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.


Jun 7 2013

Real Ruminations

Reflecting is the only real way to squeeze every last drop of joy, wisdom, and experience from those things that make us who we are.  Real Ruminations are one alum’s attempts to explain just how influential Candler School of Theology has been in his journey of ministry and life.  “They” say a seminary education does not really teach you how to do ministry.  Well, that’s real wrong and “Real Ruminations” help explain why.  This is the first in a series from Candler alumnus Jack Hinnen.

I never planned on going back to school.  When I walked away from Candler School of Theology with my Master of Divinity I was relieved to be free of the trappings of academia. Freedom at long last!  No more grades!  No more tests!  No more long drives from Alabama! Somehow I even made it through without ever trying on a bow-tie.  Christ had set me free to be in “real” ministry away from the confines of Bishop’s Hall.

Oh man, does God have a sense of humor.

In June of 2011 I was appointed to Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) as Chaplain and Director of Religious Life.  After 10 years of being a pastor in a local church,  I was back in school.  Not a state school like where I received my undergraduate education but a liberal arts institution affiliated with the United Methodist Church.  Sound familiar?  It did to me. The best part?

I had no clue what I was doing.  See, God hadn’t called me to campus ministry.  I was called to church ministry and that’s why I went to Candler.  In one of those situations that could only be from God I begun to make the best of the change.  I started imagining that my greatest gifts would be to help God speak into some huge life decisions.  People often meet their significant others and best friends in college.  I bet God will want to speak into that.  People often decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives in college.  I’m sure God will want to speak into that.  When that changes the next three semesters God will still want to be there.  I could cultivate students to be the best human beings they could be.

Besides those two opportunities there was a fantastic truth to this ministry that I discovered not here at BSC, but at Candler.  General Chuck Krulak, the 13th President of Birmingham-Southern College loves to say that we educate, not train.  Training is preparation for the expected, but education is preparation for the unexpected.  My time at Candler did not train me to be a Chaplain; it educated me to be one.  Here are a few things I learned at Candler:

Jack and Leadership

Jack and the BSC Religious Life Leadership Team

First, I can listen to people.  That may sound like a silly thing to be proud of or to be taught, but being able to hear and respect folks who are different from you is a lost art.  My Interpretation of the New Testament class revolved around the book of Revelation; that is not a subject most people can agree on.  Teaching Parish with Dr. Alice Rogers (Contextual Ed for preachers) proved as informative as any CPE hours.  I was presented with plenty of opportunities to face complex and rich theological truths not just from books but from the lips of those teaching and participating in my classes.  If I couldn’t listen to these people, I would not have succeeded at Candler.

As a Chaplain, I’m meeting people every day who did not grow up in an environment like myself. I didn’t take any courses that told me how to “win” these people, but instead learned how to love those people as Jesus Christ.  I can see these young persons for their potential and not just what their parents raised them to think.

Second, people grow.  What’s the point of educating a person if it won’t affect change?    Should we seek a faith journey that we wrestle with or an easy path that is soft underfoot?  When David Peterson pressed us in Old Testament to reach back and claim the risks and rewards of our ancestors, I was encouraged to know where I was did not have to be where I stayed.

BSC is full of fresh young faces who are not done growing.  If I forget that I can sell someone short and cease being an effective Chaplain.

Lastly, the best thing I learned at Candler was with Dr. Charles Hackett Jr.  He taught a class called “Shame, Guilt, and Reconciliation” where we looked at the way Christianity helps people overcome shameful, taboo, and broken experiences.  I learned that God loves to speak into our mistakes.  Is that not the purpose of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ?  To redeem that which is broken?  Shameful?  Weak?  To bring new life out of old?

At Birmingham-Southern, I discovered I had forgotten a truth shared with me at Candler – not only was I listened to or given space to change, but when I messed up I was given grace.

That is important for a guy who didn’t always make the best grades or come out on the right side of theological debates.  It is important for me as a pastor called not to the Church but to a campus.

I’ll close with a Scripture that was used at our Annual Conference this past year. 1 Corinthians 3:7-9: 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building (NRSV).

God gave me growth at Candler School of Theology.

Thankfully I’ve discovered that the church ministry I prepared for and the campus ministry I’m called to intersect in so many ways they are nearly indistinguishable.  I still haven’t tried on a bow-tie yet, but I have discovered that the same principles of community held dear at Candler School of Theology prepared me to be the best Chaplain I can be.  I’m so grateful for the opportunity.

- Jack Hinnen

Jack is the Chaplain at Birmingham Southern College, an appointment he has held since June 2011.  Prior to his appointment at BSC he served as an associate pastor at Riverchase United Methodist Church.  From Dadeville, AL, Jack graduated from Auburn University in 2003 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA in 2006 with a Masters in Divinity.  He is married to the former Cheryl Smith.  He enjoys  blogging, soccer, reading, tree identification, video games, racquetball, social networking, and the beach.


May 31 2013

Learning to Rely on God

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Carolyn Stephens

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


May 24 2013

You Won’t Learn That Here

“School did not prepare me for this.”

Despite the excellent academic education that I received at Candler – the rigorous instruction in Christian history, the intensity of my Greek classes, the thought-provoking learning of the “symbolic worlds” of the New Testament – those are the words that came to mind when I first began my journey in hospital chaplaincy.

Because, really, what can prepare you to make a hand print of a recently-deceased infant? Or explain to a five-year-old that his brother won’t be coming home with him? Or sit with a scared and exhausted mother while her child is undergoing surgery?

As a Chaplain Resident in the Clinical Pastoral Education program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, I face all of these situations and more on a weekly basis. When I first felt the call towards chaplaincy, I eagerly piled my academic schedule with many pastoral care classes. I loved all of them, and have had opportunities to reference the materials I learned there. At the end of the day, though, I discovered that no amount of reading, lectures, or memorization prepared me to do the actual day-to-day work I engage in as a Chaplain in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

What it did prepare me for – critically – is how to think theologically in every situation.

During my orientation week at Candler, I remember then-professor of New Testament studies Dr. Michael Joseph Brown relating a discussion he had with a recent graduate and new pastor. She was telling him a story about how the pipes in her church’s bathroom burst, and jokingly complained about how “she didn’t learn how to repair church plumbing at Candler.” He relayed this story to us, and plainly stated, “I’m going to tell you right now, you’re not going to learn anything about church plumbing here.” He went on to tell us, however, that there is a significant difference between pastors who simply perform tasks – be they repairing plumbing or preaching – and pastors who know how to integrate everything in their world – from the stories of the saints of the faith, to an understanding of how Greek philosophy influenced the New Testament – into a way of being that can respond pastorally, theologically, and prophetically to any situation, including burst pipes in the church basement.

Dr. Brown’s words have been prophetic in my own life and work. Many of the tasks that I perform in my current role I have just had to learn by doing. The difference between the pastor I am now and the person I was when I entered seminary, however, is that I can seamlessly reflect on every experience I have, and can place it within the broader context of Christian history.

When I had to pray with and give care to a man who shook his baby to death, I thought of the discussions I had in Dr. Andrea White’s Systematic Theology class about the doctrine of sin. The learning I did there gave me the framework to even begin to make sense of such a complicated tragedy. In my reflections on this event and others like it, I would be completely undone if I didn’t have a firm grasp on what this doctrine means to me, and how people of faith throughout time have used theology in order to understand their own tragedies.

The counsel of Dr. Barbara Day Miller in my Liturgical Writing class to expand our usage of adjectives in our prayers, confronts me every time I am tempted to lazily open with “Gracious God,” at the bedside of a child in the ICU.

The pipes will burst. The copier will stop working right as the bulletins need to get printed off. The call will come for you to get to the hospital as soon as possible. The corpse of a little one will need to be washed and dressed and placed in her mother’s arms. Candler won’t give you the book you need to know how to do all this. But it will give you the tools to make sense of it all, and respond pastorally.

- Whitney E. Walton

Whitney graduated from Candler in May 2012 with an M.Div. degree. She is training to be a board-certified hospital chaplain at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.


May 17 2013

More than a Shepherd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Karl Kroger

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


May 10 2013

Mother’s Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Stacey Harwell

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