Nov 26 2010

The Gift of Uncertainty

Quentin SamuelsI participated in an interesting conversation with a prospective student a couple of weeks ago and, to my surprise, I gave some advice about the application and discernment process that I would not have given him two years ago when I first began this journey through Candler.  He wrestled with oft-noted questions concerning such topics as  whether this was the right “time” for going to seminary, what he would do with his degree upon completion of the Masters of Divinity Program, and what it means for God to place a specific call on his life different from people closely connected to him.  My advice to him was to embrace his uncertainty as a gift.  A divine one at that.  I challenged him to not view his uncertainty as a hindrance, but rather grounds for liberation.

Uncertainty during a process such as applying to divinity school is truly a gift from God and it took me two and half years at Candler to reach this epiphany.  Now, I know at this point, it is hard for some people to comprehend how uncertainty could be accepted as a gift.  Well, I thought back to when I was applying for Candler.  I questioned every aspect of the process.  I knew that from the point that I enrolled into the MDiv program at Candler my life would be forever changed.  But it was this feeling of uncertainty that provided access to a type of faith that I never knew existed within me.

First, uncertainty allowed me to be receptive to options for my life that I may have never considered, but ones that God had arranged for me.  Sometimes we can be so rigid in how we believe that we can serve in ministry that we impede our own ability to hear God speak to us in novel ways about our calling.  Secondly, my faith was totally dependent upon God’s direction during this process.  Uncertainty served as a gift by pulling me closer to God in previously unimaginable ways.  The process was both scary and exhilarating at the same time.  And surrounding it all was God’s grace working within me to provide peace and around me to open doors.

Furthermore, in thinking about uncertainty as a gift, my mind immediately turns towards one of my favorite Biblical prophets, Jeremiah.  His uncertainty in his call as a prophet could have stifled what God had in store for him.  But in turn, his uncertainty actually performed an alternate function in his life.  It pushed him to ask God specific questions about the worthiness of his call: questions that he might not have considered had he not experienced doubt.  What I feel has been the best aspect of this spiritual conundrum is that when we are uncertain, quite often we find ourselves asking important questions about our future, decisions, and calling that we might occasionally overlook if we are sure about what we are supposed to do and where we are supposed to go.  In many cases, it is through our questions that we unlock answers to this divine mystery that we call life.

So if you happen to be in a discernment process during this season, or hopefully applying to one of the programs at Candler, accept and embrace uncertainty as a gift.  It can work in your favor in amazing ways.  Uncertainty doesn’t have to be something taboo or a sign that you don’t have every aspect of your life sorted out.  Conversely, uncertainty coupled with the grace of God’s guidance, should be understood as avenues for God to lead you towards your destiny.

-Quentin Samuels

Quentin is a third year MDiv student from Washington, DC and a Student Ambassador.  He is also President of Candler’s Black Student Caucus and an active member of the Candler Baptist Community.


Apr 18 2008

Marking the End of the Year

This has been a week speckled with services of sending forth, good byes and honoring graduates. With only one week of classes still remaining here at Candler School of Theology, the community is in a season of transition and closure. Though various student groups and classes mark the end of the year with celebrations and gatherings, I’d like to share with you four of the larger events that bring the Candler community together as the year comes to an end.

On Tuesday evening, the Women in Theology and Ministry Program sponsored a graduation dinner, as they do each year, centered on the program’s theme this year of “Women & Peacemaking.” Before Amanda Hendler-Voss 05T, Faith Communities Coordinator of WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions) and Minister of Christian Education at First Congregational UCC in Asheville, NC, and Dr. Elizabeth Corrie 96T 02G, Interim Director of Youth Theological Initiative and Lecturer in Youth Education and Peacebuilding spoke to the gathering, all the names of the graduating women were spoken aloud and those present were invited forward to accept a gift.

This year’s gift was a Peace Pole, which is an internationally recognized symbol of hope for the human family, standing vigil in silent prayer for peace on earth. Each Peace Pole bears the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in different languages. The graduates’ poles were made especially for Candler School of Theology, and the cost included a donation to the Peace Pole Project. Peace Poles have been planted in front of churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples, as well as sites of human conflict, such as the War Museum in Viet Nam and South Africa’s Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.

Sacred Worth, a student group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, those questioning their sexuality, and allies, offered a Service of Sending Forth on Wednesday, which took time to recognize the open LGBTQ graduates in the Candler community. Because sexuality is such a divisive issue in many of the mainline Protestant denominations of which our students are members of, Sacred Worth intentionally honors seniors of the LGBTQ community, knowing some of their denominations may not honor and recognize them as pastors and leaders in the church. It was an intimate service in the chapel that included communion and words of affirmation. Seniors, who were willing to come forward, were given a stole in recognition of their calling. A stole was also placed on the altar and later will be donated to the Shower of Stoles Project to remember that there are many people who have to remain silent about their sexuality in order to be in the church and answer their call to ministry.

During chapel on Thursday, the community gathered for a Celebration of Gifts and Honors. The service affirmed the gifts of the Candler community and thanked those who have made contributions to our life and fellowship together this year. From our communion bread bakers and readers of scripture in worship to those part of a student organization or have helped with a Candler event, we honored each person. Students, staff, and faculty who were nominated for awards were also named in conjunction with Honor’s Day awards.

Thursday evening was the Elder’s Send Off, sponsored by the Program of Black Church Studies, in conjunction with the Black Student Caucus. The evening included dinner, creative expressions performed and shared by members of the community, and ended with a blessing of the seniors, as well as staff and faculty who are also leaving our community at the end of the academic year. Kirstyn Brown, who is graduating with her Master of Divinity in a couple of weeks describes, “The Elder’s Send Off was a night of remembrance and celebration that served as a source of motivation and encouragement as I transition from Candler. It reaffirmed the sacredness of my cultural, personal, and spiritual formation.” After graduating, Kirstyn will be teaching English with the Baltimore Teaching Residency Program in Baltimore City Public School System.

Clearly we are a community who loves to mark the seasons of life and honor times of change and transition. There will certainly be more celebrations, tears, and hugs next week, but I can’t imagine anything that could top this week’s schedule of events. Tonight is Candler’s Spring Banquet (AKA “Candler Prom”), and next week, two guest bloggers will share their experience at the banquet.

If you are interested in learning more about Candler School of Theology, check out our website. In addition, you can call us at 404.727.6326, email us at candleradmissions@emory.edu, or learn more about the admissions process at Candler by clicking here. Look for my profile on Facebook (Candler Intern-Theology) and the Candler School of Theology Group at www.facebook.com.


Feb 29 2008

Heritage Month

Though previous blog posts have shared a variety of events and happenings around campus this month, February has also been Heritage Month, co- sponsored by the Black Student Caucus (BSC) and the Black Church Studies Program of Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Mark Jefferson, Master of Divinity senior, is the president of Black Student Caucus, and in his writings below he takes us not only through the journey of this past month but also through his discernment journey that led him here to study at Candler.

By Mark Jefferson

I feel especially honored to be a guest blogger for Candler School of Theology at Emory University. My sojourn at Candler has been a “beautiful struggle.” I believe that Heritage Month has reflected that same theme. February, which is Heritage Month, provides the Black Student Caucus (BSC) the ability to reflect and commemorate our intentionally obscured yet luminous past as we find the courage to see the light that Christ casts upon our future. The Black Student Caucus, for over 20 years, provides African students across the Diaspora an opportunity for spiritual, cultural, educational, theological edification and exposure. This month the Caucus had the honor of inviting the esteemed poet, author, civil rights activist and lecturer Nikki Giovanni. With a standing-room only crowd, she gave gleanings on various issues and provided an ocular demonstration of the power of a committed life.

During one of the chapel services the BSC planned and led, Rev. E. Dewey Smith, Jr., the Pastor/Teacher of The Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church of Decatur, Georgia preached about how not to “Corrupt Our Calling.” His homiletic prowess and passion for ministry has garnered him many accolades and honors. Each guest demonstrates the beauty that is blackness and the strength that has resonated in the souls of all those who have trodden those dusty pathways of freedom and justice.

The month concluded with the celebration of the work of our own beloved professor and new Director of Black Church Studies, Dr. Teresa Fry Brown. These events stand as bridgeheads of a wonderful journey that we have humbly and joyously embarked upon. With a wonderful month of celebration closing soon, I am able to see the seemingly dissonant sound of theological education has proven to be the sweetest sound I could have ever imagined.

I considered several schools before the God commissioned me to Candler. I must admit that the struggle seemed to stifle instead of strengthen me. I often dreamed of packing my belongings in my 1993 Dodge Dynasty and going back to the life I knew. The struggle of theological diversity and experiencing a new understanding of God overwhelmed me. Being malcontented and overly guarded of my own theological positions and presuppositions caused me to initially miss what God had for me to learn.

I would be less than authentic to say that theological education will be all honey and no bees, all sunshine and no rain, a bouquet of hellos and not a series of goodbyes. To accomplish any great task, fear is often the necessary prerequisite. Not fear as in paralysis, but fear as in a healthy respect for the call of theological education on our lives. I felt smothered by the mantle of learning and sharing with God’s people and creation at large.

I believe the turning point in my theological education came finding a church that supported theological maturation. The aforementioned Pastor Smith afforded me the opportunity to ask the tough theological question, use the theoretical frameworks that I have learned, and to find a harmony between academia and the church. I would advise anyone to pray about a person to assist you in discerning the voice and vision of God. This will allow you a concrete manner to see God’s movement in your life.

I find this blog humorous because I went from being ready to go and quit it all to thanking God for every moment. Christ granted me the maturity to aggregate what I learn with my love for him. I was afforded the opportunity to preach in chapel last week. I found it strange because I was able to see a marked sense of growth. It is often ironic that the person who felt like the most unlikely and chronically overwhelmed, ended up technologically testifying to you. There may be someone who may be wondering about this next step. There may be extreme trepidation and turmoil but I assure you that the same God that led you to read this blog is the same God that will give you the strength to endure, enjoy, and appreciate this journey so that you may blog to students like yourself three years from now.

I am bowing out, my time is far spent but I thank you for considering Candler School of Theology. I pray that God will lead you in all you do. I am looking forward to see how you impact the world for Christ. If you are on campus, please shake my hand.

Graciously,

Mark A. Jefferson
Black Student Caucus, President

Mark Jefferson is a third year Master of Divinity student from Hampton, Virginia. He graduated from Norfolk State University where he was four year letterman on the football team. He currently serves as the Director of Christian Education for the Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia.

Are you thinking about taking the next steps towards theological education or interested in seminary? For more information about Candler School of Theology, visit our website at www.candler.emory.edu, or email the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid at candleradmissions@emory.edu. In addition, you can call us at 404.727.6326, or learn more about the admissions process at Candler by clicking here. Look for my profile on Facebook (Candler Intern-Theology) and the Candler School of Theology Group at www.facebook.com.