May 31 2013

Learning to Rely on God

“They don’t teach you that in seminary”, or “You do not learn this in seminary” is one of the common catch phrases I have heard being thrown around by pastors and laity alike. It is sometimes said with a snide undertone that conveys the idea that seminary education, when put to the real life test of pastoral leadership, is found wanting. And it always brings to mind my Candler education and learning experience.

My three years at Candler were among the most fruitful of any preparatory experience I could ever have to become a pastor. The academic rigor, the contextual programs, and the shared wisdom of my professors and fellow peers have indelibly shaped who I am and how I serve as a pastor.

My first appointment after seminary as pastor-in-charge of a small church in the heart of Atlanta became the litmus test for my seminary education. Though the church was small, the worshipers who came were very diverse. They ranged from the very elderly members, to the transient national and international Ph.D. students from Georgia Tech, along with the visitors who came because they were invited or were in need of a place to worship. They were Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and Seekers. I had to serve all in their different life journeys, attending to their needs, while guiding them to the constant awareness of their souls’ worth. We had numerous conversations about Scripture and the interpretation, the Kingdom and reign of God, and death. One can imagine what those conversations were like with such a variety.  In one Bible study session about sin, one of my aerospace engineering graduate students drew a diagram that showed the Holy Spirit as a “sin-dampener function” to explain her understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work.  How more relevant could church be?

This small church was certainly not your everyday cut to fit church. Notwithstanding, it was certainly the best church I could have been appointed to because of the experience I gained. And I could not have been effective or make the impact I did without my seminary education. As the only pastor, with no staff support, I relied fully on God and put into practice what I had learned at Candler. I remember there were times I went back to my notes and textbooks from my “Leadership in Small Membership Church” class with Dr. Rogers to draw upon the insights I had gained. During the sermon preparation for my first funeral, I pulled the notes from my “Preaching about Death” class with Drs. Long and Kraftchick and crafted my sermon accordingly.

Now in my second appointment as the associate pastor at one of the biggest churches in the North Georgia Conference, I still draw on my seminary education from Candler. And I know this education will still be of great benefit to me in the many years to come. When writing sermons, or having conversations about Scripture, or making decisions about ordering the life of the church, or anything to do with ministry in general, I still find myself saying “Thank you, Dr. Rogers,” or “Thank you, Dr. Long,” or “Thank you, Dr Fry Brown,” or “Thank you, Dr. Carolyn StephensErskine.”

Thus the phrase “They don’t teach you that in seminary” should never be used as a broad spectrum brush to paint a picture of what is lacking in seminary education, for though I know that no one can ever learn everything in seminary, I know that what I have learned at Candler is taking me farther than where I would have been without it.

- Carolyn Stephens

Carolyn is a 2011 graduate from Candler and Associate Pastor at Cannon Church in Snellville, GA.


May 17 2013

More than a Shepherd

God is LovePrior to graduating in 2010, I had the opportunity to live in Belfast, Northern Ireland and serve at East Belfast Mission. After a year I returned to Atlanta and received my Master of Divinity degree from Candler School of Theology.  Two months later I would start in my first appointment back in the Dakotas at a United Methodist Church and Community Center in Pierre, SD.

In many ways, my experiences at Candler, and those that would follow in Belfast, prepared me extremely well for my first appointment. Within Candler and the Atlanta community, I pursued an emphasis in church and community ministries. Ever since my spiritual awakening in college, (when I realized that Jesus’s command to love our neighbor was something we were actually supposed to do) I had been keenly interested in the intersection between faith and action, worship and justice.

Classes in evangelism, non-violence, public life, and non-profits were opportunities to gain knowledge, and they became springboards for broader conversations about the need for personal faith to be connected with community transformation, and how community transformation is best done when it is grounded in personal faith.

Despite my apprehensions of local church ministry, due to my strong social justice interests and reservations about just being a shepherd, I soon discovered two very important things: 1) our theology and beliefs have a profound influence on our practice 2) what better opportunity to connect faith and action than having leadership within a local congregation.

In the ministry which I been a part of for the last three years in Pierre, I have been grateful and excited to help shape the common theology within my congregation about what it means to know God’s love and God’s heart, and what it means to be people of grace living into the kingdom. When we pray for our enemies and when we participate with other people of faith in vigils, our witness is shaped by our theology.

Likewise, our witness in the community is also shaped by our personal faith. I seek to help people be grounded in spiritual disciplines so that theirs hearts are prepared to love, and their cups of grace are ready to overflow. Playing a role in helping people connect their love of God with their love of neighbor can be challenging, but it is extremely rewarding.

As God prepares my own heart and mind for the next chapter of ministry in another appointment, I look forward to being the pastor of a new flock—a flock within the congregation, and the wider flock of the people in the community.

- Karl Kroger

Karl is Director at Southeast Community Center and Pastor at Southeast United Methodist Church in Pierre, South Dakota.


May 10 2013

Mother’s Day!

Stacey HarwellSo I am preaching this Mother’s Day, and I find myself deeply relying on my Candler education as I prepare for this sermon.  By the time you read this, I hopefully will have crafted a sermon that has toed the line between celebrating all the wonderful mothers in the world and yet recognizes that this can be a painful day for some. One of the best things my Candler education offered was awareness of two things: 1) those on the margin with whom Jesus spent a lot of time, and 2) critical re-readings of the Bible.

In my job as Minister of Community Building at Centenary United Methodist Church, I minister with many folks who may have difficulty with Mother’s Day. Many of them come from one parent (most often mom) homes, and their mothers have done the best they can, but between working multiple jobs – to make ends meet while trying to pay the stack of bills that never will seem to go down – these mothers are stressed to the max. Some of the folks I’m in ministry with in my community have been abused by their mothers. Others are mothers who have abused their own children. Within the context of my 11 o’clock congregation, we’ve recently had one woman lose a child shortly after childbirth, another who had a miscarriage, and still others who have tried fertility treatments for years with no luck.  Some folks have children who have run away, others have children who are addicted to substances, and others will have children who will spend this Mother’s day behind bars. And then still further, we have couples who have decided not to have children for many good reasons.   These persons or some representation of all of these types and more, will come to service this Sunday.  When I rise to preach, all of them will be in my mind.  I was well-taught to think about the whole congregation, not just the ones part of whatever “normal” might look like.

When I go to my text on the creation of humanity (Genesis 1:26-31) I will remember this lesson. Fraught with misinterpretation, I will have to use all of my Candler tools to help save this text from where we most often find it at churches.  Instead of deciding whether it’s history or myth, and making a judgment call on my Christianity either way, we will approach it as a proclamation narrative of a creator who created us on purpose, whose work in creation we continue whether we are mothers or not.  Instead of focusing on the sin and fall, we will look at the “very good” imago dei and explore for a minute together in our community of faith what that might look like and what it might call us to do.

Because I want this to come out right, in a way that allows people to really hear what God has revealed in the text of this ancient sacred story in our lives today, I will rely on the many things I learned about preaching and worship planning, weaving the sung salute to God with the prayed petition of God’s people and the spoken sermon. I work closely with a worship team at Centenary to make sure the songs, prayers, and litanies reflect the context and content of the sermon. This idea of nurture from the imago dei is important. We need to get this right.

Then on Monday, I will go back to the Monday-Thursday job I have of figuring out how to find echoes of God’s Eden in our world – to be part of the restoration of the world to God’s shalom for mothers, fathers, and children the world over.  Part of that work will be pastoral care for those who have had difficulties with their mothers. Part of the work will be the joy of visiting a newborn baby in the hospital or the anticipation of life at a congregant’s baby shower.

We could just say Happy Mother’s Day on Sunday. But because of God’s work in my life, I will have to say so much more.

-Stacey Harwell

Stacey is Minister of Community Building at Centenary United Methodist Church in Macon, GA and a 2010 MDiv graduate of Candler School of Theology.  You can read more about Stacey’s work at Centenary in the most recent Candler Connection.


Apr 26 2013

The Space Between Glory and Agony

Will singing at Christmas serviceMy time spent sitting in the hallways of Candler discussing idyllic images of ministry in The United Methodist Church seems a world away. Things such as church council, SPR, itinerancy, district superintendents, and Annual Conference always seem to work like clockwork as instruments of God’s hands in the world within the walls of the theological institution. When I walked into my office on June 20, 2012, and hung my beautifully framed Master of Divinity diploma over my desk, I knew that these attitudes regarding the United Methodist “system” were sound.

Now is probably the point where one might assume that I am about to rip the system to shreds and talk about how denominations and the UMC are broken organizations that can’t effectively minister in the world. I cannot and will not do this. My calling is to effectively live into ministry as a pastor in The United Methodist Church, and I believe strongly that there is much life in the pastors and faith communities across our connection. What I have found, though, is a sense of realism that I lacked during my time at Candler.

When I walked into my office for the first time in June I was walking into my position as the associate pastor at one of the larger churches in my Annual Conference. In a short time I began to grow to love the people of the church, to work well with the staff, and to develop a healthy relationship with my senior pastor. I saw good stuff happening in the halls of our church on a weekly basis.

My whole system and world in ministry abruptly changed when my senior pastor was placed on leave one week prior to Christmas. I am still processing all of this, but, in essence, the bishop felt as if my senior pastor could be more effective as a pastor if he took continuing education leave and received a new appointment at the next Annual Conference. It is hard on a church when they lose their senior pastor, and, as you can imagine, it is incredibly difficult when this loss happens a week before Christmas.

Over the past several months I have been working closely with my district superintendent and part time interim senior pastor. I have learned much from both of these men as they have faithfully worked to bring healing and transformation in the midst of a difficult situation. Because of this interesting pastoral change, I have taken on much more responsibilities, worked longer hours, and have learned more in four months than I could have hoped to learn in four years.

Through these past few months at times it was easy to blame “the system” for some tough ministry situations, but I have also found that ministry is not the system. The denomination does not work as smoothly as I imagined it did while I was at Candler, but this is not something that has brought me into a sea of cynicism about church organization. Instead, what I have found is that the conference leadership is composed of faithful people with names like Joe and Richard and David and Mary Virginia and Mike. These people are not their positions, but they are working to faithfully minister through their positions in the same way that I am.

As we discussed this almost sacrosanct denominational structure from the halls of Candler I did not have the entire picture. The structure is important, but structure is comprised of names and faces that have families, and therein is the realism. Nothing is perfect, but I am now colleagues with these people and we are all working faithfully to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

During my first semester at Candler I had the privilege of taking one of the final Methodist history courses taught by Russell Richey. In talking about the “machinery” of the denomination, Dr. Richey said that “American Methodists have gloried and agonized [it], from the very beginning.” I am finding that the true value in the Church and life within The United Methodist Church comes in the space between glorifying and agonizing. It is easy for seminarians to glorify our structures (or other ideals) and it is equally as easy for clergy to agonize over the realities of our denomination, but I am finding that real ministry and real life change happens in the space between. It happens in the relationships we have with others in our congregations, with other pastors, district superintendents, and bishops. This is the contextual piece that I learned at Candler. Theology, Biblical scholarship, and polity are incredibly important, but only when they inform our relationships and help to strengthen our love of God and neighbor, that is, after all, the telos of faith.

- Will Conner

Will is the associate pastor at Ooltewah United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, TN and a 2012 graduate of Candler.  As a student Will participated in the Candler Advantage program and wrote about that experience here.


Nov 16 2012

Windows to Christian Difference

WindowChurches seem to fight over a lot of things that in the grand scheme of things don’t matter (or at least seem unimportant to outsiders). One fight that goes on in most every church is over buildings and how buildings should be set up, what renovations should be made, what paint color should be used to repaint the Sunday school rooms, etc. Some of these arguments revolve around practical concerns and they must, since resources and physical location limit the church. The thing we often forget however, is that all of these seemingly insignificant or unimportant modifications and changes are architectural decisions that have heavy  theological implications to conveying the beliefs of the church. What does it mean if the Pulpit is center behind and elevated over the altar? What does it mean if the Altar is center and the pulpit is off to the side? What does it mean if there is center aisle or a central section of pews?

Many of the architectural features common to churches can be altered over the years. Pews can be moved, platforms added, altar position changed. One thing that will stand the test of time are the windows. Windows are often only redone when the walls themselves have to be moved. Even if stained glass windows are falling apart, a church will often choose to repair and maintain them as they always have been instead of altering them completely.

The windows in a Church stand as a permanent statement of the churches theology. Every time there is a reforming movement in the church, architecture and window style come under review.

Stained glass developed as a way to tell the stories of the Christian faith, and enliven and enhance the worship space. When light hits stained glass the result is often one of the most breathtaking views in the world. As the sun moves throughout the day the light in the sanctuary, chapel or cathedral moves with it, and the experience becomes new again. In each hour, we experience the light and the church in a whole new way. It is always the same, but it is always changing.

Some reformers saw the stained glass as a way that the church had gotten away from the fundamentals of the Christian faith. They see stained glass and the extravagant architectural often associated with it as a way to show off, as something done for the glory of humans and not for the glory of God. For this reason, several religious groups have constructed their churches with plain glass. They let the light stream into their places of worship unmolested by human creation or interpretation. Light is a sign of God, and does not need anything human added over it.

In some “modern” churches windows are excluded from the building plans all together, in order that the worship space might be completely controlled. If there is not natural light then screens, tvs, stage lights can be used to maximum effect. Darkness becomes darkness, and a single candle on the altar becomes a powerful symbol undimmed by an inflow of sunlight. But can humans every fully control God in this way? If there are no windows how do we understand God to be the creator of everything both outside and in? Can worship not become very insular?

What is interesting is that these viewpoints are absolutely valid. You can stand in a large cathedral and soak in the reds, blues, and purples of the stained glass and feel God, just as easily as you can experience the divine through clear panes of glass, or through the atmosphere created in a windowless church. None of these theological positions as demonstrated through architectural design choices prevents God from showing up in worship, or in the lives of the faithful. But these standpoints can be taken to an extreme where God is forgotten and pushed aside for human pride and posturing. The same is true of any theological doctrine or thought. What is the real difference between a high church Catholic with a view of transubstantiation of the Eucharist and a Baptist who sees communion as a remembrance that happens only in the hearts and minds of the faithful? They both believe that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and that Christ will come again. What is the difference between denominations that baptize infants vs. denominations that do not? They both believe that we are baptized by water and the Spirit.

What the argument of differences comes down to is conflicting emphasis. We choose what single aspect of the divine we find to be the most pivotal, and play it up. This division of focus is well and good, because there are so many aspects of the Christian faith and God that we would likely forget a part of our story if it were not for our brothers and sisters who believe differently from us. The shame of it is that we see these differences as making our ‘faiths’ incompatible, and we shut ourselves off to a whole section of our sisters and brothers. Maybe the issue is Eucharistic presence, architectural decisions, written vs. extemporaneous liturgy, the humanity or divinity of Christ, or Christianity’s response to the LGBTQ community.  What we see instead of our common beliefs are our differences on these issues and we stop talking, or worse we start yelling.

It is important that we as Christians, no matter our denomination, beliefs or background encourage an open dialogue on every issue. Behind every position and every stance that we don’t agree with, is a thought or idea that we hold about God and the church. When we speak to those we disagree with we might be infected by their passion, challenged to grow in our beliefs and/or reminded of an aspect of faith that we forgot about. Differences are good. We are not all the same person and We do serve the same God. A professor at Candler once said in a lecture that a peer stood up after he had given a presentation at a conference and before beginning to lambast this professor’s argument said “I completely disagree with what he has said, but I also recognize that there is a chance we will someday have to share heaven together….”

We have our differences, but we serve one God, a God who loves us despite our shortcomings and our inability to see the big picture. So the next time you encounter someone you do not agree with remind yourself that you serve the same God, and that there is a chance you will someday have to share heaven with people you disagree with. When it comes to the windows, remember that the same God gets in no matter what. That little reminder might just change things.

- Jonathan Gaylord

Jonathan is a third year MDiv student from Deland, Florida, a Student Ambassador, and the pastor at Providence United Methodist Church in Lavonia, Georgia as a part of Candler’s Teaching Parish Program.


Oct 19 2012

Broken over Breaking Amish

My roommate and I love TV.  Good TV, bad TV, and TV on DVD. It is how we relax when we are not working, going to class, or studying.  Since moving in together, Carrie (2nd year) and I have a few TV shows that we have been trying to keep up with.

“Breaking Amish” is a show about five young people who have decided to move away from their religious families and find out how to live life away from the rules and restrictions.  Tuesday night, I walked into the living room and Carrie was watching the show.  She turned to me and said “it’s fake.”

My jaw dropped.

She explained that apparently, all the subjects of the show have been out of their communities for years.  Why my immediate response was to be shocked and offended I don’t know.  We all know that reality shows are often anything but “real.” For some reason I felt like my favorite TV channel had pulled wool over my eyes and I was not happy about it.

Authenticity can be hard to find.  Luckily, this hasn’t been my experience at Candler.

Last week in Introduction to Public Worship we had to write from memory the prayer that the presider of communion says in our denomination.  As a United Methodist, I have heard this at least once a month since I joined the church when I was young.  But reciting the liturgy and learning the ins and outs of running a worship service has got me looking forward to graduation in May with both excitement and anxiety.  I have been doing practical things at Candler from day one and it is one of my favorite parts about Candler.

But now I wonder, am I prepared? Will I ever be prepared?  Lucky for me, Dr. Phillips our Worship professor has given us the good news of being in ministry.  He told us that to walk away from the class with only the preparations would be a loss.  He encourages us to be people of prayer and people who are authentic because those things are just as important for defining who we are as people in ministry.

I started to think of my every day life.  We encounter teachers, classmates, church members, and family.  We have the opportunity to rush through the rituals with those people or to stop and be in a relationship that is honest and glorifies God.  We encounter papers, exams, and tasks at work.  How many times do we just fake our way through these things?  I know that for me all of these happen an unfortunate amount.

Thank God that is not the end of the conversation.  It is important for us to be vigilant in the ways in which we are real with God and our community.  But we must not forget to lean on God and our community to fill our gaps with grace.  The difficult part of this blog is that I have no answer; we only have trust in God and our community of faith who have promised to help mold us into the most authentic servants of Christ that we can be.

All I can say for today is… Praise God for progress!

- Marissa Teauseau

Marissa is a third year MDiv student, a graduate of Centenary College in Shreveport, LA, and a Candler Student Ambassador.


Sep 28 2012

Word of God Speak?

“And if we’re going to be faithful to scripture, we must learn to love it for what it is, not what we want it to be.” Rachel Held Evans

Jennifer ReadingThis might seem like an obvious statement for a seminarian to make, but I think about the Bible a lot. So much so that for a long time, the Bible had been mentally reduced to a seminary textbook which  I lugged begrudgingly  from class to class. After all, I have spent the last few years reading, exegeting, parsing, translating, exploring, preaching from, wrestling with and sometimes almost drowning in the Scriptures. And I should tell you that it is hard to love something when it’s your homework assignment.

But lately, I’ve noticed that the Bible has snuck up on me again.

Because I used to think that I understood the Bible (after all, I was the 8th grade Bible champion back in 2001). But in many ways that Bible I understood was so flat and I thought I had figured it out. I used to think I loved the Bible but I think in many ways, I had no idea what that even meant.

But now I spend my lazy Saturday afternoons with my Greek New Testament flipped open to Romans with multiple commentaries scattered around my kitchen table and I fall asleep at night thinking about Genesis creation stories and what they mean.  I struggle with the Bible all the time. I fight with it. I want it to say what I think it should say and when it doesn’t, I want to pretend that it does anyway.

It confuses me, because I don’t know what to do with Joshua…or Daniel and I certainly don’t know what to do with that story where Elijah has two bears eat all those children.

It overwhelms me, and I don’t know what to think about it. Because the claims it is making are too expansive for me to grasp.  So I just stop. I move on to Kierkegaard or Barth, but they never let me stay away for long. Before I know it, I’m back in Romans wondering what exactly Paul means when he talks about the righteousness of God.

But it also still finds ways to inspire me, like when I stumble upon verses in Jeremiah that say: “

Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

And in all this struggle, I am beginning to see that the Bible is deeper than I ever imagined. It is more complex and beautiful that I ever gave it credit for being.  And now as I read it, I hear the different voices that speak out across the generations to tell me something about what it means to be a Child of God, and about who that God is. As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it in her book, The Preaching Life:

“[Because of the Bible] I am not an orphan. I have a community, a history, a future, a God. The Bible is my birth certificate and my family tree, but it is more: it is the living vein that connects me to my Maker, pumping me the stories I need to know about who we have been to one another from the beginning of time, and who we are now, and who we shall be when time is no more.”

It is a testament to who God is, and just like God, it is too intricate to be condensed into devotional or even a textbook. And so, I’m learning how to love the Bible again, learning how to love it for it is in its entirety and not just love the pieces that fit into my little ideas about God and God’s people.

And I’m learning what it means to say that this book is the Word of God for the people of God.

Thanks be to God.

-Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a third year MDiv student from Atlanta and a Student Ambassador.


Aug 21 2012

Lessons Learned

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.

Candler students are privileged to have various internship opportunities during their time at Candler. I gratefully had the opportunity to participate in the Candler Advantage program this summer. My site was Wesley UMC in Charlotte, North Carolina. It will be an unforgettable experience for the rest of my life.

Jaeyong Hard at WorkAll ministries that I experienced at Wesley were meaningful and precious for me, such as Vacation Bible School, the Youth Mission Trip, several community events, and many visitations. However, leading a Bible study with members of the congregation brought me several life-changing questions.  At first, I heard that church members were excited to have a seminary student as a Bible study leader and expected to learn some recent theology. Therefore, I chose Walter Brueggemann’s“The Prophetic Imagination” as the subject of our study.

However, once we began several members told me that the Bible Study was not easy and a little uncomfortable for them. And, I agreed. So, I changed course and tried to figure out why we felt uneasy with the subject. The main reason is that the book talks about an image of God different from the image of God we usually think of.  To make it even more complicated, all of us have our own image of God we have formed throughout our lives.  Whether we come from conservative backgrounds or liberal backgrounds, each person has images of God accordingly. It is very natural to have an image of God according to one’s own backgrounds and characteristics.

However, the problem is the fact that we do not make an effort to expand our image of God – to enlarge our understanding of God.  Think about it.  How much do we know about God?  We are mere creatures on earth, and God is the Creator God.  What we know about God is probably like a grain of sand on a sandy beach.  With a small basket, we cannot scoop up the whole ocean.  With our small heads and with our small understanding, we cannot understand God fully.  Therefore, we should make an effort to learn about God more deeply and more broadly.

As the group continued together we found that the books of the Prophets that we covered in the Bible Study are barely taught and preached at church. How about Lamentations? Today’s Christians hardly read Lamentations. Lamentations is not shared in the church because we do not know what to do with the depressing passages; they do not fit contemporary Christians’ images of God. However those books are in the Bible and give us significant lessons to us for our faith journey, so we need to read, study, and understand them.

The Bible study at Wesley brought me several questions. First, do I keep making an effort to broaden my image of God, and do we keep making an effort to deepen our understanding of God? After all, the Bible says, “I God desires the knowledge of God more than offerings [mere worship service] (Hosea 6:6), so it seems important to do so.

With one of many host familiesThe second set of eye-opening questions came from living away from my home and living in others’ houses. During my 2 and half months in Charlotte, I moved almost every two weeks because the church couldn’t afford to provide lodging for 10 weeks. So, five church members hosted me and my family. My wife, baby and I really appreciated the host families for their generosity and hospitality. However, moving every two weeks was not easy. It was not easy to pack and unpack again and again 10weeks’ worth of baggage. Moreover, the baby’s baggage was bigger than we expected. It was not easy to move while taking care of Amy, my baby.

However, this moving every two weeks opened my eyes to think again about my life and our lives here on earth. Where is my real home? In Charlotte, North Carolina? Of course not. Atlanta, Georgia? No, I just pay rent every month. Seoul, South Korea where I originally came from? No, I don’t have any home there because my wife and I came to United State right after our marriage. My home is not here on earth. Most people live here on earth with their own houses. People who do not own their houses yet do their best to have their own ones. Even many people who already have their houses continually try to find bigger and better ones. We keep trying to settle in our houses. In fact, however, the houses in which we are living here on earth are not our homes.

The houses I have stayed in for ten weeks in Charlotte have not been my homes because I just stayed there for 2 weeks at a time for my internship, for my calling. Likewise, the houses we are living here on earth are not our eternal homes. We all are only staying here on earth for our calling. After I finished my calling there in Charlotte, I came back home to Atlanta. Likewise, after we finish our calling here on earth, we will come back our eternal home, Heaven. We live here on earth for 70 years, 80 years, or 100 years. However, compared to the eternal time in Heaven, those few years here on earth are like the 10 weeks of my internship.

Yes, I am a traveler here on earth, walking toward, coming back toward Heaven.  Then, how does my life look like?  Do I really live here on earth as ones who have their eternal home in Heaven?  Or do I live here on earth as if I will live here for-ever?  Do we often think about Heaven?  Or do we spend most time to think about here on earth?  And of course, how do we think about God?  These questions that I had from this summer internship will resonate throughout my life. Again, I am very grateful for Candler Advantage program and strongly recommend this opportunity to all colleagues.

- J.Y. (Jaeyong) Song, M.Div.

Jaeyong Song is a rising third year MDiv student from Seoul, South Korea and a traveler here on earth.


Jul 31 2012

Keeping it Simple

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’ve learned plenty this summer.

On time management:

Small groups in your home = big housecleaning crusades in your home. Think “Love and Marriage,” that corny old love song: you can’t have one without the other. Plan accordingly.

On communication:

The only things guaranteed in life are death, taxes and church people getting up in your business. When you find yourself in the line of fire, make like Jesus and doodle in the sand. A reactive response is a dangerous response: give it a solid 24.

On event-planning:

There are lots of people in your church who are really good at this. You, on the other hand, are a bit of a spaz. Put the talents of others to use. They want to help.

As my Candler Advantage Advanced Summer Internship comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the countless lessons I’ve learned from this 10-week experience. While many of them have a practical application, many, too, have been lessons of the heart.

I’ve learned that most fulfilling moments in the church are, without fail, the simplest. When one’s calendar is spilling over with to-do lists, it’s easy to forget that all of these activities are merely avenues for an opening of the heart.

I’ve thought a lot about the “KISS principle” a lot this summer: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” And I’ve actually made it my mantra for church work. For as much as we try to complicate the gospel, we’re working with a pretty straightforward message: Let your love be contagious.

I’m grateful for the many lessons I’ve learned this summer. But I’m even more grateful for the simple moments that this Candler Advantage opportunity has afforded me–the simple moments in which I have witnessed the transformative power of love.

Thanks be to God.

-Suzanne Ecklund

Suzanne is a rising third year MDiv student serving at Grace United Methodist Church in Atlanta, GA.


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.