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.


Sep 21 2012

Don’t Drag Your Buffalo

We made the move from St. Louis to Atlanta so fast.   We made the decision to come to Candler in May, and eight weeks later we were on I-24 with our entire lives packed into strategically-placed cardboard boxes.   We hardly thought about how much our lives were going to change.   Both of us were changing paths, and one of us was changing careers completely.   We were now going to be living on one income instead of two.   We had no friends here.    For the first time, we had no family remotely close to us.   We underestimated the struggle of living by two completely different schedules.   We just didn’t think about all the things we were giving up, until our car died.   That car was a part of our lives.   Our lives in St. Louis depended on us being able to go our separate ways.  If we needed to do two things at once, we could.  It was my car since high school.   It just always existed in our eyes.

The first leg of the move to Atlanta was ridiculous, even funny.   Two hours into the trip, the AC went out in one of the cars.   The choice was between driving my dad’s F-150 through the mountains (which was being fully realized with a U-Haul trailer hitched to the back), or driving a car without AC in the midst of intense July heat.   Needless to say, we decided to stop in the middle of Tennessee and stay the night.   We got up the next morning thinking we were going to start up the car and move to Atlanta, and it just didn’t happen.  The car did not start.  We finagled it in every way.  It wasn’t a battery problem, it wasn’t an electrical problem—it was a legitimate issue.   It was clear that it wasn’t going anywhere, and it sounded awful.   We called a tow truck.   Ryan sat at a mechanic’s shop in the middle of Tennessee for 4 hours.  My mom and I killed time in Target picking up those random items that go missing when you decide to pack up your life and move it somewhere new.   They took the car apart, and put it back together.   It still wouldn’t start.  We waited, and waited, and waited.  We tried really hard to save it.  We didn’t want to let it go.  They finally broke down and said it was hopeless.   The decision was between putting a new engine in it or burying it right then and there.  It was like what happens on the Oregon Trail.  When your buffalo drowns, you don’t drag it the rest of the way.  You just leave it there.  One thing was clear: our buffalo had drowned.

We took a hard look at the situation, and decided to bury our car in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.   RIP, Dodge Stratus.   When Ryan made the call to tell me about the car, I broke down in the middle of Target.   I was that girl you saw losing it in the Housewares Department.   At that point, it hit me.   I realized we were giving up much more than we had originally thought; we had taken things for granted.   After we buried our car, we went on with the move to Atlanta.   It seemed odd leaving what was such a valuable part of our lives behind in a random town.   We had seriously lost something we had taken for granted, and it clued us in to what was actually going on in our lives.

I tell this story to remind us that something will be lost along the way.  Deep friendships are not instantaneous.   Family interactions are left only to phone calls.   A church home is not easily replaced.   Changing paths sometimes means living on less.   And you don’t become good at being a one car family quickly.   What Ryan and I have learned as a result might be one of the most grace-filled lessons of our lives.   It has been a lesson in living a life that involves sacrifice, and as a result, sometimes need.   We’ve learned that we do not live lives apart from community.   We needed friendships and a church family.   But we had to be realistic about our material needs, too.   We needed scholarships, loans, and support to afford seminary and a move across several states.   We had to humble ourselves enough to accept the generosity of others.   But we also had to be observant and responsive to abundances that would arise in our own lives, and we had to learn to practice generosity to those around us.

The result of dramatic changes in our lives in order to make it to this new place has been a rewarding experience.   It was definitely worth losing a car, amongst other things.   We have been blessed here in so many ways.   Though friendships were not immediate, we have found those with whom we feel deeply connected.   Though we are away from our families, our appreciation for our time with them has increased rapidly.   Though we left a loving church family, we have been able to be a lasting part of a brand new church in a totally different setting.   We were thrown into so many changes that we didn’t quite expect, but we were sustained and supported, and we have learned great things.   Our sacrifice has been richly rewarded, and we are so thankful.

 - Ashley Kirk

 Ashley is a second year MDiv student from St. Louis, MO.