Jul 26 2013

Awake, My Soul!

This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program.  Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.
D&J at Redondo

At Redondo with fellow Candler student, Jake Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Darin Arnston

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


Jul 23 2013

Primarily A Minister

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.

Ashley KirkThe experience of being in full-time ministry through Candler Advantage has enabled me to more fully live into my role and identity as a minister.  I know and appreciate that there is formation happening within me while I’m at Candler.  It happens in the halls, classrooms, chapel, offices, apartments of friends, and the Contextual Education placements I’ve had so far.  It happens everywhere from the smallest conversations with other students to school-wide worship alongside professors, staff, alumni, and classmates at Cannon Chapel.  But, nearly 500 miles from Candler, the realization of that formation is present to me now more than ever.

Being in this role, being identified here as minister, is radically different than the role of student.  The role of student, and especially theology student, calls for an increased amount of listening, learning, thinking, reflecting, reflecting, and reflecting—and mostly on the work of others.  Candler radically redefines this with Contextual Education.  I’m no longer reflecting on or strategizing about hypotheticals—I’m on the ground, with real people, a real organization, doing real ministry.  And I’m reflecting on my own work rather than the work of others.  These seeds of learning, listening, and reflecting are sprouting and blossoming as I take part in all-the-time, real-life ministry this summer.

The striking difference of Candler Advantage from other Contextual Education placements at Candler is that I’m not first a student, second a minister.  Nor am I a student-minister.  I’m just minister.  And it makes all the difference. Nine months out of the year, I’m primarily a student.  Being here, being primarily a minister, I am getting to know myself in a whole new way.  Just as I know I’m a committed student who thrives on deadlines, I am learning I am a passionate minister who values discipleship through relationship.  Being immersed in full-time ministry, I am more in tune with my own strengths and weaknesses in this role—both personally and professionally.  Plus, my vocational discernment is off the charts!  I’ve (finally) accepted that I possess a deep call to the church.  I always knew that I cared for and believed in its future, but have been quite a harsh critic of it.  My frustration and want for change resulted in me writing myself out of ever leading within it.  But, this summer has taught me that that frustration I had was a misrepresentation of deep passion and deep hope for the mission of the church.

Many miles from the spaces I usually occupy at Candler, I’m finally listening to the life, gifts, and eyes that God has given me, and have begun the path of truly accepting my call, in whatever form it may take. As a reflection on this, I recall telling my classmates: “It’s got to be true that God changes hearts, because mine feels more changed every day.”  This has been the most important part of my summer, er, seminary career.

–Ashley Kirk

Ashley is a rising third year MDiv student at Candler who is serving at The Gathering in St. Louis, a 6-year-old United Methodist church plant. She is a Certified Candidate for ordination as a Deacon in the Missouri Conference.


Jul 16 2013

California Dreaming

This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program.  Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.

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

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

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

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

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

Jake at General Synod

Jake at General Synod

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

–Jake Joseph

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


Jul 12 2013

The Best Laid Plans

This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program.  Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Joya L. Abrams

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


Jul 2 2013

Ministry “To” and “With”

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.

When asked about my hopes and expectations for this summer, I would say that I hoped to experience the everyday rhythms in the life of a local congregation. I hoped to experience the joys, the pains, the celebrations and mourning that occur among the congregants of the local church and a church community, as people join, get baptized, and move away.

That’s exactly what I’m doing–I am experiencing the joys and frustrations of a congregation that hosts an interfaith food pantry every week; I am able to walk alongside a couple who are new to the area and have, for the first time, discovered a church that embodies the radical love of the kingdom of God; I see the sense of loss as the faith community prepares itself for a family to move to another part of the country. These are the rhythms that are found in the life of the local church. These are the rhythms that I get to experience this summer. These rhythms come out of relationships that exist throughout the local church and extend into the local community.

Rythms service bannerThis understanding of relationships is where I have grown the most. Relationships inform how we see our call. Relationships are the difference between “in ministry to” and “in ministry with.” A church and its leadership who are in ministry with one another and the community will likely identify a call to address spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of the community.  Thinking beyond an “us verses them” mentality, church leaders understands their task to empower good and effective ministry in others, not to be the primary “doers” of ministry. The church body can see itself in solidarity with the local community–rather than seeing those “outside” of church as adversaries.

The importance of relationships continues to be my growing edge for the summer. I have learned that by building strong relationships with those in the local church, leaders are better able to identify the gifts and graces of those who sit in the pews on Sunday morning. The same gifts and graces that may be of service within the church may also be of service outside the church. This both strengthens the worshiping community and allows the church to be an effective witness to the greater community. Relationships provide us with the opportunity to hear God calling us to something greater than ourselves, giving us the opportunity to experience God in each other.

–Harrison Thornhill

Harrison is a rising third year student at Candler who is completing a summer internship as part of Candler Advantage at Druid Hills United Methodist Church in Atlanta, GA.


Jun 25 2013

Remembering Our Call

This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program.  Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.

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

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

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

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

- Jennifer Roberts

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


Jun 21 2013

Ministry in the Deep End

This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program.  Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.

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

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

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

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

–Tyler Jackson

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


Jun 18 2013

Belfast: Community Split, Community Shared

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 have been serving here for a month. The words seem strange to me as I utter them, and as I realize that I have been here in Belfast, Northern Ireland for nearly half of my time given to working with this congregation. Through Candler Advantage I’ve gotten the opportunity to spend 10 weeks with Skainos and the congregation of East Belfast Mission (and reaching beyond).

the squareThis place is unique. As a Methodist Mission it is the umbrella organization that encompasses Hosford House transitional housing, Stepping Stone employment guidance and training, Compass community and family outreach, the East Belfast Mission Congregation, Re:Fresh Café social economy café, and countless Re:Stores and charity shops around the city of Belfast. This place is also unique in that it is housed in a new building and the new Skainos Square, which is focused on the idea of shared space. With architecture based on the vision of the tent of meeting, there are apartments, classrooms, offices for other organizations such as Tearfund, AgeNI and New Life Counseling, a dance studio, a sports hall, roof terraces and vertical gardens, and plenty of space for use by anyone who needs it.

Now, this idea of sharing is unique because it is very unconventional here in Northern Ireland. So…some history…Northern Ireland is still in the peace process that began with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that marks the end of the ethno-national conflict that is well known as “The Troubles” that took place from 1969-1998. This conflict was political with religious undertones, based simply in the idea of nationality. The Protestant Unionist Loyalists and the Catholic Nationalist Republicans had different ideas of whether the country of Northern Ireland should be Irish or British. Paramilitary groups of the IRA, INLA, IPLO, CIRA, RIRA, UVF, UDA, RHC, UR, and LVF fought each other with car bombs, petrol bombs, guns, fire, and even rocks and bricks. With over 3,000 deaths and approximately 47,000 injured throughout the near 30 years of conflict, many scars were left in the community…particularly here in Belfast.

Now that’s the history, but here’s the present: today there are “peace lines” that run through pieces of Belfast, separating the Protestant Loyalist and Catholic Nationalist neighborhoods. These are walls resembling the peace walls separating Israel and Palestine. I look out my office window and see Union Jacks and 1913 UVF Flags (Ulster Volunteer Force) flying. I am in UVF territory. Murals are on nearly every corner. The one directly to my right under those flags says “We owe it to the future and the victims never to forget the past.” A few streets down there is a UVF mural of two men in balaclavas poised to shoot, with the statement “We seek nothing but the elementary right implemented in every man: the right if you are attacked to defend yourself.” The whole city is filled with murals, ranging from peaceful and celebrating Belfast to violent imagery. You become conditioned to seeing them and walking straight past each day. The mentality that exists here is still separate and unequal. Each side believes the other has something they don’t, and the peace process is difficult. But the thing is, you can walk into town, go into Victoria Square and not know the difference from one person to another. There is no visible difference between the parties, they are the same, but have different political and religious leanings. It is when one party begins to march, to protest, or to riot that you can see the tension that underlies the everyday life of all these people who look the same.

Part of the ministry and mission here at Skainos and East Belfast Mission is to be a safe space for all walks of life and every part of the political and religious spectrum. This is to be neutral ground. With this mentality, the building is host to Irish Language Classes. Nearly every day of the week, members of the community come to learn the language of their heritage, the language that is readily seen in Catholic communities, and the language that I now know very few verbs in…and I can only tell you things I did in the past tense. The building is also host to children and youth from the community, home to FridayFusion for primary aged children and Drop-In on Wednesday and Friday nights for the teenagers of the community. Women’s Group combines with a women’s group from a local Catholic church, and kidzGAP is a safe space for moms and tots from the community (and a few dads). The outreach programming here is endless. While I participate and help with a handful of these, I realize the congregation of East Belfast Mission is far beyond the group that meets for church on Sunday morning, but is rather the entire community of East Belfast, and every person that comes through this building and can feel the effects of its ministries.

But for that congregation that does meet on Sunday mornings, the transition into Skainos Square has been a difficult one, sacrificing the old church building, making shared space a necessity, and creating some insecurity about ownership of the church within this space. Part of my job as a response to this is to administer a congregational survey that seeks to hear from every voice of the congregation, understanding how they feel in this place and what can be done in the next year to help with the process of settling in. This is a big undertaking in the final 5 weeks of my time here, but I have become a part of the congregation and I am invested in letting each one of them understand that their voice matters and is important. This is the body of Christ, feeling the pains of change and transition, feeling the pains of trying to be open and accepting in a city that is so divided. And even while the body may be feeling some growing pains, this does not deflate the meaning of 1 Corinthians 12:14-31. Each person making up the fuller body of Christ plays an important role, and I am working to empower this congregation in the knowledge that their roles are truly important.

This is a difficult task, but as the G8 summit meets here in Northern Ireland this week, and Obama has given the youth of Northern Ireland the message to keep up hope and to keep reminding everyone that this place is dedicated to peace, we can look hopefully toward the future for the congregation, for Skainos and East Belfast Mission, for Belfast, and for the country of Northern Ireland.

Thanks to Candler Advantage I am able to be in this place and see how communities can react to the ideas of sharing space and embracing change and peace. I look to my third year at Candler hopeful that I can bring my experiences back and look at community development in the United States with a new perspective and vision. Until then, and until I’m back in Hot-lanta in August, cheers!

–Carrie Harris

Carrie is a rising third year MDiv student at Candler. Read more about her summer experience with Candler Advantage in Belfast at her blog: www.carrieisbelfastbound.blogspot.com


Jun 11 2013

For You Are With Me

Hannah in AtlantaLast Friday I went walking. Starting at Central Outreach and Advocacy Center, a downtown organization dedicated to serving and advocating for the homeless in Atlanta, which I have had the pleasure of interning for over the summer, I traced a route from the Social Security Administration office, to the Fulton County Health Department, and back toward the Department of Driver Services. Perhaps not the most leisurely or entertaining walk, but a route I deliberately decided upon as I left work that afternoon. While Central OAC assists homeless men and women obtain birth certificates, Georgia identification cards, and various referrals to food pantries, clothing closets, and shelters, as I finish individual appointments with folks that come in off the street every morning, I often send them back out with a fistful of walking directions – pointing them toward churches, organizations, agencies, and offices. While I wish we could help with each and every need voiced by our guests, I know that collaboration is essential for the passionate, transforming, and empowering work that is happening at organizations like Central OAC.

The route I walked is a common one for those needing to get proper documentation in order to pick up their ID. An entire afternoon’s worth of walking and standing in lines, and only possible if one’s situation works out just perfectly. My walk that day, however, was easy. I was not carrying all of my belongings in a pack, there were no lines to wait in at offices, I am a young and able, and had the day been particularly warm I could have easily jumped into my car or dug into my pockets for public transportation fare. As I walked I considered the complexities of this seemingly common and monotonous activity. While I walk to my bus stop, around my neighborhood, and consistently tread the halls of Candler School of Theology, there are circumstances and settings in which walking is not so easy. I think of the Israelites walking and wandering in the wilderness, I think of Jesus and his followers who walked from city to city to preach and teach, and I think of the men and women in Atlanta who walk miles for work or a place to lay their head at night.

To walk alone is yet another circumstance that complicates one’s journey. While I made the long and foreign drive from Northern Iowa to Atlanta to begin my first year of seminary on my own, I immediately found community amongst classmates, professors, and advisors willing to walk beside me as I began studying, reflecting, and discerning my call in the world. My walk and journey through the year was not without missteps and obstacles. Yet, without those walking alongside me—through exams and study groups, from church pews to contextual education sites—I never would have made it.

Atlanta SkylineI was blessed with the chance to join a cohort of like-minded first year students as a Community Engagement Fellow. The fellowship has come with opportunities for reflection and discussion with brilliant and inspiring students who find themselves drawn to use their theological education in the community—in non-profit organizations, classrooms, on urban farms, and in other non-traditional ministries. It was with the support of those walking alongside me that I have found myself at Central OAC. While I am still walking this path, attempting to make sense of my place in the world and how to seek, serve, and share the Divine, I am consistently reminded of the importance of walking with others.

While I have learned much in my initial weeks as an intern—regarding circumstances that lead to poverty, policy and legislation surrounding issues of homelessness, and the complexities of non-profit work—an image of walking alongside another human being continues to shine brightest. Even as I send guests out with precise directions and am not able to physically walk beside them, I know how important it is to take the time to hear their stories, to simply listen, to encourage, or to advocate on their behalf. I know this because of the individuals at Candler that have taken the time to listen, encourage, and walk with me. I know this because of the guest who one day reminded me of the beauty and power in the book of Psalms. A text I had spent a portion of the semester devouring, was readily recited, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NRSV). For the guest, the Bible he carried was a symbol of the work of God and the work of people in the world attempting to overcome evil and injustice. For me, that morning, I was once again drawn to the act of walking—whether walking in the valley of death, in the wilderness, on the beautiful Emory campus, or on the streets of Atlanta. Such a common and everyday task for some can be an arduous journey for others. For those without transportation, for those with disabilities, and for those walking alone; it can be a long passage.

HannahMy walk has just begun. It has led me states away from family and friends, into classrooms with diverse theological perspectives, and into relationship with those who challenge me to make sense of my place in the world. With a year behind me at Candler, and a summer of learning with a passionate and Christ-centered ministry like Central OAC, I am prepared to continue walking—to walk alongside others, to walk this road as seminarian, and to reflect on how my interests and passions intersect with the world.

- Hannah Landgraf

Hannah is a graduate of Simpson College, a rising second year MDiv student at Candler, and passionate about feminist theology and bicycle transportation.


Jun 9 2013

O For a Thousand Things to Sing

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.

Davina MasseyToday is hurried and a bit frenzied.  Can you really experience frenzy in miniature form?

It has been one of those days where it feels like I am playing catch up and putting out small fires.  I am working on the order of worship for the next two Sundays and no detail is too small.  Great care and attention is given to this assignment and every detail is an important one.  To that end, I recruit and mobilize three sets of eyes to edit and proof the order of worship.  Painstakingly the document is reviewed and each line is carefully inspected.  Pleased with results and somewhat patting myself on the back, the order or worship is printed, folded and joyfully checked off of my mental things to do list.  It was not until we were leaving for the evening that someone noticed a glaring mistake. The title of our first hymnal selection is printed as, O For a Thousand Things to Sing.  Really?  Yes, really.

I shake my head in horror and disbelief.  This first week as a summer intern and what happens?  My humanity shows itself in full regalia.  It was staring me in the face with all its limitations as the gaffes of the week begin to show.  My labor was done with joy and in good order; however a few of the outcomes were dotted with the realization that my humanness peaks through and sometimes there are going to be mistakes.  Little ones and great big ones.

I have experienced being human all my life but not until recently have I accepted that little humble fact along with the acceptance that things will sometimes be less than perfect.  Thorough, yes.  Perfect, not so much.  I can say to myself, however, that it is okay.  I am okay.  It won’t be perfect all the time, although I strive and labor for the best outcome, but it will be an effort of love.  And in this case a work of love, stamped with the a little grace from my Pastor who forgives the rough edges of my humanity.

This Sunday, in the order of worship, the hymn title might read O for a thousand things to sing, but our voices will be lifted to the words found on page fifty-seven of our hymnal, just as Charles Wesley intended in 1739.

It is good to recognize our shortcomings, ask for forgiveness, then pick ourselves up and start afresh. Each day is an opportunity for a new beginning.  That sounds a little like love and forgiveness to me.  Two sides of the same coin.

Thank you Candler for the gift of this summer internship as I learn, love, grow and become.

- Davina Taylor Massey

Davina is a rising third year United Methodist MDiv student from the North Georgia Annual Conference.