Some call it wanderlust. Others tell me it’s the result of growing up in a small town. My parents’ conclusion is that they let me watch the Travel Channel one too many hours as a child. Whatever the reason, I’ve never been able to sit still for long. Whether it’s backpacking across Zimbabwe, studying Ancient Christianity in Greece, or even just climbing on my bike to get out of town (and into some of the amazing trail rides outside of Atlanta), I’m usually found wherever the rubber meets the road.
During my undergraduate years, I learned how to put my thirst for travel to good use. I felt a strong desire to seek an education influenced by classroom learning and on the ground experience. Beginning my freshman year, I came to understand academia not as an ivory tower set apart from the world, but as the ivory composing the tusks of the elephants that live as part of our world. I traveled to Mozambique, Turkey, Ireland, and other locales, seeking practical application for all that I was learning. In the process, I met people who challenged me to speak, think, and care in diverse and life-giving ways.
When I decided to apply for divinity schools, my number one priority was finding a university where education wasn’t limited to the classroom. I looked at many places that viewed theology as an integral aspect of a global community, but Candler stood out as a place already engaged in the world even from its home space. Atlanta is a city where global NGOs converge with refugee communities, where church is not limited to local neighborhood, and where a school of theology utilizes the international perspectives all around it. Because of these reasons and more, Candler became the obvious choice.
Two and a half years later, I enter my last semester of divinity school having spent almost as much time inside the classroom as outside of it. Hours of contextual education in a women’s prison, three and a half months of the summer working for a development organization in Africa, two weeks at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Australia, and an additional summer in Mexico are all opportunities that were made possible to me because the faculty, staff, and students at Candler believe that education is at its best when it is inclusive of global perspectives. Thanks to Candler, I am equipped for leadership in the real world, and it feels bittersweet to be preparing to leave an institution that has supported my passion for a global education.
- Maria Presley
Maria is a 3rd year MDiv student from Mississippi and a Student Ambassador.
I firmly believe that utilizing our spiritual gifts in an effort to give back to our community is of utmost importance. My favorite aspect of Candler’s coursework is Contextual Education (ConEd). Through ConEd I, every Candler student is given an opportunity to explore his or her spiritual gifts during their weekly hours on site in a church, hospital, foster home, or outreach community setting. One of Candler’s professors took it a step further with her spiritual gifts and began a knitting group called Project Warmth: Crafting a Better World.
Dr. Karen Scheib, Director of the Women, Theology and Ministries Program, recognized knitting and crocheting as some of her spiritual gifts, and she chose to use these gifts in an effort to further help those in our ConEd I communities. To that goal, she created Project Warmth and invited everyone to be involved. She began by purchasing loads of yarn and multiple sets of knitting needles. Dr. Scheib was excited to share her gift and teach all of us how to knit so that we could give back to the communities in which we had become so entrenched and attached.
Last year, Dr. Scheib was the faculty advisor for my ConEd I group which served at the United Methodist Children’s Home. For this particular ConEd site, we planned to make a patchwork lap blanket to give to them. Each of the students in my group helped knit different colored squares that Dr. Scheib finalized by crocheting together into a blanket. She had many ideas for other sites such as hats and scarves for homeless adults and baby blankets and mittens for underprivileged children.
God makes each individual uniquely different and blesses us with a variety of spiritual gifts; I can safely say that knitting is not mine. What was supposed to be my square wound up looking like some unnamed shape! While I certainly believe that more practice would have helped, I was never able to relax for fear of messing something up! I have no doubt that through the years of ministry that I have ahead of me there will be many more “false starts.” But I believe that I will be guided to my appropriate niche each and every time if I remain patient and steadfast in my relationship with the Lord.
For many of my classmates, however, knitting actually became a spiritual discipline and served as a form of self-care – a skill which is really stressed at Candler. Despite all of the reading, papers, and extracurricular activities, all of us must find the time to take care of ourselves. Taking time out of our day for knitting gave us time for reflection and meditation amidst our chaotic schedules. Dr. Scheib explained that we were doing something for ourselves by knitting, but also doing something for others by giving to charity. The dual purpose of this project helped and continues to help all of those involved. I believe that all of us have gifts that can be shared with the community at large, and I admire Dr. Scheib for sharing hers with not only the Candler community but also with those in need throughout the greater-Atlanta area.
- Mia Northington
Mia is a 2nd Year MDiv student from Tennessee and a Student Ambassador.
The Voices of Hope choir; photo used by permission of Bob Andres, firstname.lastname@example.org
Candler Professor of Church Music and Worship James Abbington accompanies the choir
The chapel service this past Tuesday was packed. I had to climb through three sections to find a seat. The Voices of Hope women’s gospel choir was singing, and I knew they would draw a crowd. I had a lot of office work to do, but they are a choir that you do not miss. I’ve heard them sing three times now and I’ve been blown away and reduced to tears every time. I have had to collect myself in my pew when they’re done, so I’m not overwhelmed after the service. The power is palpable, carrying out of the chapel, feet tapping, voices humming and singing, smiles everywhere. I left the service alone, back to the office; the choir left escorted by armed guards back to prison.
You see, the Voices of Hope is part of the gospel choir ministry of Rev. Susan Bishop, chaplain at the Metro State Women’s Prison in Atlanta. Metro State is a notoriously violent maximum security prison; in 2004, Diane Sawyer from ABC News spent a day and night in the prison as part of an exposé on the culture and violence in women’s prisons. Rev. Bishop, an ordained Baptist pastor and Candler graduate (’75) formed the choir as part of her ministry in 1992. She is a “godmother and mentor” to many of the women at Metro State. The traveling choir numbered 18; the in-house choir counts roughly 35 members among its ranks.
The Prison:Candler has a long-standing relationship with Metro State. The prison serves as one of the Contextual Education sites in which Master of Divinity students serve during their first year at Candler. First-year students serve in ministry setting outside of church settings—settings like hospitals, prisons, and homeless shelters. Students primarily counsel inmates one on one, assisting with worship, facilitate groups, and help with bible study. One Candler student remarked that “Chaplain Bishop is one of the most inspirational, loving, caring, and outstanding ministers you will likely ever meet.”
Don and Emily Saliers
While the choir members repeatedly thanked those of us in the congregation for allowing them to sing, we were all very clearly the ones who had been blessed. The choir is an embodiment of the Christian notions of salvation, grace and redemption. Bishop said, “God has work for us to do, no matter who you are, no matter where you are.” It seems doubtful that many of the women, upon being incarcerated, could imagine being used by God for such acts of beauty and hope. And yet that is exactly what the choir is—a living message of hope.
The Voice of Hope also have a new CD out—a first for a Georgia prison choir. Emily Saliers (above right, with her dad) of the Grammy Award duo The Indigo Girls, helped finance the CD project and has sung with the choir on a regular basis for the past several years. Saliers has deep Emory connections. She graduated from Emory College with a BA in English in 1985 and her father, Don, taught worship and theology at Candler until 2007. They co-authored A Song to Sing, a Life to Live in 2004, about the intersecting strands of music and theology in their lives. Bishop said the recording has given the participants a sense of accomplishment and offered them an opportunity to give back to the community. Proceeds from the sale of the CD go toward a program that brings children to visit their mothers at the prison.