Apr 1 2014

Staying Fit in Seminary

Katie O’Dunne describes her endurance training for a Half Ironman and how it informs her studies at Candler School of Theology.

Katie O’Dunne is a second-year MDiv student in the Faith and Health Certificate program, a graduate of Elon University in North Carolina, and a Candler Student Ambassador. 


Nov 12 2013

Following the Call

Katie O'DunneWhen I first came to Candler, I had a very clear idea of my plans for my course of study, for ordination, and for my vocation…or so I thought. Over the past year and a half, I have discovered God’s sense of humor. I can imagine God chuckling at me through my moments of believing that I had a plan for the future.

As prospective students visited Candler last year, I always told them to be prepared for the shifting and shaping of their calls to ministry throughout seminary, but I never recognized that statement’s application in my own life. I had a plan…didn’t I? I may have prepared, but God had different ideas.

As a result of experiences in the Contextual Education program, Candler course work, and Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, I felt God shifting me in a different direction. I knew when I entered Candler that I felt pulled towards specialized ministry, but my experiences have specifically led me to clinical chaplaincy and a denominational change.

This summer, as I worked with veterans on end of life issues during CPE, I felt God in so many new ways. I saw God in each of my patients, and I knew God wanted me to serve his children during the most difficult times of their lives. I could not have imagined being anywhere else. At this very same time, I was exploring other denominations as I discerned and entered a new church community very much “by accident.” However, I now know that there are no accidents with God. God was gently pushing me in a new direction and paving the way for a new path in my life.

RoadBut what did this passion for chaplaincy and new place in a church community mean for my ordination process: the process I had been in for years? Should I change denominations? Should I change course? I worried so much about disappointing those around me: my family, my friends, and my home parish. However, finally I decided simply to trust the path that God had laid before me through a denominational shift in my personal life, a withdrawal from my previous ordination process, and a shift to the Faith and Health Program here at Candler. I knew that God would be walking alongside me throughout the process, and he continues to do so.

Despite some initial discomfort, as change is never “comfortable,” I am so joyful in following this new path and the passions that God has set before me. The new classes that I am taking feed my passions, and my new church community feeds my soul. However, I still cannot help but fall into the trap of trying to plan the rest of my life and my vocation, as I consider the possibilities of clinical chaplaincy, campus ministry, urban ministry, prison ministry, spiritual advising, Christian counseling, and athletic chaplaincy. I feel like this “need to plan” and “need to prepare” is human nature, especially within the confines of graduate school. The options seem endless, and I cannot help but try to determine where I will be a few years from now or a few decades from now. However, just as God placed a new path before me this summer, I am certain that God will continue to be the leader in my life.

Paul’s letter to the Romans continually reminds me to discern the call of God, not where I think that I should or will be called:

Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The best advice that I have for any of you entering seminary, in seminary, or at any point in your life is to simply follow the path that God has set before you. You are welcome to plan, but do not be surprised when God’s sense of humor comes out and a new path stands before you. More importantly, do not be afraid to take that new path. Simply follow the Lord and enjoy the journey!

–Katie O’Dunne

Katie is a second-year MDiv student in the Faith and Health Certificate program, a graduate of Elon University in North Carolina, and a Candler Student Ambassador.


Jan 25 2013

Light Amidst the Darkness

It often becomes difficult for us to appreciate what we have when everything in our lives is going well. We take those around us for granted and seem to look directly past the abundant blessings in our lives. However, during times of struggle, we witness the blessings we have in our lives in a new way: more specifically, the people we have in our lives.

At times, I became stressed during my first semester at Candler, as I sought to balance a difficult academic schedule with a variety of other activities. Towards the end of the semester, I learned that each “task” was a blessing from God to be cherished and a new way to connect with my Lord and Savior. However, even in the midst of this significant discovery regarding my daily tasks, I breezed by another significant part of my first semester at Candler: the people that I had encountered.

I am not by any means suggesting that I did not feel close to those at Candler after my first semester. In particular, my Episcopal Studies cohort seemed like family. I was the youngest, and the group always seemed to look out for me. However, since everything seemed to go well my first semester, I feel as though I took the concept of this group always being present in my life for granted.

Katie and MomThis past Friday, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. While my mom has had a number of health problems since I was in the second grade, this particular case cut like a knife. I am 12 hours away and have been filled with guilt that I am unable to physically be there in support of my mom. However, I have had difficulty discovering how I am “supposed” to feel. I have always been the strong one and the positive one. Even amongst my Episcopal Studies cohort, I feel like I am known for positivity and “holding it together.” I wondered if it was acceptable not to “hold it together” for even a few moments.

I was comfortable enough with the Episcopal Studies group at Candler, after knowing them only four months, to share the news in our private Facebook group. To my surprise, I received a public or private message from almost every one of the 18 students within a matter of hours, even though it was a holiday weekend. While each one was comforting and expressed sorrow for my family, one private message in particular touched me. One of my peers had written me a letter within the message. She told me that she hoped I would be able to find solace through those reminding me of God’s love, God’s purpose, and God’s comfort for those who suffer. However, she also told me that if these things did not help and felt like hollow reassurances during this time of darkness, that was completely fine. She would be there for me regardless.

This particular message gave me permission to be myself in front of my family, my peers, and God. I did not have to “hold it together” for anyone, especially my friends at seminary. Throughout my spiritual journey, I have typically been in the position of a caregiver. However, for the first time, I have been put in the position of someone who realistically needs the support of others. The response of my classmates to my newfound role has showed me what incredible friends I am surrounded by at Candler.

It is comforting to know that the Candler students will always be there for each other in good times, such as my first semester, and in more difficult times of struggle. It is even more comforting to know that these same individuals reaching out to me will reach out to the world as priests and as workers of God. As a result of Candler students, I have found a glimmer of light amidst the darkness.

-Katie O’Dunne

Katie is a first year MDiv student, a graduate of Elon University in North Carolina, and a Candler Student Ambassador.


Nov 30 2012

The Search for God at Seminary

It seems contradictory to say that I have needed to search for God during my first semester at seminary. I do not believe by any means that I have completely “lost” God at any time. Throughout my life, I have grown to believe that God is everywhere, at all times. However, whether or not we are actively seeking a relationship with God is a different story. While God always holds up his end of the bargain, since arriving at seminary, I do not know that I have always held up mine. It is no one’s fault but my own, because Candler has provided me with every opportunity for a deeper relationship with God.

In writing this blog, I am by no means trying to relieve my guilt by admitting to a lack of spirituality. However, at times it feels as though I am so busy learning about God that I forget to consider my relationship with Him. I have never had this problem in the past. I have always prayed and considered my relationship with God throughout the day, even when I have been overwhelmingly busy. Since coming to seminary, I thought that this sense of closeness to God would expand and grow. However, at first, it did just the opposite. I still prayed, but I did not allow myself to just “be” or to merely bask in the presence of the Lord. Every action I took had a purpose. Either I was in class, completing work for a class, preparing notes for JDSR, driving to my parish placement at St. Benedict’s in Smyrna, preparing lessons for the Path to Shine Program for at-risk Latino youth, interning for the Episcopal Studies program, or triathlon training. Even while sitting in chapel, I was often taking notes for an extra credit class assignment.

However, I have more recently learned that each practice I am participating in, including triathlon training, can be viewed using a spiritual lens. Each can, in some way, help me to develop a greater connection with God. However, I had been so focused on scheduling and checking each “task” off my list of things to do that I forgot the spiritual portion of each of those things. In a sense, I forgot to “search for God,” and I lost the reasons I was truly attending seminary in the hustle and bustle.

Each Wednesday night, the Episcopal Studies students host an Evensong Service. As a member of this certificate program, I help to lead this evening prayer service rendered chorally. Each week, we have the opportunity to play different roles – as acolytes, crucifers, thurifers, boats, deacons, presiders, etc. By Wednesday, I am usually a little stressed by my variety of “tasks” and have drifted from a focus on my spiritual life. It has become common for Bishop Whitmore, the director of the Episcopal Studies program, to tell me that “I don’t look so good,” even when I feel relatively rested. However, I have finally discovered the key for rejuvenation and “finding God.”

Last Wednesday, I was able to participate in the Evensong Service as a deacon. Standing before the altar and prayerfully preparing the elements before communion, I watched as the students in the chapel praised God. I felt so much joy in having the opportunity to stand before God in worship and to help my friends at seminary to share in that same worship. I felt a new connection to God in which I was not merely checking a task off the list. I was a member of a community in which each “task” could be viewed as a type of praise.

For the first time, I appreciated the fact that I am surrounded by individuals, who like me, want to dedicate their lives to Christ! This is, in fact, a privilege and a blessing! How many people have the opportunity to go through each day of school or work with the sole purpose of praising God and helping others to praise God? How many people have the opportunity to be surrounded by fellow Christians each day in praise? How many people can join their classmates and friends in prayer before a test? I finally felt so blessed to be at Candler and have this opportunity to strengthen my relationship with God in all that I do both in and out of the classroom.

The following morning, I put aside one of my usual tasks in order to attend the Episcopal Morning Prayer service. Just as I had been the night before at Evensong, I was fully present: not focusing on the tasks to complete but just on praising God. I smiled as I read scripture aloud and returned to a place of working on my relationship with God. Following Morning Prayer, Bishop Whitmore for the first time told me that I looked rested. I did not feel so much rested as at peace and spiritually fed.

Candler has provided me with so many amazing opportunities as a first year student. I am so blessed to be at a school where I can learn so much about God and participate in so many religious opportunities. I have realized that if I do not merely complete these opportunities as tasks on a list, I can grow each day in my love of Christ. The incredible thing that I have found about Candler is that if you choose to engage and depart on this search for God, you have the opportunity to discover God’s presence in crevices that you could have never imagined.

Search for God at seminary, and find Him in places that you never thought possible!

- Katie O’Dunne

 Katie is a first year MDiv student, a graduate of Elon University in North Carolina, and a Candler Student Ambassador.