Jul 17 2012

A Vital Church

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.

What’s a vital church in today’s world?

To me it’s a church that looks like the rest of society.  Our world has changed; we no longer live in communities where everyone looks just like us.  My life experiences tell me this is a good thing.  I am greatly enriched by the experiences, customs, traditions and backgrounds of all people that I have met in my life!  Our churches need this enrichment as well to be vital places of worship in today’s world.

This summer through the Candler Advantage program, I have been exploring what makes a church where everyone is welcome work.  Through my internship at Park Avenue UMC I am gaining valuable ministry experience, and I get to do it in my home conference, the Minnesota Annual Conference of the Methodist church.  This vibrant church is a place of acceptance where people are free to pray, sing and worship in a manner that meets each individual’s own needs for connecting with God.  There is a high percentage of laity involvement in the leadership of worship services, and there is intentionality in who leads each portion of the service.  Every service also includes a variety of types of music, which vary from week to week, to provide the opportunity for each parishioner to connect with God and the Holy Spirit during worship.  The service is a place where all are uplifted and this tone is conveyed throughout the worship service.

For one of my contributions I recently lead the evening prayer group.  In the spirit of the church, I wanted to think of a way to include the many different ways that people pray during this prayer time.  I chose a creation theme, and we began by experiencing small bowls of water and soil (earth).  As we stood together, I offered a meditation on these foundational elements of creation which I tied to scripture readings.  Then after sharing prayer requests, I began our prayer and invited those in the group who wanted to pray aloud for others in the group.  This offered an opportunity for many different prayer styles to be expressed.  I am discovering that I need to think broadly when I am planning worship, prayer groups, studies, etc. to include many different ways of responding to God’s presence.  I am also learning that this practice adds to the vitality of this church and emphasizes that everyone is welcome and appreciated.

Through these experiences I – and hopefully the church – are learning how to live together honoring each other.  Once we as a worshiping community live this way we can go out into our communities and honor each other every day in all that we do.  To me, the church then becomes a vibrant teacher of how to live together in our 21st century communities.

- Bonnie Buckley

Bonnie is a rising third year MDiv student from Minnesota.


Jul 10 2012

On Jordan’s Stormy Banks: My Experience with the Methodist Itinerancy

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.

Eric at St. Paul's in Grant ParkI’ve heard a litany of criticisms against the United Methodist Church’s practice of pastoral itinerancy: the practice by which pastors are assigned to service by a bishop and then remain with one particular congregation for a limited length of time.  These criticisms come from both non-Methodists and Methodists alike. “The itinerancy is outdated,” some have said. “It doesn’t take into consideration ministers with dual career families, or the stability of their children’s home life.” I never know what to say to these complaints because, very often, I agree with them. I don‘t really get it either.

Full disclosure here: I’m not 100% United Methodist. I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene—a Wesleyan holiness tradition—with which I still partly identify. However, this year I’ve come to feel at home in the UMC through my contextual education internship at St. Paul United Methodist Church. I had a wonderful experience here and was fortunate enough to get a paid internship at St. Paul through the Candler Advantage program this summer. It has afforded me the opportunity to further discern my ministerial calling.

One reason for my returning to St. Paul for a second internship was the exceptionally talented minister under whom I’ve worked. I’ve learned much from her and under her guidance I’ve begun to seriously consider ordination in the UMC. So when I learned my minister would be itinerating in early summer I was crushed.

This pastoral transition has also meant a major change in many of my summer internship plans. It has, however, afforded me the unique opportunity to journey with the congregation through the itinerancy process. Together we have reflected on the meaning of this transition for our community, both practically and theologically. It has reminded us that, ultimately, it is not our ministers in whom we put our faith and trust, but God alone. What is more, this transition has obliged me to take on an important leadership role in the church. For example, I led the transition service on the Sunday in-between ministers, functioning as the leader of the congregation. This responsibility caused more than a little anxiety. However, it proved to be wonderfully formative experience, one from which I grew significantly as someone preparing for leadership in the church. This has taught me much about what real life ministry requires: change, adaptation, and plan Bs.

I still don’t really know if the itinerancy is the best practice for ministers and churches. However, I do know that my experience of it this summer has taught me much about leadership and responsibility in the church. It has helped our community to grow closer together and put leadership in perspective.

- Eric Mayle

Eric is a rising third year MDiv student and a graduate of Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN.


Jun 19 2012

Ministry Immersion: Kathy Brockman on Candler Advantage

Today begins week 4 of our ten-week internships for Candler Advantage.  What a privilege and gift this has been for me and for my journey in ministry.   My initial hopes and goals for this summer included immersion in the day-to-day activities of the church.  I can tell you that in the last three weeks, I have experienced a total and complete immersion!

I am spending my summer on staff at Brookhaven United Methodist Church, located a little more than 5 miles from the Emory campus.  This is a mid-sized church (about 70 people attend Sunday worship) located in a diverse neighborhood.  The church has a daycare center that operates during the week and fills my days with the sounds of life -laughter, singing, excited voices and, yes, even a few tears and occasional screams.

A significant ministry of this church includes an outreach to the recovery community.  This community includes those who are in recovery programs for alcohol and substance abuse.  Brookhaven UMC has a local pastor on staff whose main responsibility is to minister to those who are in recovery.  His story is that of alcohol and drug abuse and the completion of his own recovery program.  He is not shy about telling his story to the community and sharing his acceptance of Jesus and his belief in God.  We celebrated his 11th birthday last week – 11 years of sobriety.  He is a truly a blessing to the church and the community and to all who know him.  His ministry includes once a week meetings for those in recovery using a Bible specifically for those in recovery, titled The Life Recovery Bible.  He also oversees the transportation of those in recovery who want to attend worship on Sunday mornings to be brought in for Sunday School and worship.  Twice a month, a Saturday night worship and fellowship event for those in recovery is held at the church.  A short, casual worship service including communion is followed by a meal of hotdogs (always!) and a rousing game of BINGO.  Everyone leaves Soulful Saturday with a prize – practical prizes including toothbrushes, shaving cream or maybe a box of Little Debbie cookies for those who just want a junk food snack.  On Monday evenings, the recovery community is brought to the Clothing Closet housed in the church and the participants (almost completely men) are allowed to pick out clothing, socks and, if they’re lucky, shoes.  These are all items that have been donated by the community.  This is a wonderful outreach to those who are one step away from homelessness as Pastor Don describes them.

The senior pastor of this church is the only full-time employee.  Her job includes anything and everything that needs to be done.  From picking up elderly members for worship on Sunday morning to delivering a provocative sermon series on the fruits of the spirit to sharing communion, Pastor Sara does it all.  She is a wonderful role model and is always open to my questions and reflections on the reasons why she does things the way she does.

It’s been three full weeks of total immersion in the life of a mid-size church.  What have I experienced so far?  I’ve been welcomed by the community in various ways – some more warmly than others and I imagine that is the way a new pastor must feel when going into a church the first time.  I’ve had the wonderful experience of leading the Monday morning chapel service for the daycare children and singing This Little Light of Mine with the sweetest voices you can imagine.  I’ve served dessert to the recovery community at Soulful Saturday and played a little BINGO.  I’ve watched grown men rejoice at the prize of a new razor or a tube of toothpaste. I’ve taken an elderly couple to the emergency room and listened to their life stories while they waited to be seen by a doctor. I’ve had the pleasure of planning worship with a creative and open Senior Pastor. I’ve taught children’s Sunday School, eaten lunch with the younger adults, and visited members in the hospital. What have I learned in these three short weeks? I have learned that this is indeed my calling in life and as hard as some of it may be, it has nourished and challenged me to grow in ways that I had never considered in the past.

If any of you are considering spending your summer interning next year through Candler Advantage, I can not recommend it enough.  Your life and your ministry will never be quite the same.

-  Kathy Brockman

Kathy is a rising third year MDiv Student from Georgia.

 


Jun 5 2012

Finding Deeper Meaning

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.

Jonathan teachingOver the summer, I am working in a local church setting through the Candler Advantage Summer Internship program. This program, in which rising third-year students engage in full-time supervised ministry for ten weeks during the summer, presents a number of opportunities for me. One of these is to preach on a fairly regular basis. With this role, I have been preparing an upcoming sermon for a set of lectionary readings that includes Mark 3:31-35. In the NRSV, this short passage is entitled, “The True Kindred of Jesus,” but I have found that a title such as “Jesus Rethinks Family” would be just as appropriate. Through the words of Jesus, Mark communicates that it is not simply one’s biological relationships, but whether or not one “does the will of God,” that defines who one’s brothers, sisters, and mothers are. I am sure this passage challenged the notions of family of Mark’s earliest readers, as it does ours today.

Just as this short passage challenges us to think anew of what it means to be family, my time at Candler has challenged me to view faith, scripture, ministry, and a host of other subjects in new and meaningful ways. I would like to briefly share some of the ways some of these understandings have changed during my time at Candler.

I still say, as I did before coming to Candler, that scripture is the “word of God,” but I now have new, much richer, understandings of what I mean when I say that. In scripture, we hear a chorus of witnesses, from over the course of centuries, who have sought to express encounters with God. Each word of scripture has been written in a particular historical setting to a particular audience, yet these words still speak to us today.

Similarly, my Candler education has deepened the meaning of “faith” for me. Faith is no longer merely belief, i.e. intellectual assent to a proposition. Faith involves trust, whether belief is possible or not. Perhaps most importantly, faith involves living faithfully.

Jonathan at ConEdIn seeking to live faithfully along with others at Candler who seek to do the same, ministry has taken on new layers of meaning as well. When I first came to Candler, I saw ordained ministry as primarily involving preaching, with a number of other responsibilities such as pastoral care, administration, and outreach. While I still see each of these as significant components of ordained ministry, I now have a better understanding of how I am called to live out each of these aspects of ministry. Through my contextual education experience, I have seen that ministry involves formation through practices that shape us and give us identity, such as the reading of scripture and participation in the sacraments. However, ministry also involves formation through activities that stretch congregations out of their comfort zone, such as interfaith dialogue, outreach to members of the local community, and programs that teach and encourage faithful environmental stewardship.

Finally, Candler has challenged me to think through what the word “education” means. Certainly, education has occurred in the classroom. However, learning has also taken place in conversations with other Candler students outside of class time. Connections between academic coursework and people’s concrete circumstances have been made through Contextual Education I and II site work. As much as I learned about United Methodist polity in class at Candler, much more was gained simply by travelling to General Conference with other Candler students and professors this past April. Education, like these other things, has taken on a deeper meaning through my experiences at Candler. It is my hope and prayer that by being challenged to think through theology and practices in new and fresh ways, we will all come to new appreciations of what it means to live faithfully in our own time.

- Jonathan Harris

Jonathan is a rising third year MDiv student and a graduate of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC.


Feb 1 2012

In the Home Stretch!

A note from someone who only three years ago was anxious even applying to seminary and will celebrate completing the MDiv program feeling enabled and affirmed for ministry in the church in the world. 

Patrick McLaughlinI was completely unsure if I was what seminary was looking for.  I even had an application in for a nursing program thinking I could partially put my biology degree to use and be guaranteed a job upon completion.  Then I got a phone call from the Candler admissions office, the only place I had applied for seminary.  I knew this must be good news as they surely would just send a letter to tell me no.  My intuition was correct; apparently the feeling about my fit at Candler was mutual as they even offered me a generous scholarship from the Sherman foundation.  I figured I would just put on hold my vocational calling into a health field while I discerned what Candler and I had to offer each other.  Little did I know these weren’t two separate vocational callings but just parts of a calling that would be complemented by biblical, theological, historical, and justice courses.  As someone who doesn’t consider themselves a great student, I am living proof that a hard worker with a willingness to learn can be transformed and be successful.  It has not been easy but has by far been the best investment I’ve ever made.

While at Candler I have been inspired by Old and New Testament instructors;  they are intent on making scripture real for students of the word.  Issues of racism and sexuality were common in our small group conversations in addition to learning how to read difficult passages, how to offer pastoral care through scripture, and how to offer a prophetic word to communities for justice.  My history instructors, in real and creative ways, helped me to understand the foundations of the complex paradigm in which we live today.  Finally, my justice oriented classes have prepared me to be a better pastor by giving me assessment tools, a better vocabulary for theological community engagement, and helped me focus on a root cause issue that is relevant to the church.  A consistent quality of instructors at Candler has been that they are focused on preparing future pastors.  Many of them admit that the reason they believe in Candler is because of its mission to prepare pastors.  Instructors also take great care of students who study in our other programs. Although coursework has been a very hard thing for me to find life in, I know that I have been very blessed to have taken so many courses that are of interest to me, even some at Emory outside of Candler.

The summer internships offered to me through Candler were formative.  A summer in Memphis and a summer back in my home conference, which I’d been away from for nearly a decade, offered me intensive opportunities to put into context the pastoral training I had received to that point. Furthermore I was able to flesh out how to raise questions of justice with parties invested in the issues from a multitude of complex angles.  These experiences offered me new insights into the proceeding semester’s classes.  Being able to say in class “this is how this scripture is being read by people on the margins” or, “I saw this particular theme, borne in some ancient thought, alive in the community” makes the theological education I received at Candler very real.

Engaging with student organizations Emory wide and as the president of one has enabled me to learn from other students perspectives and to enable other students to make their theological educations real.   I have been able to think theologically and respond pastorally to issues around global health, the Israel Palestine conflict, homelessness, immigration, and food security.  All of these opportunities have contextualized my education and will make me a better pastor after graduation.

And now here I am, sprinting towards home plate where they will hand me a diploma!  I’m on the road to ordination in the Kansas West Conference of the United Methodist Church where I look forward to one day being a pastor.  I started this journey not knowing anyone and am leaving with lifetime partners in ministry.  I am very thankful that I did not let my anxiety get between me and this amazing experience.

- Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick is a third year United Methodist MDiv student from Kansas, a member of the Candler Singers, and a Student Ambassador.


Dec 7 2011

We are the Present of the church!

On November 11 I attended Exploration 2011 as a representative for Candler. The conference, sponsored by The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church, is designed to help 18-26 year olds discern their call into ministry, specifically ordained ministry. Over 600 people responded to this opportunity as participants in the event (not counting seminary and General Agency reps and the event planning team). It was an amazing experience to see so many people actively searching out God and the call God has placed on their life. It was also wonderful to learn more about the state of young clergy in the church. One of the speakers shared the statistic that The United Methodist Church, and other denominations, desperately need young clergy; the UMC only has 950 clergy under the age of 35 out of 30,000 total clergy. The church desperately needs young adults who are actively seeking out God in their lives and who are able to help people discern God in their life.

Jon at Exploration 2011

However, what I saw was a lot of young adults who were looking exclusively into missionary work, chaplaincy, or youth/ children ministries. I spent the first 7 years living into my call to be a Military Chaplain, so this observation did not surprise me. It did scare me. We need clergy who will be in ministry to people who are sick, in prison, young, old, citizens who are foreign and domestic. While there is nothing wrong, and great value, with the specialized ministry of Chaplains, Missionaries, Youth/Children’s directors, etc. we need people to lead the local church. The church is the center that brings all of these people into community and dialogue. It is the organization that sends missionaries and chaplains forth, where the space is made for the young and old, and the one place people should be able to go and feel completely accepted.

The church does not always live up to this, and many pastors have become burned out trying to make the church the open, accepting, and welcoming ministry it should be. Young adults see this and turn away from the church, looking to minister in one area, to one population, free of the structures of the church. We as young people of Christ, need to take a hold of the promise that is given in Baptism and Confirmation. A promise that states we are full members of the church, with a full voice. We cannot abandon the church. It is the place where differences are reconciled, and different backgrounds are brought together. If the church is broken we must not run away, we must stand and fix it. We must claim the authority God has given us and lead.

Often I have heard clergy or lay members of the congregation tell young adults and youth that they are the “Future of the church.” At Exploration I saw people who were living that out; I wish they wouldn’t. We are the Present of the church! Along with the people who are leading the Church now we must insert ourselves into leadership. Be the present of the church; if you hear God’s call in your life don’t hold yourself back from finding the strength to acknowledge that call! Don’t run away from the church because of its human faults, plunge in, change what needs to be changed and lift up what is being done right. In order to have missionaries, youth/children’s directors, and chaplains there must be a church to send them. Do not be afraid to take your place, as a Local Pastor, Elder, Priest, or Preacher! Find a place to cultivate those gifts, dive in, be strong, and remember that God has called you and will be faithful.

- Jon Gaylord

Jon is a second year MDiv student from DeLand, Florida and a Student Ambassador.


Dec 1 2011

Finding One’s Place at Candler

Candler group at Explo2009During my last Thanksgiving at Candler and as I approach graduation in May, I couldn’t help but think of the diverse communities of friends that have touched me and shaped me during my time here.  My first year, I had the opportunity to travel to Dallas, Texas as a small group leader for Exploration 2009.  Through this trip, I became connected to all of the staff in the financial aid and registrar office, as well as some other student leaders within Candler.  Despite the fact that I knew no one on the trip prior to arriving at the airport, we were instant friends only a few hours into our weekend together.  We remained friends through the time that they graduated (as I was the youngest one on the trip), and still have lunch dates to this day!  Furthermore, I became involved with the Student Ambassador Program, which provided yet another community within which I found great friends and support.

Mia's ConEd 1 GroupAnother community that fully embraced me in my first year was my Contextual Education (ConEd) community.  The group of seven of us who worked four hours each week at the United Methodist Children’s Home was pretty much inseparable.  We shared “brother/sister”-type relationships with one another and had an incredible chemistry.  By the end of our first year, we were truly family to one another – we laughed together, cried together, and supported one another free of judgment, no matter what the situation.  We truly carried one another through a year full of both trials and celebrations.

I was anxious entering second year, because I knew that the people in my ConEd group would change and I would not see those from my first year group as much as we had the year before.  What did I have to fear, though?  Yet again, I grew incredibly close to a whole new group of people, while maintaining my previous friendships.  That year, we worked eight hours each week in an ecclesial setting.  I began to really wrestle with whether or not I wanted to continue with ordination in the UMC.  Hesitant to share these doubts with many others, my ConEd group embraced me and provided a safe space for me to continue my discernment process.  They challenged me as to what I would have to lose should I not follow through in the process, as well as what the Church could lose if I were to give up.  Having help in thinking through some of these things was really beneficial for me, and formational in my ministry.

Mia and Friends

Finally, outside of the small groups I was placed in as a result of my coursework, I developed a strong friendship with a group of five girls that I have no doubt will be lifelong friends.  During the stresses of second year, we became close, realizing we shared a lot of things in common as well as a similar sense of humor.  We spend a lot of time together both inside and outside of classes.  I have truly been greeted with open arms by each and every group I came into contact with at Candler.  I firmly believe that there is a wonderful and affirming place for everyone within this community.  I have no doubt that each individual who passes through this special place is touched and transformed in a way that will positively impact the future of their ministry, whether it be inside or outside the church, and for that I am very thankful.

- Mia Northington

Mia is a 3rd Year MDiv student from Tennessee and a Student Ambassador.


Sep 30 2011

The Seminarians’ Prayer

God,

We think about you all the time.

We think about people who think about you and think about what they wrote about you. And then we write about them.

And yet sometimes, God, we cannot find you even in our thoughts. Our minds do feel like a labyrinth in which we have gotten lost and Scripture feels too much like the bricks blocking the exit than the string that guides us out.

And so we grow tired of thinking.

We talk about you all the time.  We throw your name around like we own it. We hide our confusion about you into declarative statements, saying that we know you are like this and we know you wouldn’t do that.

But we don’t know.

We don’t know you, at least not as much as we would we like.

Forgive us our hubris and our eagerness to talk about you which so often exceeds our desire to listen to you. It’s just so much easier to talk about you than to say it to your face.

But, God, we remember that you called us here, though there are days when this ivory tower looks nothing like your Kingdom and we certainly don’t look like we belong within it.

Remind us, God, that appearances can be deceiving,  that grades do not measure our worth.

God, we want to fight for justice, to stand for mercy, to love our enemies. But also, we want to take a nap, spend an evening alone with our families, and go to bed not worried about books still unread on our night table.

You said once that to follow you, there were crosses we had to carry. We know this small academic cross is tiny compared to the one you carried once, but some days we can hardly even drag it behind us, let alone pick it up.

But thankfully, You also said once that those who are weary should come to you. So here we are.

Because to whom else could we go?

Because at the end of the day, there is no one else that we would rather think about.

- Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a 2nd year MDiv student from Atlanta, GA and a Student Ambassador.


Aug 18 2011

Called “From” and “For”

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.

My call to a life of faith has been hardly ordinary.  Born and raised a Jehovah’s Witness, I grew up in a strict and unhealthy religious environment.  Every week, my family had to fill out time cards recording how many hours we spent in “service” (door-to-door evangelization).  I was forbidden from hanging out with kids who weren’t “one of us,” and was deprived of the usual childhood joys of birthday cakes, Christmas morning gifts, and Easter egg hunts.  The worst moment, however, came when my brother was disfellowshipped – a process of excommunication, or shunning, that forbids family and friends from associating with lapsed members.  As a child, I dearly loved and looked up to my brother; when he was disfellowshipped, I was told that we could no longer be seen together in public.

When I was 15, my parents called our family into the kitchen for what would be a life-changing announcement: they told us that they were leaving the Witnesses.  For me, a 15-year-old who was bitter and angry, I was simply happy that I could finally hang out with my brother again.  I was also happy that I would no longer have to attend five meetings a week, and would no longer be forced to engage in the mind-numbing chore of preparing for them.  While I knew that we still had very close relatives in the Witnesses, and that our leaving would greatly impact our relationships with them, I was excited by the possibility of living a normal life.

For the next four years, however, life was hardly normal.  My parents, who no doubt felt guilty about the restrictive lives to which my siblings and I had been subjected, allowed me a tremendous amount of freedom.  I had no curfews (none that were enforced anyways), and no limits on whom I could or couldn’t hang out with.  I was allowed access to my mother’s car to the point where it was basically mine; I could come and go with it, whenever I wanted, without permission.  I was also given unearned money on a regular basis, without any questioning with regard to what it would buy.  All of this amounted to a recipe for disaster.  I became addicted to drugs, and eventually started selling them.  Toward the beginning of this phase, I hung out with the “party crowd” – kids who drank a little here, smoked a little weed there – but quickly found myself surrounded by hardcore criminals.  Three of my closest friends from this time ended up dead (long after I stopped hanging out with them); all shot, I presume, over drug deals gone wrong (officially, these cases are all unsolved).

When I was 18, my life took a drastic turn.  One night, after getting high with a friend, I was in my car, alone, driving home.  I always struggle to describe what came next.  All I can say is that suddenly, with no warning, I felt a very strong presence with me.  This presence had a voice – not an audible voice, but a voice I could, in the strangest imaginable way, feel.  The voice’s message was simple: “You must stop this, or you will die.”  Whatever happened that night, I believe that it saved my life.  It shook me up so much that I went home, told my parents everything that had been going on, and left all of my friends in the dust.  The next several months would be spent in isolation, reflecting on God, my future, and how the two might be related.  I believed I had been spared for something.  This was the initial call.   This experience, although only 10 years ago, seems like a scene from a movie I barely remember.  But I must not let myself forget.  I firmly believe that our present is shaped by our past and motivated by our future.  The “call” is dynamic, as God calls his people from and for.

Preparation and Discernment

As of late, I’m learning that the call entails a perpetual cycle of preparation and discernment.  For the past six years, I’ve been preparing for ministry through academic training.  I have a B.A. in Pastoral Ministries and Biblical Studies, and I’m two years into my MDiv program at Candler (two down, one to go!).  Sounds like I’ve had a clear understanding of my vocational calling all along, right?  Not exactly.  While I’ve rarely questioned whether I’ve been called to ministry, the form of ministry to which I’m being called at any given time is something that I’m continuously discerning.  Thanks to the Candler Advantage program, I just spent the entire summer working (while getting paid…WOO WOO!) at a local United Methodist congregation in Decatur, GA.  This experience affirmed my specific call to parish ministry – at least for a time.  But let me be clear: I will never make the decision to be a “career pastor,” or a career anything else.  Maybe God will call me to be a pastor my entire life, but maybe not.  I cannot determine today what God will call me to do tomorrow.  The Spirit of God is exciting, unpredictable, even dangerous.  God may call a person to one form of ministry for a season, and to a completely different form for the next.  The Spirit that calls us is the same Spirit who hovered over primitive waters, who appeared as a roaring wind and as flaming tongues.   The call is an invitation from a mysterious God who promises, if we’re willing to take the risk, to give us an abundant life.  So let the narrative continue!

- Angelo Mante

Angelo is a rising third year MDiv student and a graduate of Taylor University.


Aug 5 2011

Living History

Neo-Assyrian soldiers stretch out naked foes on the ground, preparing to flay them alive. Captive children witness the gruesome display.

One of the highlights of my trip to Israel this summer was visiting the site of ancient Lachish, about thirty-five miles southwest of Jerusalem. This Judahite city was the last to fall to the mighty Neo-Assyrian army before it set its sights squarely on Jerusalem (701 B.C.E.). King Sennacherib was so proud of this conquest that he had scenes from the siege of Lachish etched into the walls at his palace at Nineveh. Now displayed in the British Museum in London, these reliefs depict (among other things) the execution and torture of Judahite soldiers and dignitaries as well as the forced migration of the city’s inhabitants.

Neo-Assyrian troops impale citizens of Lachish on long poles while archers and soldiers armed with slings ascend the siege ramp.

Neo-Assyrian troops in a siege engine attack the fortified gates of Lachish. Torches and boulders rain down on the attackers, but to no avail.

I visited Tel Lachish late in the afternoon on a scorching day in July. Except for the birds and the occasional lizard that skittered by, I was completely alone at the site. It was eerily quiet. And as I stood atop the tel, I let my historical imagination run wild.

One can still see very clearly the huge earthen ramp that the Neo-Assyrians built to surmount the city’s walls. It is massive and an impressive feat of engineering even now. I imagined the dread that the citizens must have felt looking down from the walls to see below the greatest fighting force that the world had ever known. As Sennacherib’s troops slowly assembled the siege ramp rock by rock, the city surely knew what was coming. Once the ramp was finished, there could be no repelling Sennacherib’s raiders.

Remains of the Neo-Assyrian siege ramp leading up to the city walls.

Sennacherib resting comfortably on his throne in his camp outside of Lachish.

As I saw this historical drama playing itself out before me, I could picture the Neo-Assyrian soldiers in full armor, with a taste for blood and a lust for loot. I imagined a smug Sennacherib munching some grapes in his plush camp just out of range of Lachish’s archers. Why did he have to come all the way from Nineveh to wreak so much havoc here? Looking down on the site of Sennacherib’s camp, I had the urge to utter a curse against those damn Neo-Assyrians. And suddenly, quite unexpectedly, I felt a new kinship with old Jonah, who certainly had no love lost on these people (cf. Jonah 3-4). The memory of violence, even violence from thousands of year ago, can still have profound and disturbing effects.

Another very different highlight of my trip was visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. I wasn’t really planning on visiting the church, intending instead to focus on the numerous Old Testament “places of interest” in and around Jerusalem (like Lachish). Yet when I happened upon the church, I just couldn’t resist going in.

I have to admit that once inside I found the people far more interesting than the architecture, relics, and this or that shrine. As I navigated the various holy sites within the church, I realized I was walking alongside people from all over the world. It struck me powerfully that millions of Christians over hundreds of years had travelled to this very building and had walked on these very stones.

Why had we all come? Was it curiosity? Devotion? Adventure? And who were we exactly? Pilgrims? Or tourists? Or worse, crusaders? Or were we something in between, some mixture of all three? I couldn’t tell, but walking through the church gave me the sense that I was participating in something that was far bigger than me. To be sure, that something was very messy and complicated and rife with contradiction, but also somehow profoundly true.

Crosses etched into the walls by pilgrims at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Of all the images from the church that day, what most struck me was seeing the thousands of crosses cut in the stone blocks on the stairway down to the crypt of St. Helen. Those simple etchings testified to the presence and faith of so many who had come before me. Even in the few minutes I stood at the steps there taking it all in, scores of new pilgrims walked by.

- Dr. Joel LeMon

 

Dr. LeMon is Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Candler and will be teaching OT501 this year.  His research focuses on the Psalms, Hebrew and Ugaritic poetry, and (as you can tell) ancient Near Eastern history, literature, and art. He is the author of Yahweh’s Winged Form in the Psalms (Academic Press, 2010) and the co-editor of Method Matters (with Kent H. Richards, Society of Biblical Literature, 2009). LeMon is an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.