July. I prepared a lesson on Centering Prayer for the Spiritual Practices small group I would facilitating that evening. I spent time in conversation with two college-aged camp staffers who were worn out and in need of a little TLC. And I read Amelia Bedelia with my reading buddy, an eight-year-old named Zykeria. Talk about wearing many hats.

I have learned a multitude of things about ministry during my summer at Park Ave. From how to write and preach a co-sermon, to how to create a multimedia Scriptural meditation for Sunday services, I have explored new challenges and developed new skills. But perhaps the most important thing I have learned, and simultaneously the biggest joy of my summer, has been how to wear the many hats required at a neighborhood-congregation.

Park Ave 2Serving a neighborhood church requires a commitment not only to serve one’s parish, but also to serve one’s community with open arms and open doors. This often makes life complicated and involves additional tasks that other pastors may not frequently encounter. Sometimes, my role is that of a social worker—I have had to learn how to navigate the Georgia COMPASS website and keep a mental list of the resources around our community that are available to those who come in off the streets. Sometimes, I am a service-learning director, helping the camp staff to find resonances between their life of faith and their service work. Other times, I am a secretary, doing what must be done to keep the church going, completing the bulletin or counting the offering monies. It can be complicated to get traditional pastoral tasks accomplished, like returning emails or writing a sermon, with frequent community events and residents requiring attention.

Yet, serving at a neighborhood church also offers a diverse array of opportunities that traditional pastoral roles do not. It is a joy to pray with folks off the street and to use our resources to meet their needs. It is a welcome break from the day to sit down with a child who is learning to read, or to listen to the story of a mother who is struggling to make ends meet. This sort of community investment requires discernment and healthy boundaries, but brings life and reality into the walls of church that can so often be tainted by false happiness and pretenses. I have been inspired this summer, by a church whose doors really are open to all people. And I have grown more aware of the responsibilities this entails, and the ethical dilemmas one may encounter on this journey.

– Meg Lacy

Meg Lacy is entering her third year of Emory/Candler’s MDiv program. She is a native of Nashville, TN, and a graduate of Samford University. Meg spent a recent summer as a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Fellow at Bread for the World in Washington, DC.


Jul 2 2013

Ministry “To” and “With”

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.

When asked about my hopes and expectations for this summer, I would say that I hoped to experience the everyday rhythms in the life of a local congregation. I hoped to experience the joys, the pains, the celebrations and mourning that occur among the congregants of the local church and a church community, as people join, get baptized, and move away.

That’s exactly what I’m doing–I am experiencing the joys and frustrations of a congregation that hosts an interfaith food pantry every week; I am able to walk alongside a couple who are new to the area and have, for the first time, discovered a church that embodies the radical love of the kingdom of God; I see the sense of loss as the faith community prepares itself for a family to move to another part of the country. These are the rhythms that are found in the life of the local church. These are the rhythms that I get to experience this summer. These rhythms come out of relationships that exist throughout the local church and extend into the local community.

Rythms service bannerThis understanding of relationships is where I have grown the most. Relationships inform how we see our call. Relationships are the difference between “in ministry to” and “in ministry with.” A church and its leadership who are in ministry with one another and the community will likely identify a call to address spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of the community.  Thinking beyond an “us verses them” mentality, church leaders understands their task to empower good and effective ministry in others, not to be the primary “doers” of ministry. The church body can see itself in solidarity with the local community–rather than seeing those “outside” of church as adversaries.

The importance of relationships continues to be my growing edge for the summer. I have learned that by building strong relationships with those in the local church, leaders are better able to identify the gifts and graces of those who sit in the pews on Sunday morning. The same gifts and graces that may be of service within the church may also be of service outside the church. This both strengthens the worshiping community and allows the church to be an effective witness to the greater community. Relationships provide us with the opportunity to hear God calling us to something greater than ourselves, giving us the opportunity to experience God in each other.

–Harrison Thornhill

Harrison is a rising third year student at Candler who is completing a summer internship as part of Candler Advantage at Druid Hills United Methodist Church in Atlanta, GA.


Apr 12 2013

You want me to do what?!

Stone Mountain UMCAs my time at Candler end a lot of people have been asking me to reflect.  “Did you make the right choice?” “Did you get what you wanted out of this opportunity?”  I am very glad that I made the decision to attend Candler and in some ways it was exactly what I wanted and in other ways it was much more.  But the memories that come back to me are the ones from the first few weeks at Candler.  When I was so excited and nervous about being in a new place.  Having grown up living in a mid-size city in Louisiana – this thing called traffic was a whole new experience.  I had never visited a stranger in the hospital.  I had never had a class with more than 50 people in it.

I remember many times at Candler I have turned and given the “You want me to do what?!” look to professors, mentors, and friends.  Most recently, I have been interning at Stone Mountain First United Methodist.  I have been giving my mentor a lot of those looks.  Most recently, she asked me to preach at both services – in which I did not just give the look, I actually asked!  But that Sunday one of the members of the church commented to my wonderful mentor – “how wonderful for you to give Marissa this opportunity.”  Of course my mentor gave me a knowing look of “I know this does not quite feel like an opportunity and more like a stressful addition to your already busy week.”

But now that the sermon is all done and said – I can say it was a wonderful opportunity.  I was able to practice what I will be doing every Sunday next year with the knowledge that someone who cares about me was being my safety net.  At Candler, I have been given opportunity after opportunity to walk out onto the tightrope of ministry — okay sometimes people had to shove me out there!  And the best part was that my professors, my mentors, and my friends all had a knowing hand guiding me across — and a soft place to fall if need be.

Marissa TeauseauWhat I realized yesterday was that those moments will probably never end.  I will always be doing things in ministry that I never imagined that I could do.  And in some ways facing “full time ministry” is very scary for me!  But in another way – it’s really pretty cool because it is in those moments that we learn who we are.  Right now I’m pretty excited about my upcoming identity: Candler Alum and United Methodist Pastor!  But don’t call me that in public yet – I am not so used to it that I’ll answer to it or anything!  So I ask you — who are you right now?  Who are you becoming?  Who has helped you get here?  Now go give those people a hug and get ready for your next adventure!

- Marissa Teauseau

Marissa is a third year MDiv student, a graduate of Centenary College of Louisiana, and will return to the Louisiana Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church upon graduation.


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.


Feb 15 2013

The Power of Ritual

This weekend, literally thousands of people connected with my alma mater, Samford University, will participate in a bizarre ritual known as “Step Sing.” Various groups – ranging from Greeks to independents to University Ministries – will dress themselves in shades of lycra I didn’t even know existed and then dance and sing an eight-minute show that revolves around a clever theme.

Step Sing

While I confess I’ve not always understood – or even liked – Step Sing, I cannot deny that I felt a profound desire to watch it this year, especially when my roommate (fellow Samford alum and Candler student Andrew Toney) suggested that we host a live-stream viewing in our living room. Aided by the twin perspectives of distance and nostalgia, I may be relearning something I always thought I knew: the profound power of ritual.

I’ve long considered myself to be a sacramental Christian. I’m used to the funny looks I get when I say words like “Eucharist,” or “chalice.” I’ve had a number of long, complicated conversations with my teetotaling Baptist brethren on the use of wine instead of watery grape juice. But it took Step Sing to teach me the real power of ritual.

Because Step Sing, despite the little changes in themes or the addition of a new group, is the same experience every year. Students involved in Step Sing disappear from more than few classrooms and generally droop around campus from mid-January to mid-February. I am irritated by this. Many professors are bewildered. Then, bam! Three nights of performance, the awards ceremony, and some lucky organization is bragging about how cool their moves are while others mumble, “next year.” It’s pretty much like clockwork, and somehow also like Eucharist.

Because the Eucharist is more or less the same every time. I know that, on most Tuesdays, someone will consecrate some bread and some wine on an altar in Canon Chapel. More often than not, I will be there, but it still happens, even when I cannot be present. Students will stream forth. Some practice intinction while others drink straight from the chalice. Many will cross themselves, but others will not. There will be a brief moment of holy chaos while everyone figures out exactly which station they wish to venture towards. Sure, there are small variations here and there, but it’s more or less like clockwork, and I’m finding that to be a beautiful thing.

When my week is dominated by the stress of paper writing (rather like this week, actually), when an incident at my Contextual Education site consumes my thought processes, when I’m trying to fit a new piece of text-critical information into my ever-broadening theological framework, the Eucharist is still there, and it’s still the same. Whatever chaos I’m dealing with as a minister and as a student, the bread and the cup represent a beautiful stability in the middle of a whirlwind.

AaronI am eminently thankful for a place like Candler, a place that makes this beautiful ritual available on a weekly basis. I am thankful for a place that continues to stretch my conceptions of God, sacrament, and just about everything else while also maintaining a place where the beautiful, dogged faithfulness of God is made known in the constancy of the Eucharist.

Thanks be to God for these lessons, and, oddly enough, thanks be to God for Step Sing.

- Aaron Carr

Aaron is a first year MDiv student from Cumming, GA, a graduate of Samford University, and a Candler 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”


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.


Jul 23 2012

Grace Dances Amidst Holy Chaos

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.

Christopher Szarke at Haywood Street CongregationGrace dances amidst Holy Chaos.

This lesson doesn’t come naturally after previously embracing the structure of Roman Catholic religious life (Benedictine and Franciscan) and spending two years as the seminary intern in a calm Episcopal parish.   It has been the most challenging and freeing lesson of the ten-week Candler Advantage summer internship at Haywood Street Congregation, a United Methodist mission church that primarily ministers with homeless people in Asheville, North Carolina, population 85,000 people.   Pastor Brian Combs, a 2006 Candler graduate, founded the congregation three years ago and ministers with Co-Pastor Shannon Spencer.

Our motto is “Come as you are.”   This might mean not having showered for several days, being drunk or high, or without medication that keeps psychosis at bay.   Many members of our community have been asked to leave other churches, which is interpreted as rejection by God.    We understand that God embraces everyone and that we are called as Christians to embrace Jesus in our midst.   Each of us has our own brokenness and it’s better to err on the side of grace, leaving room for God to do the work that we cannot possibly accomplish on our own.

Grace dances amidst Holy Chaos.

The Welcome Table is a huge meal serving 275 to 455 people every Wednesday, followed by an optional worship service.   The choice for liturgy on Wednesday is intentional after receiving feedback that the opportunity to attend church in the middle of the week gives the strength to carry on through Sunday.   It’s a chance to encounter Jesus in the sacrament of communion, to be surrounded by community, and to gain support to remain sober another day.

A cross-section of Asheville is present at worship: business people, who may have hidden addictions to alcohol or prescription medications, and homeless people with addictions that society judges with less forgiveness; people who meet survival needs through prostitution; church grandmothers, youth groups, and formerly homeless people – including many veterans – who return to encourage our sisters and brothers along the journey.    I recognize God working through the congregation when a man is welcomed back after being incarcerated in the county jail.   We shake rattles in response to prayers and concerns of the people: hopes for housing, rejoicing at receiving housing for the first time in 22 years, remembering brothers and sisters who are not with us today because they are in jail or a hospital psychiatric unit or are recently deceased.

Sermons are conversational, with the pastor asking the congregation for responses to the Scripture reading.   Sometimes people are ramble on in response or are argumentative.   Somehow the pastor is able to affirm all of these voices and connect them back to Scripture and how this speaks to us today.

Grace dances amidst Holy Chaos.

I spend little time in an office, joining our congregation where they are throughout the week.   On Monday I am at a day center for homeless people, followed by serving lunch in Pritchard Park with Be Loved House (a nondenominational house church), where people ask for prayers about jobs, housing, or reconciliation with estranged family members.   I have joined Pastor Brian at the local shelter, staying overnight in the men’s dorm following a chapel service.    On Sundays I participate in liturgy at the Church of the Advocate, an Episcopal worshipping community that is primarily attended by homeless people.   Here communion extends beyond church walls.   Two of us leave the church and take communion to our sisters and brothers on the stairway, under the trees, and on the sidewalk.   I participate in two homeless advocacy groups; one promoting a Homeless Bill of Rights similar to the one recently passed in Rhode Island.   Members of Haywood Street Congregation gather once a month at Habitat for Humanity.   I am humbled by the people who work on homes for people while they themselves are sleeping by the river or in the shelter.

I lead the offertory by calling out to Haywood Street Congregation, “What does God love?”    They respond with shouts and shaking rattles, “A cheerful giver!”   I describe how each of us is called to share our blessings, whether it’s the gift of patience and kindness, or praying for each other, or sharing a few coins, or boiling three hundred eggs to pass out at the Welcome Table, or writing to our friends in jail, or gathering trash in the parking lot.   People write on the service bulletin about how they share, coming forward to put notes and coins in a basket.   I hold the basket above my head and pray for God to bless and multiply the offerings so they may continue the ministry of Jesus in our congregation and the larger community.

Grace dances amidst Holy Chaos.    The Incarnate Jesus is present with us each day and I remain in awe of this blessing.

– Christopher Szarke

Christopher Szarke, a rising third year M.Div. student in the Episcopal Studies and Faith and Health Certificate Programs, is currently in the discernment process with the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.