Jul 16 2013

California Dreaming

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.

Communion service in Tijuana, Mexico during an immigration justice program.

While deciding where to go to seminary for my Master of Divinity for ordination in the United Church of Christ (UCC), the first attributes of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University that attracted me were the more obvious ones. I could see that the facilities were modern, fresh, immaculate, and welcoming. I knew that Candler had one of the best faculties of any theology program in the world. I was drawn to Candler by the Contextual Education program and its comprehensive synergy with the larger curriculum and mission of Emory University and the Church. I was impressed by the ecumenism, excited by Atlanta, and felt included and welcomed by the worship, liturgy and community. This was clearly a place to come to be a student and to be in full, loving, learning community.

What I could not see, and has been of increasing value to me as a current student and future alumnus of Candler, was the school’s vast and passionate alumni network. The alumni of Candler are doing amazing things. Our alumni work as parish ministers across nearly every Christian denomination and all over the world. While gazing at the buildings and learning about the accomplishments of the faculty and students, I was yet unaware of the foundation that lay below. It is a foundation of former students and alumni who are theologically dynamic, community-creating leaders.

I was blessed to discover tSeaside Community UCChat alumni foundation when it came time to apply for Candler Advantage. Candler Advantage is a summer-long full-time internship opportunity for students seeking to further delve into the work and life of parish ministry after completing Contextual Education II, which is the parish placement year for MDiv students. As I searched for a church to serve in, it was brought to my attention by a member of the Candler faculty that a recent and creative United Church of Christ alumnus of Candler is now pastoring Seaside Community UCC in Torrance, California. I contacted the pastor, Rev. Dave Sigmund (MDiv, 2009), and the internship fell into perfect place.

It has been a privilege and a blessing to find an internship in a UCC congregation in California pastored by a gifted and energetic recent Candler graduate. The value of working with an alumnus of the Candler School of Theology is that Dave knows about the philosophy of the Contextual Education program and the mission of the school. We tailored this internship to allow me the maximum level of involvement possible within the life and worship of the congregation. I am leading a Christian Education course on theology and environmentalism twice a week, preaching three times out of ten weeks, leading worship and prayer, and assisting with pastoral needs and outreach visioning. I also helped lead Seaside UCC’s presence at the biannual General Synod of the UCC, which was held in neighboring Long Beach this summer.

Jake at General Synod

Jake at General Synod

I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that the profoundly intersectional work that took place between what I am learning in the classroom at Candler and the on-the-ground skills I will need as an ordained minister in the UCC, was made possible through the alumni connections that Candler maintains. Candler Advantage is a program that embodies the relationship we all have as proud parts of the whole that is the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

–Jake Joseph

Jake is a rising third year MDiv and Certificate in Human Rights student at Candler. A graduate of Grinnell College, he is from Plymouth Congregational UCC in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he is a Member in Discernment (Certified Candidate).

May 3 2013

At Table

My first Easter at Candler opened my eyes to what Easter worship could be. The singing was beautiful, the preaching was simply fantastic. But what impressed me the most were the yards and yards of sheer fabric soaring through the vaults of Canon Chapel proclaiming, in a visual way, the Risen Christ.

That seed, planted at Candler, became the Westfield Center for Liturgical Creativity which allows neighboring churches to borrow our worship visuals (whole installations or just pieces of them) to use in their services.  Our goal is to help other churches find new ways to use old spaces.

The truth is, however, you don’t have to borrow items from us.  Chances are you’ve got most of what you need right in your own church.

The first time I toured Westfield Church, I found, on the third floor landing, a 19th century farm table. It’s beautiful table.  Chunks of wood are missing here, scrapes and scratches there. There are spots of paint dotting its surface and support reinforcing it’s old legs.

This past Lent, during my Holy Week planning, my mind wandered back to that table. Stored in that third floor corner for who knows how long, I wondered who had gathered around that table over the years. How many confirmation classes had be taught around it? How many crafts had been made on its old planks? How many meals had been shared over it?

I decided that this Holy Week, this Maundy Thursday, we would share communion around that table. How fitting to gather on the night we particularly remember the last supper around a table that generations of our faithful found themselves sitting around.

That night, as we sat in groups of twelve in a mishmash of wooden chairs, we shared communion in the company of that great cloud of witness who had gone before. That meal shared around that table nourished our spirits not just in the meal but in who we were sharing it with that night.

Jon ChapmanAnd in that sharing we knew that we weren’t alone, that we were, indeed, in it all together. That the church through time and around the world was in it with us.   We claimed our history–our stories, our table. And we looked to future–to the good we can accomplish having been nourished by such a meal and reminded of all those whose shoulders we stand on.

Pretty amazing what some fabric, an old table, and God can do.

- Jon Chapman

Jon is  a 2010 graduate of Candler School of Theology and is the pastor of Westfield Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Danielson, CT.  You can find him online (along with visual worship photos and how-tos) at revjonchapman.com.

Aug 13 2012

Who am I to do this work?

“I’ve been hiding with this whole Battlestar Galactica thing,” I told my husband in an emotional heart to heart recently. It was the most shameful confession I’ve made in a long time. Not that there is anything wrong with the science fiction drama that’s been infiltrating the lives of countless hipsters of late. It wasn’t Battlestar Galatica’s fault. No, I can’t blame this one on Starbuck and Adama.

When I found out I was accepted to divinity school and made the decision to attend Candler, I was thrilled. That excitement carried me right through my wedding in May, the honeymoon, the squeaky newness of our marriage, and the lofty dreams of the next three years together. Life just kept getting better. Hooray! When the summer began, I had plans to read devotionally, work on my prayer life, and make my way through James Kugel’s How to Read the Bible all before setting foot on Emory’s immaculate campus. Instead, this summer I’ve allowed my free time to be taken over by Cylon invasions and intergalactic love triangles. How did that happen?

One of the best things about being married is having someone you love and trust tell you when you’re full of sh*t. I’ve been blessed to recently discover this overlooked benefit. My husband told me in the midst of a disagreement, in which I was being completely irrational, “I have disappointments too, Anna. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m disappointed in how little time you’ve spent preparing for Candler in your reading life.” It was like staring at myself in the mirror, and then realizing that I actually look like crap. And that’s when I confessed to the abuse of Battlestar Galactica – my inconspicuous drug of choice.

Now some of you reading may think I am blowing this all out of proportion. There is nothing wrong with Battlestar Galactica! Nothing wrong with spending your summer indulging in vices soon to be off limits when studies begin! And you would be right. But for me, choosing evenings with Battlestar Galactica over evenings with Kugel, with the Bible, and with God, meant that I was avoiding facing my own anxiety and fears about starting divinity school.

In one of the Candler information sessions I attended, Mary Lou Boice, Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, said something particularly profound. She said something along the lines of, “It takes a lot of guts to say you want to be a pastor, to overcome the question of, ‘Who am I to do this work?’” And she couldn’t be more right. When the wedding faded into the past, and I had only divinity school to look forward to – I began to fear what this new life would be. Who am I to do this work? I just recently became a Christian. I’ve had people read my blog and compare me to Dante’s Lucifer. I don’t know any of the party lines and denominational platforms. Who am I? I’m going to Candler and I don’t know anything about John Wesley! I was raised Unitarian in a humanist household. I barely know how to pray. My Christology is in flux. Who am I but just another lost sheep? Who am I to guide anyone to the Shepherd?

I’m just another child of God. That’s who I am, and it’s the hardest truth to reconcile. Maybe it’s the sheep who have once been lost who are best able to lead. Or maybe not. The truth is that going to divinity school is the biggest leap of faith I have taken. It’s the beginning of a not-my-will-but-thine life. Because I don’t know how God will use me to minister. I don’t know how God will work through me. But I have made a decision to give my life to be used for that purpose. And all I can do is try my best to be ready. All I can do is have the audacity to trust.

Now, pass me that remote. I’ve just got 3 more episodes to go before I finish Battlestar and begin the rest of my life.

Anna Flowers is an entering MDiv student. She has a degree in English Literature from the University of Chicago and currently lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband and cat.

Jun 26 2012

“I just wanna be a sheep, baa baa baa baa…”

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.

After a week of Vacation Bible School at Kirkwood United Church of Christ, I catch myself every so often singing this little song and very nearly doing the hand motions that go with it. It has been a joy to play, read and act out stories, and sing alongside nearly 30 children as we went on a “Journey With Jesus” this past week, traveling from place to place as we (re)discovered some of the great stories of Jesus’ life.

Spending time with all of the VBS participants and volunteers has been just one of the many gifts that I’ve received from participating in the Candler Advantage program this summer. Whereas I worked 4 hours a week at my Con Ed I site, and 8 hours at my Con Ed II site (which was also Kirkwood UCC), I’m expected to work full-time (40 hours a week) this summer as a part of the program, allowing me to truly get a sense of what this vocation is all about. From finance and fundraising meetings, to choir, to early morning worship, to preaching, and to Soup Saturday community meals, I have begun to see the broader picture of the life of our community in ways that were nearly impossible with a full-time academic course load.

Something that was a little unexpected but turned out to be a great adventure was the chance to attend the annual meeting of the Southeast Conference of the UCC in Birmingham, Alabama. There I attended workshops on social networking and creating a culture of call, and had the opportunity to see how the polity of the UCC works, especially in comparison to the tradition I grew up in, the United Methodist Church. The most exciting thing about this trip was seeing the many ways that God moves in the world. Meeting people from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, I was able to hear and witness the diverse ways people are responding to God’s call on their lives – whether its starting a new church, liturgical dance teams, recovery ministries, LGBTQ outreach, or being a community of faith for over a hundred years. I’m hoping that throughout the rest of this summer I will continue in this same spirit, ministering to and being ministered by the Kirkwood UCC community, and witnessing the many ways that God continues to speak to us here and now.

- Mayjean Deam

Mayjean is a rising third year MDiv student from Virginia and a graduate of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA.