Jul 18 2011

Laying Down Roots

This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program.  Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.

Summers at the Candler School of Theology almost always result in events to tell stories about. When I’m coming back each fall, I anticipate running into friends who’ve been working in international development in Cambodia or Laos, studying abroad in England or Germany, or working with a progressive Christian organization like Bread for the World in Washington, D.C. The stories, blogs, pictures and videos that result from these experiences are always eye-opening and make me excited for the folks who come out of each place with a new call or purpose.

As happy as I am that Candler offers these opportunities, I have yet to take them up on it. Even though I love traveling and meeting new people, my vocation is all about laying down roots. For me, it’s a spiritual discipline to stay in a place past its novelty, and to walk with people even when their spiritual growth is about as perceptible as the growth of a tree. So I was excited when Candler offered me an opportunity to stay at St Paul United Methodist Church, where I spent my second year of Contextual Education, through the Candler Advantage internship program.

Friends have asked me all summer how my internship is going and what I’m learning. I think the number one thing I’ve learned is this: ministry in familiar spaces can be just as surprising as ministry in brand new, exciting contexts. When I started my internship, I knew I’d be working with the same youth group I worked with all year, and the same adult Sunday School class I taught many times. I don’t think I started my summer really looking to see those around me as I would if I were getting to know people in a new context. But slowly, people started surprising me as they offered whole new parts of themselves and their faith journey I’d never known were there. Having even just an extra ten weeks to spend ministering with this congregation has proved to me that having the time to spend with people (especially non-school time) is like having eyes to see the beauty of God’s imaginatively unfolding creation. Of course, time alone doesn’t do it; it also takes a fair amount of awkwardness and persistence. But time makes the space. So I’ve added to my list of spiritual disciplines to cultivate; in addition to staying put, I also mean to practice a lack of hurriedness. After all, what important ministry goal could I accomplish apart from knowing, seeing and loving those whom God has made?

I don’t mean to say that other parts of ministry aren’t important. Mostly, I’ve just begun to understand that seeing the people around me, really seeing them, is a constant and daily part of my vocation. It is so much easier for me to plan my Bible studies and classes based on what I think I know about people, what I’ve learned from classes, or what I think would work based on my own experience; but being a religious educator means constantly reshaping my methods in response to those I’m teaching and learning with.

- LauraBeth Jones

LauraBeth is a third year MDiv student, a member of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.