Jun 24 2014

Take Me to the Water

by Brandon C. Harris

For three days I agonized over my sermon. It was my first week at Heritage Fellowship Church in Reston, Virginia and already I had to preach – and for a baptism at that. I wrote and rewrote. I prayed and consulted fellow seminarians on Facebook. What in the world was I supposed to say to five youth preparing to be baptized on a Wednesday evening?

Part of me wanted to tell them good luck and Godspeed! Following Jesus is never easy and he has a track record of taking folks to places they never wanted to go, like seminary.  What could I say to five middle and high school aged youth who had decided that they wanted to follow Christ, who were willing to submit themselves to being immersed in our large baptismal pool. How I agonized and prayed.

I wanted to draw on my rich theological education and say something profound about baptism. However, as I stood before their eager faces that evening, hoping to say something meaningful to them, I realized my words were not needed at all.  God’s word, alive in the testimony of those five youth, was more powerful than anything I could say. We laughed and we cried as we heard them witness of God’s presence in their lives.  A young man testified of how God’s grace – through the love of his family and the goodness of God within his life – led him to seek a relationship with Christ.  A young woman testified of how she lost her mother and was displaced from her family and how Christ had been her constant companion.

That night the youth of Heritage taught me a lesson not found in any classroom. The love of God shown in the ordinance of baptism became alive.  As they rose out of the waters, the smiles that emerged and the glow on their faces displayed to the world that they belonged to God.  There in the waters of baptism those five youth were born anew. That night we saw the face of God in those youth.  I will not remember that night because of the words spoken in a sermon or the lyrics of a song, but because of the testimony of one young man who proclaimed, “Jesus loves me! Why wouldn’t I want to be baptized?”

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Brandon Harris is a 2nd Year MDiv from Rochester, New York. Brandon is a Licensed Minister in the Church of God and Christ and is a member of the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He is serving this summer as a Pastoral Intern at Heritage Fellowship Church a Non-Denominational Church in Reston, Virginia.

 

 

 

 

 


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.


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.


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.