May 6 2014

A Time To Laugh

The other day, I was writing my last term paper of my second year at Candler, for my ethics class. That week had been full of papers, and I was feeling like I had squeezed out every drop of God-juice that was in my brain. My friend sent me a funny text message, and I sent her back an amused reply and said with resignation that I was working on my ethics paper. She said she was sorry to have bothered me and would let me get back to work.

I was doing exactly what I like to think I never do: taking myself too seriously. A similar thing happened in class the other day. My professor said I was too serious and needed to lighten up and take some cheap grace. I could hardly believe it. Too serious! I called an old buddy of mine on the way home and told him of the professor’s assessment. “What?” he said, laughing, “You?” It was good to learn that he could not believe it, either.

It had shaken me up, this image of myself as joyless and severe. I had come to seminary feeling like I had an intuitive closeness with God. Then seminary really hit. My small arsenal of spiritual maxims had been turned upside-down, and my faith sometimes felt defective. Occasionally during my morning devotion, I felt like I did not even know how to pray correctly, but then whenever I tried to force a change in method, it was like putting a raw egg and orange juice into a bowl of frosted flakes. All were good for a complete breakfast, but there was no need to change everything about breakfast.

I cannot be anywhere that God is not; I just have to look. I remember also laughing heartily with some classmates once during a study session. We were all in the same boat, and this was going somewhere, and we just had to enjoy the ride. When we take ourselves too seriously, we deceive ourselves that we know absolutely God’s will for us, and that we would realize that will if only those around us would get with the program. We stop listening to God. Laughter happens when we are able to stop reacting in fear toward something, and give up any delusion that we can control or explain any of this. Even when we are cracking up with our friends, it’s like we’re sharing an inside joke with the Almighty.

So, I do not have to worry. The glorious symphony, which I know intuitively, is actually not far removed from the theological head-scratching that seminary demands. I must employ the “Under Construction” motif (from 2013 New Student Orientation) that has been so appropriate this year with all the literal and figurative construction on campus. The book of Ezra tells of the Israelites rebuilding the temple after the Babylonian exile: “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord.” (Ezra 3:10-11) The music comes from the same place where the foundation of the temple is being laid. When I can accept that, I can throw up my hands, give up control, and laugh, knowing that I am loved perfectly by God.

So I sent my friend another text message: What do you call a fish with no eyes?

Answer: A fsh!

–Josh McDaniel

Josh is a rising third-year student at Candler and a ministerial intern at Chamblee First United Methodist Church.


Apr 22 2014

“What Does It Mean To Be Saved?”

The question came from a 13-year-old girl in leopard print skinny jeans and black Converse All-Stars.

This is exactly the type of question I had anticipated in teaching the confirmation class as part of my second year of Contextual Education. In fact, I had been trained to shape my lessons around the questions I wanted my students to ask. I had also been taught Wesleyan theology by Dr. Rex Matthews, so I thought I was ready to jump into these deep theological issues head first.

Despite all of this formal preparation, I was not ready for the responses that the lessons would generate among the adult mentors who had volunteered to be part of this process. My senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Cyndi McDonald, had told me time and again that the number one factor in determining whether or not a young person will return to church as an adult is the number of meaningful relationships that young person has with adult members of the church. So when we sat down to make plans for the confirmation class, it was a no-brainer to invite adults to participate. I had hoped they would share their personal stories and experiences with the youth and build lasting relationships. After all, I am only placed in this church for one year as an intern, and Pastor Cyndi is a United Methodist Elder, so she will eventually be appointed to a new congregation. That means that the adults of this church are the ones who must take responsibility for nurturing these youth into mature disciples, just as the community has done since they were children.

I was prepared to watch the intrigue and curiosity of the youth who are discerning what it means to be a follower of Christ, but I was shocked by the joy and delight that these classes generated among the adult mentors.

They are loving learning and re-learning why we do what we do. They marvel at how the youth raise questions about the Bible and their challenges to understand God in the confusing politics of middle school. They cherish the honest moments when we reach the point of admitting that God is good, but God is also mysterious.

I must admit, all of this excitement and education is not a direct result of my pedagogical efforts. Candler has absolutely prepared me to mold a lesson to fit the learners and the location, but Candler could not have prepared me for the moment that I could witness God moving hearts.

We recruited the adult mentors to help engage the youth, but the youth have engaged the adults. It only makes sense that love would grow in both directions, but my focus on the youth blinded me to that truth. We are in the process of affirming what we believe and how we worship, but God is in the process of confirming that the Spirit is moving among those who seek to be disciples of Christ.

–Clair Carter

Clair is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. Originally from Louisiana, she is a graduate of Oglethorpe University.


Nov 26 2013

“We just need to preach Jesus”

MikeThis was an entirely unexpected response to my forty-five minute presentation about a new model of ministry for connecting with second generation Americans. I had spent the last six weeks researching, writing, and praying about how to make meaningful relationships with the growing population of children of immigrants who have no church home. I had carefully prepared a speech and a slideshow that detailed the nuances of my plan, and I had shared my ideas with family, friends, fellow students, and Candler professors. They provided helpful feedback to flesh out my ideas and polish my message. I may have been terrified when I stood up to speak at the General Board of Discipleship conference in front of roughly seventy-five ordained United Methodist elders, but by the time I was finished, I felt relieved. I believed that I had brought a practical message of hope and encouragement to church leaders. Then, when I opened the floor for discussion, one of the first comments hit me like a brick in the face.

“We just need to preach Jesus.”

Did this person not just hear a word of what I said? Is he unable to see why this plan has such potential? Did I ever mention that we should not bring the good news of the risen Lord wherever we go?

ClairAll of these thoughts raced through my mind, and this could have been the beginning of a very ugly and public confrontation that would most likely mean an effective end to my public speaking opportunities. Fortunately, my classroom experience at Candler had prepared me for this moment. I listened to the objections of this participant, and I offered a brief defense of my views that took seriously the concerns he had raised. Another participant joined in to say that both models were useful and we did not have to choose between the two. In the time-honored Methodist tradition, we did not come to a consensus, but we did become conversation partners. We were able to incorporate these opinions into a fuller vision for our mission going forward.

Because of the diversity of age, race, gender, and theological thought at Candler, I have had many opportunities to hear views that clash with my own. These moments of tension lead to deeper discussion for everyone involved. We do not usually change our minds or declare that one argument is more worthy than the other, but we do learn what it looks like to live and work together without uniformity. I delight in the idea that God calls each of us to the task of building the kingdom with unique skills and distinct perspectives and that the kingdom absolutely needs all of these people and practices to reach the ends of the earth. Candler has taught me to speak with the confidence of a graduate level student and the humility of a child of God. We do need to preach Jesus, but there is no limit to the number of ways that we will find our voices in this calling.

–Clair Carter

Clair is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. Originally from Louisiana, she is a graduate of Oglethorpe University.


Oct 1 2013

La Familia as my First School

Josue as a boy

Family is the first institution that everyone enters without any registration requirements, admission fees, or recommendation letters. It’s completely loans-free. *Sigh* Thank God! It is in the family where we first learn: our first steps, our first words, our first writings, and our first signs of creativity (such as the Crayola marks on the white wall that mommy desperately tries to clean before the visitors come!). We don’t fail family, but we also don’t pass family. It is the Family University from which we are never able to graduate.

Families play an important role in our lives. Families shape our identity. Families create those values that we still hold on to today. And in the family we learn to take care of those members who long ago took care for us.

My family paved the road towards seminary as early as I can remember. As a preacher’s kid growing up in the church, I saw that the one of the main goals of the church was to create families. Create relationships. I first learned this when everyone called each other “Hermano” or “Hermana.” As a six-year-old this was so very odd to me. I couldn’t understand why everyone verbally related to each other as a sibling. It was not until later that I realized that the purpose of church was to create family.

Josue, the graduateMy family had a special role in my calling to seminary. My dad has been my role model not only as a father figure but also as a pastor, theologian, and teacher. My dad is like the father of the parable of the prodigal son: always depositing money in my bank account when I have spent everything and the balance shows up as negative. My mom, well, she is the role model of the best caregiver and counselor. She is more like Hannah. She never gives up on God in times of distress and uncertainty. Finally, my brother is an amazing worship leader. He is like David, always playing his guitar and composing songs for the soul.

Again, I am glad that I will never be able to graduate from Family University. Because that means that I will be with my family for a long time. And when my immediate family drops out and transfers to Heaven University, well, there is always a family to admit into our lives and there are others to welcome us. Again, this family is loans-free and no recommendation letters are required. That is, the church family.

–Josué Quintanilla

Josué is a first-year MDiv student at Candler. Originally from Monterrey, Mexico, he currently works for the North Georgia Conference of the UMC as a Hispanic Youth Coordinator.  He graduated from Reinhardt University with a major in sociology and minor in psychology.


Sep 13 2013

The Word of God in the Country of Paradox

(For a version of this text in Spanish, see below)

On a sunny morning in a working class neighborhood of Medellín, we set plastic chairs out along the walls of a scrubbed, white-tiled garage. We sit down facing each other around a wooden table decorated with a Bible and flowers. Each Sunday, a handful of dedicated, socially conscious Christians gather here at El Gozo de Dios Methodist Church and try to contextualize the gospel amongst the paradoxes of Colombian society. Theirs is the country of the richest resources and the sharpest inequalities. They enjoy vibrant cultural diversity and are beholden to homogenizing global consumerism. They were ranked last year as the happiest people in the world and they continue to suffer one of the world’s longest, most fragmenting civil wars.

We sit beneath the logo of the Colombian Methodist Church, in which the old familiar cross and flame morph into a dove: the Holy Spirit straining its wings towards peace, in the yellow, red and blue of the Colombian flag. We sing praises over the calls of the mazamorra vendor passing in the street. His wooden cart is full of the thick boiled corn drink that sustains Colombians with the very substance that some of their indigenous ancestors believed that God used to form human beings.

El Gozo worship

Our singing and the mazamorra vendor both compete with the bells of the Catholic Church a few blocks away. Here in the department (equivalent to a state or province) of Antioquía, home of the most picturesque colonial towns and the biggest drug lords, traditionalism reigns and the majority remain Catholic. However, in isolated villages in the coastal regions, the crossfire between guerilla groups, paramilitaries and the military have become so intense that even the Catholic Church has fled. In some of these communities, the Colombian Methodist Church is the only religious and social organization that has had the courage and the faithfulness to accompany populations ravaged by violence, land appropriation and lack of basic amenities, such as health and education.

When we arrive to the reading of the word, we talk first about what we’ve read in the news as part of the “contextual reading” that God is speaking to us that day, and then we read the lectionary texts. Afterwards, someone stands up and gives a sermon, often peppered with interjections from other congregants. One member of the congregation is the internationally renowned feminist Biblical scholar Elsa Tamez; another is an ordained reverend, theologian and former dean of the Latin American Biblical University, José Duque; another is a disabled man named Jorge with garbled speech and incorrigible jokes; another is a 9-year-old girl named Gabriela who directs herself to “lovely little God” when she prays over the offerings every Sunday. All of these voices are given equal space to offer their thoughts during the sermon.

Sari wth logoThe conversational sermons at El Gozo de Dios reflect an even more intentionally democratic method of Christian education called “Popular and Communal Bible Reading,” or in Spanish, Lectura Popular y Comunitaria de la Biblia (LPCB). I immerse myself in an LPCB group on Tuesday nights, up on a little farm in the municipality of La Estrella, which climbs a foothill surrounding Medellín. La Estrella gives the impression of a relaxed, ecologically friendly little town, yet it also seethes beneath the surface with drug trafficking and violent crime. The farm is home to Juan Esteban Londoño, a humble spirit who has sought an alternative to the culture of violence that surrounded him as he grew up in La Estrella, and has become a brilliant theologian, philosopher and goth-metal musician. Juan Esteban and his wife Natalia act as hosts of this space where pastors, musicians, students, hairdressers, blue-collar workers, and high school teachers gather in the crisp mountain air, surrounded by tangerine trees and sleepy dogs who plead for the food we bring to share. We read a text and then the facilitator, usually Juan Esteban himself, uses a series of questions to lead the participants through analyzing the original context and then applying it to their own contexts and lives. This way of reading involves the critical thinking and wisdom of all members to arrive at collective interpretations of the scriptures. Juan Esteban takes notes and sometimes he synthesizes our theological reflections and publishes them in his blog: teologiaunderground.blogspot.com.

FarmA large part of the work I did in Colombia over this summer was furthering the practice of LPCB and others processes of social and spiritual formation. Thanks to a Candler Advantage grant, I was able to immerse myself in this work and gain invaluable insights into the connection between Christian education and social transformation in the local church. I was inspired by the work of the local church and LPCB groups to bring the challenges facing their society to the light of God’s word. The difficulty, as I have found in progressive churches in the US, is that we often discuss and discern how things ought to be, without actually translating our discoveries into transformative actions. But one of the most important things I learned is that translating education into action is a gradual process, much more gradual than an intensive ten-week internship. Therefore, during this semester off, I have chosen to continue living in Colombia so that I can witness the gradual growth of the Kingdom of God in this beautifully paradoxical place.

—Sari Brown

Sari Brown is a third-year MDiv student at Candler. A native of Michigan, Sari majored in anthropology and religion at Marlboro College in Vermont, and has carried out anthropological research and mission work in Bolivia. Through the Candler Advantage program, she served the Colombian Methodist Church for a ten-week internship. Next year she will be studying abroad in São Paulo, Brazil through the Luce Program, where she plans to work in ministry with Bolivian immigrants.

 

Versión en español: La palabra de Dios en el país de paradoja

En una mañana soleada de un barrio de la clase trabajadora en Medellín, ponemos sillas de plástico contra las paredes en un garaje bien aseado de baldosa blanca. Nos sentamos cara a cara, alrededor de una mesa decorada con una Biblia y flores. Cada domingo, unos cuantos dedicados cristianos de consciencia social se reúnen aquí en la Iglesia Metodista El Gozo de Dios y tratan de contextualizar el evangelio en medio de las paradojas de la sociedad colombiana. Su país es el de los recursos más ricos y las desigualdades más marcadas. Gozan de vibrante diversidad cultural y se someten al consumismo global homogenizadora. Fueron calificados el año pasado de la gente más feliz del mundo y siguen sufriendo una de las guerras civiles más largas y divisivas del mundo.

Nos sentamos bajo el logotipo de la Iglesia Colombiana Metodista, en la que la conocida cruz y llama se transforma en una paloma: el Espíritu Santo estirando sus alas hacia la paz, en el amarillo, el rojo y el azul de la bandera colombiana. Cantamos alabanzas sobre las llamadas del vendedor de mazamorra que pasa por la calle. Su carreta de madera está llena de la bebida espesa de maíz que sostiene a los colombianos con la misma sustancia que algunos de sus ancestros indígenas creían que Dios utilizó para formar los seres humanos.

Tanto nuestro canto como el vendedor de mazamorra compiten con las campanas de la Iglesia Católica a un par de cuadras de nosotros. Aquí en el departamento de Antioquia, hogar de los pueblos coloniales más pintorescos y los narcotraficantes más grandes, el tradicionalismo reina y la mayoría sigue siendo católica. Sin embargo, en pueblos aislados de las regiones costales, el cruce de fuego entre la guerrilla, los paramilitares y los militares se intensificó a tal punto que hasta la Iglesia Católico huyó. En muchas de estas comunidades, la Iglesia Colombiana Metodista es la única organización religiosa y social que ha tenido la valentía y fidelidad para acompañar a poblaciones acosadas por violencia, apropiación de tierras, y falta de necesidades básicas, como la salud y la educación.

Al llegar a la lectura de la palabra, hablamos primero de lo que hemos leído en las noticias como parte de la “lectura contextual” que Dios nos está hablando en este día, y luego leemos los textos del leccionario. Después, alguien se para y da la predicación, lo que resulta muchas veces intercalada con interrupciones de otros congregantes. Un miembro de la iglesia es la biblista feminista de renombre internacional, Elsa Tamez; otro es un reverendo ordenado, teólogo y decano anterior de la Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana, José Duque; otro es un hombre discapacitado llamado Jorge con una forma de hablar borrosa y chistes incansables; otro es una niña de 9 años llamada Gabriela que se dirige a “Diosito lindo” cuando ora por las ofrendas cada domingo. A todas estas voces se les otorga espacio igual para ofrecer sus pensamientos durante la prédica.

Las prédicas conversacionales en El Gozo de Dios reflejan un método de educación cristiana todavía más democrático, denominado “Lectura Popular y Comunitaria de la Biblia (LPCB). Participo en un grupo de LPCB los martes por la noche, en una pequeña finca en el municipio de La Estrella, que se encuentra subiendo un cerro de los alrededores de Medellín. La Estrella aparenta ser un pueblito tranquilo y ecológico, pero a la misma vez se agita bajo la superficie con narcotráfico y crimen violento. La finca es el hogar de Juan Esteban Londoño, un hombre de espíritu humilde que ha buscado una alternativa a la cultura de violencia que le rodeaba desde su nacimiento en La Estrella, y se ha convertido en un brillante teólogo, filósofo, y músico de metal gótico. Juan Esteban y su esposa Natalia son los anfitriones de este espacio donde pastores, músicos, estudiantes, estilistas, trabajadores, y profesores del colegio se reúnen en el aire fresco de montaña, rodeados por mandarinos y perros soñolientos que nos ruegan la comida que traemos para compartir. Leemos un texto y después el facilitador, normalmente el mismo Juan Esteban, utiliza una serie de preguntas para guiar a los participantes por el proceso de analizar el contexto original y después aplicarlo a nuestros propios contextos y vidas. Esta forma de leer conlleva el pensamiento crítico y la sabiduría de todos los miembros del grupo para sacar interpretaciones colectivas de las escrituras. Juan Esteban toma notas y a veces sintetiza nuestras reflexiones teológicas y las publica en su blog: teologiaunderground.blogspot.com.

Gran parte del trabajo que hice en Colombia durante este verano fue desarrollar la práctica de LPCB y otros procesos de formación espiritual y social. Gracias a un beca de Candler Advantage, pude dedicarme por completo a este trabajo y sacar entendimientos inestimables de la conexión entre la educación cristiana y la transformación social en la iglesia local. Me inspiraban la iglesia local y los grupos de LPCB en su esfuerzo por considerar los desafíos que se presentan a su sociedad a la luz de la palabra de Dios. Lo difícil, como he visto también en iglesias progresistas de los EEUU, es que muchas veces discutimos y discernimos cómo las cosas deben ser, sin verdaderamente convertir nuestros descubrimientos en acciones transformativas. Pero una de las cosas más importantes que aprendí es que convertir la educación en acción es un proceso paulatino, mucho más paulatino que una pasantía intensiva de dos semanas. Por lo tanto, durante este semestre libre, elegí seguir viviendo en Colombia para poder presenciar el crecimiento paulatino del reino de Dios en este lugar hermosamente paradójico.

—Sari Brown

Sari Brown es una estudiante en su tercer año del programa de Maestría de Divinidad en Candler. Oriunda de Michigan, Sari estudió antropología y religión en Marlboro College en Vermont, y ha realizado investigación antropológica y trabajo de misionera en Bolivia. A través del programa Candler Advantage, sirvió a la Iglesia Colombiana Metodista en una pasantía de diez semanas. El próximo año estudiará en extranjero en São Paulo, Brasil a través del Luce Program, donde piensa obrar en ministerios con inmigrantes bolivianos.


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 26 2013

Awake, My Soul!

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.
D&J at Redondo

At Redondo with fellow Candler student, Jake Joseph

As the summer intern at the First UMC of Chula Vista, it is my… um… privilege?… to participate in all three worship services on Sunday morning. While I don’t always love arriving early enough to prep for the 8 am service each week, sitting alert in the chancel for those three hours does allow me ample time for the morning’s message to fully set in. Or at least, one would think so.

Out of the nine weeks I have served at this church in various ministries and capacities, I can still say Sunday mornings are my favorite. I love interacting with the congregation—sharing with them in the joys of their week, hearing stories about their families and recent vacations, and lifting words of support or comfort when they offer up tender places of need. I love experiencing the ways individuals come together to uphold one another by the unique bonds formed in a community of faith. I also appreciate the way their openness and vulnerability tends to pull me out of myself—loosening my grip on being the “best intern I can be,” and joining them in the humble journey of our life together.

In these years as a seminarian, I find there is a surprising ease with which I fall into the trap of self-exaltation. (a.k.a. “seminarian snobbery.”) With all of my fresh (if not still shallow) knowledge regarding the historicity of the gospels, traditional liturgies, and cultural sensitivity, it becomes harder and harder to sit in worship/meetings/casual lunches without examining all input through a (hyper)critical lens. In many ways I give thanks for this noticeable proof of learning—the way my education has become deeply embedded in ways that I cannot tune out in even the most sacred spaces. But, as I witnessed this Sunday, especially, my new scholarly perspective may at times cast shadows over the simple Good News intended not just for those in the pews, but for those of us in the fancy seats too.

This Sunday, my supervising pastor preached on the story of Nicodemus, and how even the most faithful people can get caught up in the external rules and functions of their religion—missing the true essence of what it means to be born of the Spirit. He preached, as John Wesley did, about awakening to God’s presence inherent within us as creatures of God’s creation, and inheritors of the kingdom.

It was only by the third go-round that I actually heard the message within the message. It sounded to me, then, more like this:

Chula Visita UMCDespite the challenges, stress, and seemingly constant to-do lists associated with being a seminary student and candidate for ministry, you are still called to be fully present to God and others. Though there will be times when it seems your work is what is most important, what truly matters is your engagement with your community and in the practical movement of the Spirit. Though you might find yourself emotionally drained, physically weary, and mentally fatigued, God is with you and in you—strengthening you that you might be fully present to others as a conduit of God’s love and mercy.  Wake up. You’re missing it.

As much as I love Mumford and Sons, Psalm 57:7-10 also reminds me to awaken from my frequented state of sleep-walking—from the disengaged distance of scholarly criticism and accidental liturgical snobbery—to be fully present to the reality of God’s glory all around us. And, while I am truly thankful for my newly acquired theological education, I am perhaps more grateful for the simple ways God gathers me back to Godself each and every day to remind me of my place in the kingdom as one who is in fact Spirit-born and called to bear witness to that Spirit in the world.

–Darin Arnston

Darin is entering her third year as a Candler MDiv student.  She is a native of Southern California, and her Candler Advantage internship allowed her to spend the summer at “home.”


Jul 12 2013

The Best Laid Plans

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.

Uncertainty. Risk. Out of Control. Variability.Joya Abrams

These are all words that cause my engineer’s mind to cringe! I was taught that my job as an engineer was to manage uncertainty, avoid or mitigate risk, keep control, and reduce variability. So I’m sure you can imagine just how hard it is for me, a former engineer, to submit to the will of God and a life in ministry where the only certainty is God’s love and accompaniment, there is ultimate risk, I have little control, and daily life is variable.

My usual approach to work involves creating a project plan and executing it, relying on my brain power and a little prayer. I am most comfortable when I hold the reins and can affect an outcome. The truth of ministry and life in general is that if my comfort relies on my control, I will never be comfortable! I can lay down thoughtful and prayerfully considered plans, but it is not I who has the power to bring the vision to life, it is God.

When I started working at Cumberland United Methodist Church a couple of summers ago, I had the idea to open the church to the community for prayer. The church sits at a crossroads. It is surrounded by office buildings, a major corporation, apartments, and houses. I used to work for the major corporation whose building is visible from the church property. When I was an employee there, I wished that there were a place to go during the day to pray other than my car in the hot parking deck.

When I applied for a Candler Advantage internship at Cumberland UMC for this summer, this prayer time was one of the projects I had in mind since I would be there 40 hours per week.

To address the need that I believed the community had (since it was my need a few years ago), I started a mid-day drop-in time for prayer and meditation on Tuesdays. I made postcards, placed information on social media and the website, and put an invitation on the church marquee. I set up the sanctuary to be cool and peaceful. I unlocked the doors of the church and waited for people to come. That first Tuesday, only one person came to pray—my husband.

Cumberland UMCI cried on Wednesday because I failed. After talking with a few wise clergywomen, I realized that I hadn’t failed. Sure, I could have done more publicity, but they reminded me that just because only a few people have come does not mean that I have not been faithful. The beginning of a new mission or ministry may begin small. It is like discovering that you are pregnant (I am a mother of two). When you find that you are pregnant, you cannot see or really feel all of the changes happening inside of you. You have to wait several months before you can hopefully meet the new little person. All the while, that baby is growing and developing in secret. I believe that this is how the mission of the prayer time is growing. I cannot see how the Holy Spirit is moving in the community to bring people to God through this time, but I have faith that it is. We will leave the marquee announcement up. We will invite more people. We pray that God will touch the hearts of the people who see the invitations so that they will come. At the very least, I am praying more.

Through the experience of a slow start to the prayer time I am learning that ministry requires courage to do what you believe God is calling you to do. The results may be something beyond your own imagination. One person has come to the prayer time who is not affiliated with this church, so I know that at least one person was touched by the Holy Spirit to come to this place. (This person actually came twice!!) To pray in the middle of the day in a church may be exactly what will fulfill a spiritual need in this community, but it is also a new behavior that will take time to catch on. I still have friends who work for the corporation around the corner. The work conditions are the same. There is a need for sacred space during the workday. We, as Methodists, believe that we can experience the presence of God anywhere, but sometimes it is good to go to a place where all you are doing is basking in God’s loving presence. My ongoing prayer, as the church continues to offer this time of prayer for the community, is that more people will come to experience this time of sanctuary.

My journey into ministry, into becoming a minister and hopefully a pastor, requires that I learn to seek the peace and comfort of God first, not the safety of expected outcomes. This life of ministry requires trust in God and not just in my efforts or plans—quite the opposite of my previous engineering career. I have my job to do, but I am not working alone. My plan is not the most important one. I can only exercise control over a little and that is okay.

– Joya L. Abrams

Joya is a rising third year MDiv student at Candler.  She is a certified candidate for ministry in the North Georgia Conference.


Jun 25 2013

Remembering Our Call

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.

While doing some work for the church in which I am learning through the Candler Advantage experience I was asked a question by my new boss and site mentor that caught me off guard, in a good way. She asked me what my plans were after seminary.  I told her I am seeking elder’s orders through The United Methodist Church, and I hope to help youth and young adults claim a voice within the church and use that voice to then help make positive changes to their individual faith communities, their denomination, and the universal church. She then looked at me and asked; “Do you think you are doing that here?” I answered honestly, that I believe I have started to work out how to help young people claim voices as leaders, but I have not done as much as I would like. I have been thinking about this all day.

Here’s the thing, the ordination process within the UMC is rigorous and stressful to say the least. And, quite frankly, I have been more worried about making other people happy, proving myself to other people, and making sure I am doing things that will show others that I am called into ministry that I have not even stopped to ask whether or not I’ve done anything that brings me joy. Or, more importantly, brings God joy. My mentor’s question caught me off guard and it has stuck with me because I honestly thought that at this point in the process I don’t matter; making sure things are checked off a list and boards and districts are happy has felt like the priority. I come later. Now I know that this is a bit exaggerated, but there are moments in this process where one feels alone and left out to dry and things can become robotic and stiff at certain points.

But this has also made me wonder if too many of us don’t stop and ask ourselves this question. Am I doing things that will help me reach the goal I feel God calling me toward? Am I keeping my calling in mind when doing certain things? It’s so easy to lose sight of what brought us to this place to begin with. I know I’ve lost sight of things. I’ve been preoccupied with papers, deadlines, financial aid, children and youth ministry, family stuff, and all the things that go along with ordination to worry about whether or not I am doing things to help me reach my goal. Maybe this is why so many of us feel unfulfilled and burned out. Maybe it’s why depression runs so deep within the ministerial family. Jennifer RobertsWe get caught up with the nitty-gritty details of ministry rather than stopping and remembering the One who called us and that which ignites a fire within us to do great things with this life.

Today let’s all take time to ask ourselves if we are doing things to help reach our goals and fulfill the calling with which God has gifted us. Perhaps this can help re-ignite lost passions and connect us with each other and God in ways we never thought possible.

- Jennifer Roberts

Jennifer is a rising third year MDiv student from the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church and a Candidate for ordained ministry.


Jun 21 2013

Ministry in the Deep End

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.

Reflecting on my overall experience with the church, I would say that I was standing in a shallow pool, feet confidently planted on the smooth concrete floor, free to move and walk as I pleased. But now, Candler Advantage has allowed me the opportunity to become much more involved in the life of church. As a result, my growing experience has turned that small pool into a much wider and deeper one. All of a sudden, my feet, which became accustomed to the smooth floor, have lost their stability as the floor plunges deeper and deeper below. Consequently, I begin to thrash in the deep end, struggling to find that fading stability.

The more I realize how deep the pool can become, the more I want my feet to be reunited with the floor. I begin to sink. Slowly. Finally, my feet touch the bottom and a well of comfort begins to rush forward only to become consumed by a more pressing need—the need for fresh air to fill my lungs. Frustrated, I awkwardly paddle back up. Now that I know I can reach the bottom, I keep sinking down only to be drawn back up. This pattern repeats over and over again. I soon realize that I am longing for the stability I once knew but is no longer available.

There has to be a better way. I need to find a way to adapt to these changing circumstances and my changing reality. At first I begin thrashing to maintain my buoyancy and realize how exhausting and draining it’s becoming. Over time though, I am learning that there is a particular rhythm to staying afloat with my head above water. I begin to move my hands back and forth under water while moving my legs in sync. It’s still exhausting but feels much more stable than before.

Working with Eastside United Methodist Church is not only allowing me to learn a completely new way of finding stability within ministry, but also to learn new skills, habits, and rhythms that grow me to be a much more effective minister. The Candler Advantage program is allowing me to develop the skills I will need to eventually swim in the deep waters of ministry.

–Tyler Jackson

Tyler is a rising third year student at Candler who is completing a summer internship as part of Candler Advantage. He serves in the areas of arts and community development at Eastside Church, a United Methodist church plant in Decatur, GA.