May 16 2008

The Journey

Today is my last day of interning in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid at Candler School of Theology. I have had four wonderfully amazing and nurturing years here—three as a Master of Divinity student and one after graduation as an intern and research assistant. But I know from the lyrics of Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith, and other wise sages, who have spoken these words through the ages that, “Life’s a journey not a destination.” Candler was a significant stop along the journey, but the journey of life certainly does not end here. In fact, many things are just beginning. It seems fitting that the word seminary was used to describe a plot where plants were raised from seeds back in the mid 1400s. My calling, much like a seed, was nurtured from its tiny conception into a spout of new possibilities for living and ministry during my time at Candler.

Candler has played midwife to my pastoral identity and personhood while still allowing me to find my own way. This community has helped birth me into a new way of being in ministry and care of the world, my neighbor, and myself. Candler has allowed me to ask the challenging questions and created space for deep dialogue. As I prepare to go, I pack with me a box full of friends, memories, moments, and their loving words as I take the next step in my vocational journey in ministry. As I prepare to be appointed as the Associate Pastor at First United Methodist Church of Amite, LA, I realize that Candler will still be with me along the journey. Sure, the relationship will change and grow, but Candler has become and will remain a large part of my very being and my ministry for years to come.

I carry Candler with me as a journey to the Louisiana Annual Conference on June 1 where I will be commissioned a probationary elder in The United Methodist Church. Candler will be there as the clergy vote on my preparedness for ordained ministry, for Candler helped prepare me for this. Candler will be in the congregation on the night of my commissioning as other alums from the seminary participate and attend the service. Candler preaching professors, Dr. Tom Long, Dr. Teresa Fry Brown, and Dr. Gail O’Day will be with me in word and spirit as I call upon their teachings as I write my sermons. On June 15, my first Sunday at my new church, Candler will be present in the face of my former housemate that I lived with during seminary, who is driving 5 hours to come hear me preach my first sermon as Rev. Lane Cotton Winn.

Candler will be along for every step of my journey into ministry—as I visit parishioners in the hospital, as I lead meetings and teach classes, as I administer the sacraments and bake communion bread using the same recipe we use here in Cannon Chapel. Candler will be there when a church member tells me she feels called to ministry and is interested in going to seminary. I will tell her of my mystical and amazing time at Candler, and I can confidently say that I believe God does marvelous things in the halls, classrooms, corners, chapel, courtyard, and offices of Candler School of Theology. We’re growing a beautiful garden here, and this spring of my time at Candler, I am ready to be in full bloom for others as I move into local church ministry and service to the world. Candler has prepared me for this next step, and I am ready to be harvested.

Poet Mary Oliver ends her poem “The Summer Day,” with these words that I leave with you today. I hope you will carry Oliver’s closing question around in your heart as you discern the next steps for you along your journey.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


Jan 18 2008

You Can Do This

There is snow falling outside and students buying textbooks at the Cokesbury Bookstore inside. On the eve of the first day of classes for the spring semester at Candler, deep in the south, here in Atlanta, Georgia, as kids rejoice at the possibility of a snow day, Candler students pack their schoolbags, finalize their schedules, and prepare for the semester. Candler School of Theology is back in business. Classes resumed on Thursday, January 17, 2008, and seniors could not be more thrilled! They are two days closer to graduation.

For the next two weeks, the blog will feature two of our graduating Master of Divinity seniors as they begin their final semester of seminary. I hope you will hear and feel the celebration in Sheila Elliott’s words as you read below.


Everything is in. All of my commissioning papers, Bible study, sermon, security check, credit check, applications for CPE, and a fall semester full of take homes, sermons, and papers. I am surrounded by piles of paper and there are various books strewn about. As I prepare to leave Candler I am reminded of my first semester and how long three years seemed at the time. I was financially, socially, and personally looking into the unknown. Dr. Teresa L. Fry Brown, Associate Professor of Homiletics, preached during worship at my Candler orientation, and even now, her words ring in my ears – “you can do this!” Her words soothed my uncertainty and gave me the lift I needed to begin the journey. I contemplated returning to my home and career during the spring semester of my first year, but the words of my pastor prepared me to remain for the duration. So, I stayed, and I am incredibly glad and thankful that I did.

A famous player in the Negro Baseball League once said that it’s alright to look back just don’t stare. Pursuing theological education and accepting one’s call into the ministry requires looking down the road that is ahead, not staring at what was left behind. I decided to commit to the journey and to the Candler community, opting not to squint in order to see the end. I decided instead to focus on where I was at the time. A good look at Candler revealed challenges, of course, but what I have seen and experienced at Candler has truly blessed me. I have enjoyed the fellowship and friendship.

The thought that there will come a day when I won’t see Maxine, Wilbur, Kirstyn, Steve, Sarah, Marlo, Anna, Greg and others or say something sassy to Sonja is almost unimaginable. I will miss worship and to some extent community lunch, but I know that my journey here is coming to an end and I’m ready. I know that I am leaving a place I have come to cherish and folks I have grown to love. But I’m ready. Being ready isn’t primarily about no longer wanting to be a student or having grown weary of papers and exams. Readiness is about the pull of what one is being called to do. I don’t feel as if I’m being pushed out of Candler, but drawn into that which I have been prepared and called to do. I know that there are lessons still to learn, and leaving is bittersweet, I’m just thankful that I was able to come to a place that now feels like home.

Sheila Elliott was born into a military family in South Carolina, and she has lived aboard since she was four years old. Sheila has a PhD in International Relations from the University of South Carolina, and she taught in higher education for 20 years both at Columbia College and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Sheila is currently a graduating senior Master of Divinity student at Candler School of Theology, and she hopes to get commissioned as a probationary elder in the South Carolina Annual Conference in June, 2008.

Just as Dr. Teresa Fry Brown preached, you can do this; you can go to seminary; you can come to Candler. 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.