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.


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.


Jul 22 2011

Christ Upon the Mountain Peak

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.

Photo courtesy Ken Howle – Lake Junaluska

There is a little gem of a hymn in The United Methodist Hymnal (p. 260) that features the poetry of Brian Wren, emeritus professor of worship and hymn writer from across Decatur at Columbia Theological Seminary. It is a beautiful and poetic song, albeit one set to a difficult tune, that intentionally forces the singer to face the majesty and terribleness of Christ’s divinity revealed to his disciples, Peter, James and John in Matthew 17. It is titled “Christ Upon the Mountain Peak” and features the refrain:

Christ upon the mountain peak stands alone in glory blazing;

let us, if we dare to speak, with the saints and angels praise him. Alleluia!

 

“Let us, if we dare to speak,” – this phrase gets at, what I think, is the heart of the Gospel story in Matthew’s Transfiguration – the inability of language to speak to that which is unspeakable. These unspeakable moments are those experiences in which we glimpse something greater than ourselves.

I thought I understood this hymn. I have even preached on it, but I am not sure I truly appreciated the imagery of “Christ Upon the Mountain Peak” until I experienced the brilliancy of the morning sunshine cutting through the early morning fog that had settled on the Smoky Mountains. Watching the sunshine pour into the valley and bounce off the waters of Lake Junaluska like a giant mirror, I think I truly appreciated the need for the disciples to tremble “at his feet.”

A friend of mine calls these occasions – “golden moments.” Golden moments are flashes of liminality, where you stand on the threshold between two different existential planes. This liminal existence can be located within sacred space, but I prefer to think of it as those experiences that occupy sacred time. In such a liminal space, the individual experiences the revelation of sacred knowledge where God imparts God’s knowledge on the person. So many of our stories in scripture feature the imparting of divine wisdom to humanity on top of a mountain. My summer internship at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center in western North Carolina as part of the Candler Advantage program has been filled with these “golden moments.”

I have spent the past two months working as the Summer Worship Coordinator for Lake Junaluska’s Summer Worship Series, a nine-week series featuring guest preachers from all over the world (www.lakejunaluska.com/summer-worship). As part of my job, I get to design and order worship and then reflect on the ways in which our community is being shaped as a Christian people through our liturgy, literally, “the work of the people.” All of this has taken place against the resplendent backdrop of the Smoky Mountains, in a place that has served for almost 100 years as sacred space to Christians, particularly, United Methodists in the Southeastern portion of the United States. Lake Junaluska seems to maintain this sense of liminality. I will always remember my Candler Advantage internship as an intense, hands on, real-world experience set within this sacred space where the threshold between reality and divinity seem to be blurred.

- Kimberly K. Jenne

Kim is a third year MDiv student from St. Louis, MO and a member of the Missouri Annual Conference.


Jul 8 2011

Sharpening the Prophetic Voice

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.

I was walking through the Tampa convention center hosting the United Church of Christ’s 28th General Synod last Friday when an elderly gentleman asked me if I knew where he could get some coffee.  We set off in search of liquid caffeine and before I knew it, I was having a cup of joe with Avery Post, former General Minister and President of the UCC (1977-89).  I had just serendipitously wandered into a coffee date with a man whose leadership around racism and justice issues made him a really big deal in our denomination.  It was like a UCC celebrity sighting–I was so jazzed I called my mom and told her about it ASAP.

Amidst all the Six-Degrees-of-UCC connections I made with Rev. Post (it’s a small but mighty denomination, so almost everyone you meet knows someone you already know), I told him that I was about to enter my third year at Candler.  When I mentioned that Jan Love is our dean, Avery’s face lit up—“Oh, Jan!  She and I worked together for years on the World Council of Churches.  She’s brilliant…and may I say, beautiful!”  His passion for ecumenism shined through as he shared fond memories of WCC time spent with Dean Love.

I understood his enthusiasm.  Ecumenism is one reason I came to Candler—there are several excellent UCC-related seminaries out there, but I wanted to attend a school where I would not be in the majority, denominationally or theologically speaking.  And aside from all the good-natured jokes about “Unitarians Considering Christ” and the UCC being the denomination that will take anybody (okay, that part’s true!), I’ve found Candler to be a really rich blend of theological perspectives, faith traditions, and ministry outlooks.  It’s deeply satisfying to dig deep into such a fertile mix of experiences and viewpoints and let them help hone and define your own.

Leah serving commuion to Praxis UCC members.

Leah serving communion to Praxis UCC members and fellow Candler students.

Candler is not only a place where I can practice the vital pastoral skill of dialoguing with people whose views are very different from my own; it’s also a place where I can follow in the footsteps of Rev. Post and try my hand at being a prophetic voice in the mainline church (which is why you’ll see Facebook photos of me participating in Candler’s protest against Westboro Baptist and in support of people of all sexual orientations, or, inspired by Beth Corrie’s class on Teaching Peace in Congregations, wearing sackcloth and ashes to repent for our part in American militarism and war violence).  Classes, professors, and students at Candler have all pushed me to sharpen that prophetic voice and develop those distinctive views.  And the Candler Advantage internship program has allowed me to work full time this summer for Praxis UCC, the new church my husband and I started last year.  That’s also how I was able to attend five days of a denominational conference and make it a key part of my internship—waitressing doesn’t give you that much vacation time!

When I met a fellow UCCer who is matriculating at Candler in the fall for drinks (yes, we drink!) at the young adult clergy group at Synod, I told him how much I love defining my faith in a context where most people don’t think like I do, and how excited I was to be interning with Praxis this summer.  How ecumenism, academic excellence, and on-the-ground ministry experience were what drew me to Candler.  How glad I am to be here.

I certainly needed that cup of coffee on Friday morning—between Praxis’ small group wrapping up its discussion on “ordinary radicals” and catching our flight to Tampa, I’d only slept 4 hours the night before.  So I felt truly grateful for the reinvigorating liquid, but I was also thankful to be able to brush elbows and swap stories with a living legend in the United Church of Christ.  And I recognize with gratitude that it is through Candler’s generosity, hands-on learning style, and ecumenical commitment that I get to dive into experiences like these and really get the most out of them.  Here’s to another year of theological and ministerial adventure—and thanks, Candler!

-Leah Lyman Waldron

Leah is a third year MDiv from Chicago and a graduate of Wellesley College.


Jul 6 2011

A Sustaining Relationship

“Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God…” Ruth 1:16

A few weeks ago, I got to read those words from the pulpit in Cannon Chapel at the wedding of Kate Floyd (’07) and Kyle Tau (‘10). I was one of six women sitting in the front in white albs – women who have gathered before to celebrate occasions like this, who stayed up all night together writing papers at Candler just a few years ago, who have consumed unearthly amounts of chocolate while watching overly dramatic television, who have laughed and cried together to the point of exhaustion, who have gathered yearly since we graduated to re-center and find rest.

At Lane Cotton Winn’s (’07) wedding a couple years ago, the same group of us who walked to the front in white robes were called “The Big Six” by a friend of her family. And so, adding Lane in, one of the names we call ourselves is The Big Seven.

We like to name things, like each other (we all have nicknames). We also take great care to name the occasions in our lives, to mark them intentionally, to set the space and prepare our hearts – to channel our inner MEM (as we are influenced heavily by Mary Elizabeth Moore, who directed the Women in Theology and Ministry program in our day) or our inner BDM (as we create liturgy to bring into our celebrations in classic Barbara Day Miller style). We are, after all, Candler Women, scattered as we may be around the country.

I’m not sure how we became a group exactly. All of these women filtered into my life at different stages of my seminary career. Lane sauntered into the first day of CT501 wearing a pink “Mary is My Homegirl” tshirt, and I knew instantly that we’d be friends. Along with Lane, Kate and Nicole Christopher (’07) were in most of my classes first year and in the WTM program. I remember meeting Anjie Peek Woodworth (’08) first year during our orientation – all confident and cheerful and wearing overalls – but somehow we didn’t get to know each other until second year.

My second year at Candler was also when Sara Pugh (’08) moved into an apartment two floors above mine at the retirement community that had become a Candler outpost. Candace Hirsch (’08) danced in to my life soon after Sara, and they quickly became part of the crowd who usually hung out in my apartment.

We gathered to study, to put off studying, to celebrate being done studying… And in the midst of classes and papers and random adventures around the city, we built strong bonds. Several of us have taken mission trips together, particularly to Lane’s hometown, New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina.  Some of us have traveled to other continents together. And all seven of us have lived with someone else in the group at some point, but Candace takes (and usually bakes) the cake, having lived with four of us.

By my last semester in spring of 2007, our relationships had cemented. We were a group by the time we arrived early in the morning (kind of a big deal for some of us) to Bishops 211 on the first day of Don Salier’s last Public Worship class to scope out the primo seats. And by the time some of us were packing up to move to our respective Conferences and varied ministry settings a couple years later, we decided to be intentional about remaining a group, staying connected, and continuing to be a sounding board and support system even when we unpacked our boxes in different states.

We had our first Sabbath Retreat in the spring of 2008. We’ve had four now, and they follow a pattern. We each spend time sharing about the craziness of our year, the curveballs of ministry and family and relationships. We eat far too much, but it’s all delicious. We stay up until we’re falling asleep, and then we sleep until we wake up. We each create something to remind us of that particular gathering. And we celebrate the milestones in our lives – birthdays, engagements, pregnancy, ordinations…  Although we keep in touch during the year, these Sabbath Retreats are like cramming a year’s worth of in-person friendship into a couple of days.

I can’t fully express what I’ve learned from these women, and what I miss most living so far flung – the empathy and energy that take Candace away from what she may want to do and place her where someone needs her; the care with which Sara attends to every word someone says to her; the precision and insight of Anjie’s questions, opening a conversation wider; the grace and thoughtfulness with which Kate points to deeper systemic issues; the bodaciousness of Lane’s prophetic voice, calling us to think bigger; the glint in Nicole’s eye when she’s just thought of something mischievous and awesome for us to do… and the living room dance parties that ensue whenever we gather together. Sometimes I turn up the music and dance alone on the hardwood in my living room in Miami, channeling Candace’s moves and Sara’s laughter and the presence of these delightful women.

My first year at Candler, I heard the 3rd year students repeat over and over, “It’s all about relationship.” I kept waiting for the class where that phrase would be used. But that lesson wasn’t from a class. For me, that lesson came from the experience of Candler – the willingness of most everyone to be in relationship even when we disagreed vehemently in classes, talking theology wherever we were and whatever we were doing, the closeness of the community, the emphasis on lovingly engaging our brothers and sisters throughout the city and world, and the call to intentional devotion to God.

These friends, and so many others, shared and shaped my time at Candler. The strength of these relationships encourages me as I keep working to build myself a community in Miami, a city with an abundance of tropical fruit and adventure. It’s easy to find people, but difficult to make meaningful connections. But even as I find new friendships, those Candler relationships sustain me knowingly, as we all embrace the adventure that is ministry. Every day I discover something else I don’t know, and I’m still figuring out how to do campus ministry both faithfully and relevantly. The words and love of these women spur me on as I try to convey to my students that it really is all about relationship – our relationship with God and with each other.

Our Sabbath gatherings are like water in a parched land, as we regroup after another year of living out this rigorous call to love and serve.  A few months ago during this year’s Sabbath, I stood in Cannon Chapel with the rest of The Big Seven, and we sang “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.” And when we part, it really does give me inward pain. But these people are my people, and their God is my God. Where I go, in some way, they go.

- Beth Bostrom

Beth is a 2007 graduate of the Candler School of Theology and currently serves as the chaplain/campus minister/director/goofy lady with the random ideas of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Miami.


Jun 28 2011

Being Church in the City

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.

I am incredibly grateful that Candler has provided the time and resources to allow me to delve much deeper into parish ministry this summer. So far, the summer has been challenging, inspiring, HOT, and yes, even fun.

I am serving at Birmingham First United Methodist Church in Alabama. First Church is a fairly large church situated at the heart of downtown Birmingham. Like all institutions in Birmingham it carries both a noble and broken history. Today, however, the church leads the city in many ways with its dynamic vision to create an engaging, authentic experience of worship, discipleship and service. It truly is an open place for all to worship, grow and serve.

My personal project this summer is, broadly, to explore what it means to be Church in an urban setting with a diverse, yet dominantly suburban membership. The congregation represents different income levels, locations, education systems, political views, theological views, races, and sexual orientations. The driving question for me has been, “How can this type of church build community both amongst its diverse congregation and with its particular context?”

My work on this has begun with building relationships with members so that we may, as a community, fruitfully explore how First Church responds/should respond to the realities of homelessness, working poverty, and transportation and food access in our immediate context. The church is currently testing a “Listen-Learn-Serve” model, which provides education, discussion, and chances to serve in each of these areas of need in our community. This model is going well, but there is a desire amongst some of the congregation to engage the whole congregation about these issues and to move to a more sustained relationship model. I am working this summer to envision what that might look like for First Church.

The strongest relationship that the church has with its surrounding communities has been initiated by the youth. The Community Church Without Walls is a United Methodist congregation in Birmingham’s West End, a neighborhood with the highest crime/violent crime rates in the state. The youth from the two churches for the past two years have done mission work together, gone on retreats together, and visit each other’s church and homes. I am working primarily with adult ministries this summer, and not directly with the youth. However, my husband is the pastor of Community Church Without Walls and our home is in West End. Thus, my personal life is intimately bound to this relationship between the youth of the two churches. I think the adults have a lot to learn from these amazing kids on what “Church” is.

Check out this clip to get a better idea of how the youth are leading both churches in answering the call to do and be church in Birmingham.

(Note: it is sad that the appeal of the story is its racial categorization, but perhaps this evidences some of the brokenness that still remains in Birmingham: http://www2.alabamas13.com/news/2011/jun/21/teens-help-recovery-effort-ar-2008012/)

- Mary Page Wilson-Lyons

Mary Page, a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College, is a rising 3rd year MDiv student at Candler and a member of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.


Jun 24 2011

Healing from Tragedy

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.

On April 27 of this year I sat in the living room of my third story, Decatur apartment and wondered where I would go if a tornado hit. I am sure many can recall that day, and the events of the night are etched into my mind. While I was safe in Atlanta, I knew that my home church community of Apison, Tennessee, was being ravaged by the spring storms. I had no idea the extent of the damage until the pastor of Apison UMC began to post updates on congregation members. He wrote things like, I have heard from the Smith, Jones, and Thompson families; Gene and Roxie are still missing; the two homes in front of Mark are no longer there. This news feed ran through the evening. He sent me a message telling me to pray for the community and that it was hit badly by the storms. I did not know the extent of the damage. When I saw that Atlanta’s Fox 5 was sending a news truck to Ringgold, Georgia (Apison and Ringgold are neighbors separated by only a state line on the map), I knew that things must be bad.

During the following days I heard it described as a war zone. I saw pictures and everyone cried that the pictures do not accurately capture the magnitude of the devastation. My heart grieved for the church family that is sponsoring and praying for me during my seminary education. The emotions were crazy; I felt lonely, guilty, and angry for not being with the people I loved. Disasters are disasters when they hit cities, but when they hit home disasters have faces, disasters have breath, disasters have names, and disasters have feelings. Still it is hard to describe how I actually felt while I watched my church family dig through trauma.

The only thing that gave me solace was that I knew that as soon as the semester was out I would be traveling back home to work in a neighboring church. This summer I am interning through the Candler Advantage program at Ooltewah United Methodist Church, which is in a community neighboring Apison. Through my position at Ooltewah, I have been blessed to be part of the relief efforts that will continue for the foreseeable future in the Apison community. In the midst of this tragedy I have seen strangers become friends and neighbors become heroes. People from as far away as New York and California have come to Apison to give of their time, talent, and energy.

While I am not working at Apison UMC, I am very blessed to be a part of a recovery and healing in my home community. The stories of everyday miracles are endless, from a dad and son lifting an unmovable safe off a trapped family to a church whose annual budget is barely $100,000 distributing over $20,000 in aid within five weeks of the tornado. God is at work, and I am so amazed that I have been graced with the unexpected opportunity to see the face of grace. Each week I ride my bicycle through the community. During my first ride, I cried; Saturday I smiled the smile of foundations being poured and Sheetrock being hung.

When I applied for the Candler Advantage program I thought that I knew what my summer was going to look like. April 27th changed all of that, but because of support of Candler I am engaged in life altering and world shaking ministry. The grace of humanity that I am witnessing through this disaster is shaping my ministry and giving life to my theological education. This experience is recreating me into a new person. Thanks be to God.

-Will Conner

Will is a rising third year MDiv student at Candler and a member of the  Holston Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.


Jun 21 2011

A Candler Rhythm

It’s quiet in my office these days.  From mid-August through mid-May, the Office of Student Programming on the third floor of the School of Theology building is usually a bee hive of activity—with more than a dozen student staffers planning programs or tutoring ESOL students, Candler Coordinating Council (C3) executive officers at work on behalf of its sixteen student organizations, admissions staff or visitors from outside the school meeting in our conference room, faculty stopping by for  some late afternoon chocolate from the big glass candy jar on the front counter, students arriving for appointments with me, or just dropping by, to talk about what is going on in their lives—the OSP is a bustling place, with ideas and energy going in all directions to support Candler’s large and diverse student body.

But not right now.  Right now the June days in Atlanta are hot and languid, and the pace has slowed.  Summer school is in session, but classes are fewer and smaller; much of the time our corridors are cool and empty.  Many faculty are away doing research or writing, and administrative staff are writing reports and planning for next year.  ‘Tis the season for reflection about, and hopefully rest from, all that activity during the fall and spring semesters.

With just over a year behind me as Candler’s Director of Student Life and Spiritual Formation, I still am referring to this as my “Martha and Mary” job.  I like to think about what those two sisters from Luke’s gospel teach us about the values of hard work and activity, as well as about the values of reflection and rest.  We need both, yet it’s often a challenge to create a rhythm of life that incorporates first the one, and then the other, over and over again, so that we become whole people.  As much as I love the quieter days, and the opportunities they afford to step back from the “programming” to really think about “students,” I find myself getting restless.  I get up from my chair and go looking for people to talk to, or walk down to the Starbucks for an iced coffee I don’t need, or distract myself with a new project to keep me from, say, finishing this blog posting!

Figuring out how to create and sustain a balanced rhythm of life isn’t any easier as a student at Candler, but that’s one of the reasons the Office of Student Programming is here.  Yes, we offer plenty of activities that may keep you busy, and hopefully enhance your life as a seminarian—but we also offer ways for you to reflect and to rest.  If you’ve never been on a silent retreat for three days, or if you’ve never painted with water colors as a form of centering prayer, you will have that opportunity, and others like them, at Candler.  We’ll be looking for you on the third floor!

-The Rev. Ellen Echols Purdum

Rev. Purdum is Director of Student Life and Spiritual Formation at Candler.  An Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Atlanta, she can be found most Sundays preaching or presiding at Church of the Good Shepherd in the small town of Covington, Georgia.  Whether teaching high school students, or working with undergraduates and seminarians at The Fund for Theological Education, or now at Candler, she understands her vocation as listening to the lives of students.  She is a graduate of Emory University and the Candler School of Theology.


Jun 3 2011

Exploring the World’s Parish: An Indonesian Journey

The journeys God takes us on, and the unexpected pit stops along the way, are rarely ever dull, and rarer still are they purposeless. My recent trip to Indonesia with the World Methodist Evangelism Institute reminded me of this. Traveling with four fellow students, Candler professor Dr. Arun Jones, and a stellar team of Institute staff and volunteers, I spent ten days in capital city Jakarta learning about Christianity and ministry in the South Asian context. This was more than just an educational endeavor, however. In the truest sense of the word, travel itself is a process of self-refinement and personal growth.

This process began for me before we ever left Atlanta. I struggled with the conflicting desires of wanting to break out of my ordinary routine and wanting to stay safely within it. School had just ended for the summer and I craved the freedom of lazy evenings, fiction novels, and movie marathons. Instead, I was packing my bags for a seminar halfway across the world. A strange blend of emotions churned within me: the longing for adventure and new experiences mixed with an unsettling anxiety about traveling such a great distance and stepping so far outside my comfort zone.

Indonesia is about as far away in the world from Atlanta as you can go. However, after disembarking in Jakarta and spending ten days there, I came to discover that, in some ways, Indonesia is not so different from our fair southern state. In Indonesia, the air is just as heavy with humidity, the tea is just as sweet (though served piping hot!) and the hospitality is warm and welcoming. Our hosts made us feel right at home, even many thousands of miles away. For example, our host mother made us hamburgers and French fries for breakfast one morning! She also gifted one of us with a package of Kraft singles after he mused that he had been missing cheese. These seemingly small and somewhat quirky gifts of hospitality that brought a piece of America to Indonesia warmed our hearts as much as our later gifts of handmade traditional shawls that assured we would bring something of Indonesia back to America.

Many of my anxieties crumbled in the face of the overwhelming hospitality of my new Indonesian friends. What was left of my defenses toppled as I heard more and more ministry stories from local church leaders. There was the pastor who had baptized a young woman from a Muslim family who now has to mediate between her and her displeased father. Then there was the woman who is pastoring in an area devastated by a recent volcanic explosion; she loves and cares for her neighbors (physically and spiritually) without expecting anything in return. There was also the passionate young pastor with a skill for church planting who has his sights set next on the province of Papua. The challenges facing Indonesian pastors seem daunting to American Christians whose greatest fears in evangelism are embarrassment and rejection; Indonesian Christians work within a majority Muslim context in which Christianity is still considered taboo from its colonial associations. Yet these Methodist pastors are filled with God’s fire and minister to their communities with a zeal that would make John Wesley proud.

Before we left Atlanta, our group was asked to share what our greatest expectation was for the trip—our purpose in going. My answer was that, as an aspiring United Methodist minister, I have a responsibility to engage myself in the work of the global church. No Methodist pastor is an island, to borrow from Donne, and our connectional ties should extend beyond annual conference lines. To be a Methodist minister anywhere implies a bond with Methodist ministers everywhere. The struggles and triumphs of my Indonesian brothers and sisters should be mine, and mine theirs. I found this to be overwhelmingly the case; my greatest teachers were the pastors in my Wesley group (a small group of intimate sharing and accountability) during the seminar. They candidly shared the stories of their ministries and exposed their own vulnerabilities and challenges. Not only will I always remember them in my prayers, but I will remember them also during my studies of preparation for ministry. They are my ‘on-the-ground’ teachers, the ones who have shown me what passion for ministry looks like.

There are great things happening in Indonesia. And it is amazing how God can use a powerful tide of faith in a distant country to impact the singular faith journey of this one seminary student. With one more year of school before me and the looming question of “what’s next?” pressing ever closer, there are as many challenging months before me as there are behind. But I have been renewed in the living remembrance of what ministry is all about: living a passionate, infectious life of discipleship. It has taken a journey away from the familiarity of home to show me how to renew the faithfulness of my life and service. Our home environments can easily become all too comfortable so that even the most stretching of callings—that of the pastor—can ease into dull routine and habit. I thank God for the education that takes us outside of ourselves and shows us the bigger picture in which and towards which we are working: the very kingdom of God on earth.

-Whitney Pierce

Whitney is a 3rd year MDiv student from North Carolina and a regular contributor to the Beatitudes Society blog.


May 17 2011

Looking Back to Help Others Look Forward

They say all jokes have a hint of truth in them. That’s what makes them funny. There was a joke I heard when I started seminary three years ago that goes something like this:

Seminary is much like the Easter Story. The first year they’ll crucify you and things you believe in. The second year they’ll bury you in the tomb of major classes, lots of reading and papers. And the third year you’ll finally be resurrected.

It seems like yesterday I was in my first semester of classes at Candler. I can remember the conversations about classes, professors, and all of the work required to pass. If I think about it really hard, I can remember the feeling that three years would be an eternity. Graduation wasn’t even on the horizon—it was nowhere close to conceptualization.

Over that year, I can remember seemingly endless hours of reading and writing. I can remember assignments that made no sense at all and being asked to write papers on matters I could hardly spell, much less articulate with any sort of coherent or precise thought. All the while I was asked to sit through some of the most uncomfortable, and seemingly unending, sessions with people I did not know from Adam’s house cat (I’m from South Georgia so you’ll have to forgive the colloquialism) as we reflected on things we were experiencing at our Contextual Education sites or in the classroom.

I can remember the first time I was asked to critically consider some of the quant Sunday School lessons of my childhood in a classroom setting. It was as though someone had the audacity to walk right up to me and ask for the cloak off my back. How dare they ask me critically examine the stories of my childhood! But engaging in such critical thinking caused me to have a wonderfully scary encounter with foundational beliefs beginning to crack. I intentionally mean that it was both wonderful and scary all at once. It became clear early on that who I was when I came to seminary was not going to identical to who I would be after the rigors of the program. And that was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.

By my second year I began to experiment with trying on various voices. Amid the burying underneath mounds of materials and thinkers, one begins to find that some of the thinkers resonate with them. Some have special qualities that tickle the fancy of budding theologians in such a way that often, you try their voice on for size. It’s okay to do that. Some voices fit better than others. Some you will quickly outgrow like a child can outgrow clothes in a single season. Others stay with you, like old friends. Either way, the array of voices has the ability to cause mass confusion in the life of the “in-process” seminarian. But you continue to listen for in the middle of the confusion are sometimes subtle, yet profound moments when they surprise you and sing in a melodious chorus together.

And then comes the glorious possibilities of being in your final year. By this time you have successfully questioned and re-questioned much of what you came to seminary believing and thinking. Some you have kept because, after all, Candler will never take the easy road of simply telling you what to believe. You will form relationships with professors and peers and, dare I say it, you will enjoy classes. As the end of seminary comes closer and closer you will even have days where you’re sad that what seemed like such a distant possibility is slowly, but surely becoming an all-too-close reality. You are, all at once, a bumbling mess of mixed emotions. Job possibilities hang in the balance. Ordination pressures arrive. The end of school means the exciting end to deadlines and never-ending papers. And then it hits you—you will soon no longer be able to hide under a guise of safety at Candler. You will learn that you will soon have to enter the world and do this ministry thing on your own.

You realize a couple of important things after your time at Candler is finished. First, after I realized how scary it will be to finish and “do this ministry thing on my own,” I remembered, “I’m not on my own at all.” God is with us no matter where we go. And we have the opportunity to be a valued member of a division of the “communion of saints” at Candler. And so you are never, ever alone in the world. Secondly, there will come a day that you will speak and it will not be the voice of Barth, Luther, Luke Timothy Johnson, Tom Long, Carol Newsome, Athanasius, James Cone or Howard Thurman. It will be you. And it might scare you the first time you hear it. It will sound like you, but not the you that you once knew. And it will also sound like those wonderful conversation partners you developed in your studies, but not exactly because none of them will ever be a perfect fit. It will be a you that is not finished developing yet. In fact, you’ll realize that seminary is only the beginning this new you.

But don’t let me spoil the ending too much. Enjoy your ride and know that you have a community of saints, both past and present, lifting you up in prayer through the deadlines, pressures, all-night study sessions, and exams that will ultimately lead toward a transformation that you never thought possible.

Maybe folks are right in that all jokes have a hint of truth in them. Maybe seminary can and will reflect a smaller version of the grand and glorious story of redemption in the lives of each and every student ready to embark on the journey.

Grace and Peace,

- Rev. Ben Gosden, 11T

Ben is a 2011 MDiv graduate from Candler and the Associate Pastor of Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon, GA. He blogs regularly on issues of faith, life, and being a young adult pastor in a postmodern world. You can find his website at www.mastersdust.com.