Jan 16 2009

Study Abroad While at Candler

Our guest blogger this week is Amanda Mountain (pictured right). Amanda is a third-year MDiv student at Candler and will graduate in 2010. Originally from Roswell, Georgia, and Interlochen, Michigan, Amanda did her undergraduate work in dance at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania. She spent the fall 2008 semester away from Candler at Wesley House in Cambridge, England. Photos are all by Amanda.

The decision to study abroad at Wesley House, the Methodist theological college in Cambridge, United Kingdom, was a difficult one. Spending a semester in the UK meant I would not graduate on time and would not finish my 3rd and final year with the friends and fellow colleagues who began my seminary journey with me. I would miss out on all the wonderful Candler events, from the opening convocation, to the daily worship services in Cannon Chapel. I would miss the wedding of one of my closest friends (whom I met during my first 2 years at Candler). When I voiced my concerns about going, these same friends told me this kind of opportunity only comes around once in a lifetime and that I should go for it. So, I did. I packed up my apartment, sent my cat to live with my parents, and boarded a plane for Cambridge.

Kings College, Cambridge. Founded in 1441 by King Henry VI,

the chapel was completed by Henry VII in 1544.

Still unsure about my decision to leave my Candler family behind, I decided to take a walk through the city-center on my first day in the UK. I wandered up and down the narrow streets, and strolled along the famous “backs” of the colleges. I felt like I was floating through a dream. I was actually in Cambridge, England, the University that produced alumni like Sir Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell, John Maynard Keynes, John Harvard, John Milton, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, to name a few. My anxiety was eased as I realized where I was and the possibilities and opportunities present for me.



The term began with an opening worship service followed by a community meal in the formal dining hall. The next morning, I met with the principal of the college and the director of pastoral studies to plan my coursework during my time in Cambridge. We decide
d, based on my calling to lay rather than ordained ministry, that I would focus on my passion for inter-faith studies as an avenue for peace-building. I registered for a class entitled Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in Encounter that provided basic historical background on each religion, and then looked at how each religious tradition encountered “the other” throughout their histories. The course is still teaching me, as I apply what I learned to the current crisis in the Middle East. In addition to this class, I registered for Pastoral Skills and a course with the Center for Muslim and Jewish relations, which is located on Wesley House grounds.

Many of the residents in the college were around my age, and all of them training for ministry in the Methodist Church of Great Britain. I felt welcomed by their warm hospitality and numerous offerings of cups of tea—a drink I had never before found appealing. My accommodations were very nice, and even included my own study with a gorgeous view of the central courtyard of the college. I will cherish memories of sipping hot cups of tea in my study while reading books for one of my classes, looking out at the tree that grew right outside my old lead glass window (pictured above).

Weekends were spent exploring the surrounding countryside with my new friends. One Saturday, we embarked on a daytrip to London where we walked through the streets of London, past Buckingham Palace, and the Cabinet War Rooms at the Churchill Museum. We then went through St. Paul’s cathedral and had a wonderful lunch in a café across the street. After lunch, we boarded one of the famous red double-decker London buses, and rode to Westminster Abby. Unfortunately the Abby closed early on Saturdays, so we could not go inside, but I had chills thinking of all the history—Anne Boleyn’s coronation, Queen Elizabeth I’s coronation, the marriage and funeral of Princess Diana—that took place on that site. We wandered across the street to the Westminster Methodist Central Hall, where we had a snack in the café. The central worship space was empty, so we took pictures of us standing in the pulpit and at the baptismal font. As the day progressed, the weather started to turn gray and cold (like weather does in the UK), so we took the London Tube to Harrods, where we walked around the massive department store and had a wonderful high tea before boarding our train back to Cambridge.

The next weekend, we decided to try our punting skills on the River Cam (pictured right). A punt is a flat-bottom boat used in shallow waters such as the River Cam. The person steering the punt stands on one end, and pushes the boat forward with a pole. We punted to Grantchester, and took high tea at the historic Orchard Tea Gardens, a popular location for such an event. In fact, figures such as Wittgenstein, A.A.Milne, Stephen Hawking, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Emory’s own Salman Rushdie have enjoyed an afternoon cup of Earl Grey under one of the many apple trees.

Though I did not get to travel much outside the UK, I did create memories and make friends that I will cherish always. The lectures I attended enhanced my vocational calling to interfaith peace and justice work. Living in a Methodist Theological College in the UK meant I also studied what made the Methodist church unique and set apart from the Anglican Church. Many community conversations centered on what it meant to be a Methodist, not only in Great Britain, but the world. I discovered a deep passion for the history and theology of the Methodist Church, and a new love for John and Charles Wesley. I am now certain I will remain in the United Methodist Church and feel an even deeper conviction and calling to ministry as a Deaconess in the denomination I love.

So, here I am back in the states. Classes started at Candler this week. I am moved in to my new apartment. My cat is sitting on the back of the sofa as I type. I chat with my Wesley House family online thanks to Skype and Facebook. I miss them. Even though I left my Candler family for a few months, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. Instead, I return to Candler this week with memories of my new Wesley House family close to my heart, and with a new found love for Earl Grey tea. And, as it turns out, I did in fact make it to that wedding!