Mar 8 2013

Seeking Spiritual Disciplines

While in seminary we spend a lot of time studying the bible, theology, history of the church, pastoral practices and church music. Essentially, we study everything  or anything remotely connected to religion. Through the Contextual Education program we work in pastoral ministry constantly during our seminary educations. By our third year, most students either work in a church or have become very connected to an Atlanta church community. We spend Sundays and Wednesdays at churches (at least), and then we go to school and talk of nothing but God, Trinity, pnematology, escatology, missiology, and every other ology having to do with the Christian religion. In seminary our lives literally revolve around Christianity, the church, and Religion.

As a seminarian, I spend so much time studying religion or leading worship that I often forget to do Christianity or worship. I get so caught up in what I have to do for school or church I often forget to do the things I am supposed to do as a Christian. We talk about the importance of spiritual practice, talk about different types, and creative ways to connect to God, but that doesn’t mean I always remember to do them.

Don’t get me wrong I have spiritual disciplines. I pray. I read my bible. I listen for God. It’s just that when I get busy, it is easy to let these practices get pushed out in order to get papers done, sermons written, parishioners visited, etc.

My problem is not in finding new or more creative ways to live out my disciplines. It’s not in finding a new way to read my bible. It’s not about finding new meditation techniques or new ways to pray. It’s about actually taking the time to engage in the practices I study and preach. We can all benefit from knowing a wide range of techniques for spiritual disciplines, but what it comes down to is actually doing them.

I know Lectio Divina. I have seen every type of journaling you can imagine. I have mediated and prayed in more ways than I can count. Knowing these things doesn’t change the fact that I need to do them, and that they need to be done before everything else.

It’s a discipline. It is something that is hard to start, and challenging to keep up. If you go to any seminary worth it’s salt, they will tell you to develop your spiritual practices. Let me tell you a secret now, before you actually start the writing, reading and spiritual leading that will encompass your seminary life…  Seminary is busy! Start developing practices now!

In life you can generally get away with knowing about a subject without ever actually doing or practicing it. Spiritual practices are different though, its not about what you know, it’s about what you do.

Spiritual discipline isn’t reading for class.
Spiritual discipline is intentional practice.
Spiritual discipline is a time set aside from everything else.
Spiritual discipline is a time for God and God alone.

Start praying. Read your bible. Stop finding excuses. Stop putting it off. It’s not easy and there are always reasons not to practice right now. When we actively seek out spiritual disciplines and practices, we grow closer to God and the world becomes clearer. When we live out our disciplines and practices daily it becomes easier to see God in this world, in our world.  Our daily disciples allow us to see the busy things like work and seminary much more clearly as activities done in and for the Kingdom of God. They slow us down and fill us up. They remind us why we are here.

- Jonathan Gaylord

Jonathan is a third year MDiv student from Deland, Florida, a Student Ambassador, and the pastor at Providence United Methodist Church in Lavonia, Georgia as a part of Candler’s Teaching Parish Program.


Nov 16 2012

Windows to Christian Difference

WindowChurches seem to fight over a lot of things that in the grand scheme of things don’t matter (or at least seem unimportant to outsiders). One fight that goes on in most every church is over buildings and how buildings should be set up, what renovations should be made, what paint color should be used to repaint the Sunday school rooms, etc. Some of these arguments revolve around practical concerns and they must, since resources and physical location limit the church. The thing we often forget however, is that all of these seemingly insignificant or unimportant modifications and changes are architectural decisions that have heavy  theological implications to conveying the beliefs of the church. What does it mean if the Pulpit is center behind and elevated over the altar? What does it mean if the Altar is center and the pulpit is off to the side? What does it mean if there is center aisle or a central section of pews?

Many of the architectural features common to churches can be altered over the years. Pews can be moved, platforms added, altar position changed. One thing that will stand the test of time are the windows. Windows are often only redone when the walls themselves have to be moved. Even if stained glass windows are falling apart, a church will often choose to repair and maintain them as they always have been instead of altering them completely.

The windows in a Church stand as a permanent statement of the churches theology. Every time there is a reforming movement in the church, architecture and window style come under review.

Stained glass developed as a way to tell the stories of the Christian faith, and enliven and enhance the worship space. When light hits stained glass the result is often one of the most breathtaking views in the world. As the sun moves throughout the day the light in the sanctuary, chapel or cathedral moves with it, and the experience becomes new again. In each hour, we experience the light and the church in a whole new way. It is always the same, but it is always changing.

Some reformers saw the stained glass as a way that the church had gotten away from the fundamentals of the Christian faith. They see stained glass and the extravagant architectural often associated with it as a way to show off, as something done for the glory of humans and not for the glory of God. For this reason, several religious groups have constructed their churches with plain glass. They let the light stream into their places of worship unmolested by human creation or interpretation. Light is a sign of God, and does not need anything human added over it.

In some “modern” churches windows are excluded from the building plans all together, in order that the worship space might be completely controlled. If there is not natural light then screens, tvs, stage lights can be used to maximum effect. Darkness becomes darkness, and a single candle on the altar becomes a powerful symbol undimmed by an inflow of sunlight. But can humans every fully control God in this way? If there are no windows how do we understand God to be the creator of everything both outside and in? Can worship not become very insular?

What is interesting is that these viewpoints are absolutely valid. You can stand in a large cathedral and soak in the reds, blues, and purples of the stained glass and feel God, just as easily as you can experience the divine through clear panes of glass, or through the atmosphere created in a windowless church. None of these theological positions as demonstrated through architectural design choices prevents God from showing up in worship, or in the lives of the faithful. But these standpoints can be taken to an extreme where God is forgotten and pushed aside for human pride and posturing. The same is true of any theological doctrine or thought. What is the real difference between a high church Catholic with a view of transubstantiation of the Eucharist and a Baptist who sees communion as a remembrance that happens only in the hearts and minds of the faithful? They both believe that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and that Christ will come again. What is the difference between denominations that baptize infants vs. denominations that do not? They both believe that we are baptized by water and the Spirit.

What the argument of differences comes down to is conflicting emphasis. We choose what single aspect of the divine we find to be the most pivotal, and play it up. This division of focus is well and good, because there are so many aspects of the Christian faith and God that we would likely forget a part of our story if it were not for our brothers and sisters who believe differently from us. The shame of it is that we see these differences as making our ‘faiths’ incompatible, and we shut ourselves off to a whole section of our sisters and brothers. Maybe the issue is Eucharistic presence, architectural decisions, written vs. extemporaneous liturgy, the humanity or divinity of Christ, or Christianity’s response to the LGBTQ community.  What we see instead of our common beliefs are our differences on these issues and we stop talking, or worse we start yelling.

It is important that we as Christians, no matter our denomination, beliefs or background encourage an open dialogue on every issue. Behind every position and every stance that we don’t agree with, is a thought or idea that we hold about God and the church. When we speak to those we disagree with we might be infected by their passion, challenged to grow in our beliefs and/or reminded of an aspect of faith that we forgot about. Differences are good. We are not all the same person and We do serve the same God. A professor at Candler once said in a lecture that a peer stood up after he had given a presentation at a conference and before beginning to lambast this professor’s argument said “I completely disagree with what he has said, but I also recognize that there is a chance we will someday have to share heaven together….”

We have our differences, but we serve one God, a God who loves us despite our shortcomings and our inability to see the big picture. So the next time you encounter someone you do not agree with remind yourself that you serve the same God, and that there is a chance you will someday have to share heaven with people you disagree with. When it comes to the windows, remember that the same God gets in no matter what. That little reminder might just change things.

- Jonathan Gaylord

Jonathan is a third year MDiv student from Deland, Florida, a Student Ambassador, and the pastor at Providence United Methodist Church in Lavonia, Georgia as a part of Candler’s Teaching Parish Program.


Dec 7 2011

We are the Present of the church!

On November 11 I attended Exploration 2011 as a representative for Candler. The conference, sponsored by The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church, is designed to help 18-26 year olds discern their call into ministry, specifically ordained ministry. Over 600 people responded to this opportunity as participants in the event (not counting seminary and General Agency reps and the event planning team). It was an amazing experience to see so many people actively searching out God and the call God has placed on their life. It was also wonderful to learn more about the state of young clergy in the church. One of the speakers shared the statistic that The United Methodist Church, and other denominations, desperately need young clergy; the UMC only has 950 clergy under the age of 35 out of 30,000 total clergy. The church desperately needs young adults who are actively seeking out God in their lives and who are able to help people discern God in their life.

Jon at Exploration 2011

However, what I saw was a lot of young adults who were looking exclusively into missionary work, chaplaincy, or youth/ children ministries. I spent the first 7 years living into my call to be a Military Chaplain, so this observation did not surprise me. It did scare me. We need clergy who will be in ministry to people who are sick, in prison, young, old, citizens who are foreign and domestic. While there is nothing wrong, and great value, with the specialized ministry of Chaplains, Missionaries, Youth/Children’s directors, etc. we need people to lead the local church. The church is the center that brings all of these people into community and dialogue. It is the organization that sends missionaries and chaplains forth, where the space is made for the young and old, and the one place people should be able to go and feel completely accepted.

The church does not always live up to this, and many pastors have become burned out trying to make the church the open, accepting, and welcoming ministry it should be. Young adults see this and turn away from the church, looking to minister in one area, to one population, free of the structures of the church. We as young people of Christ, need to take a hold of the promise that is given in Baptism and Confirmation. A promise that states we are full members of the church, with a full voice. We cannot abandon the church. It is the place where differences are reconciled, and different backgrounds are brought together. If the church is broken we must not run away, we must stand and fix it. We must claim the authority God has given us and lead.

Often I have heard clergy or lay members of the congregation tell young adults and youth that they are the “Future of the church.” At Exploration I saw people who were living that out; I wish they wouldn’t. We are the Present of the church! Along with the people who are leading the Church now we must insert ourselves into leadership. Be the present of the church; if you hear God’s call in your life don’t hold yourself back from finding the strength to acknowledge that call! Don’t run away from the church because of its human faults, plunge in, change what needs to be changed and lift up what is being done right. In order to have missionaries, youth/children’s directors, and chaplains there must be a church to send them. Do not be afraid to take your place, as a Local Pastor, Elder, Priest, or Preacher! Find a place to cultivate those gifts, dive in, be strong, and remember that God has called you and will be faithful.

- Jon Gaylord

Jon is a second year MDiv student from DeLand, Florida and a Student Ambassador.