Feb 21 2012

Thinking Globally with Candler

Patrick and Global Health TeamCandler School of Theology has offered me many opportunities to develop as a pastor.  One of the most formative experiences has been participating in the Emory Global Health Case Competition.  The event, which is funded in part by Candler’s student government the Candler Coordinating Council and other graduate school’s student governments, brings together students from the entire university to compete on teams to propose solutions to a current global health issue.  In one competition we proposed training community health workers and providing farmers subsidies in order to bring relief to the economic and health burdens of tobacco use and production in Gujarat India.  In the other competition we proposed funding food trucks with health food options, community/school gardens, and building capacity around an existing maternal health program to address the issues of childhood obesity in Mexico.  The problems were complex and the teams competing to propose the best solutions found out that solutions were even more complex.

Though neither team that I competed with won the competitions, a few Candler students have been on winning teams and earned the cash prize offered.  Though I am a competitive person this was truly a time when the experience was worth the time investment required to participate.  The interdisciplinary teams were composed of colleagues from the graduate programs in business, law, public health, development practices, theology, medicine, and nursing as well as the college of arts and sciences .  I was randomly assigned to a team in my first competition and was part of a intentionally formed team in my second go round.  In each competition we received the case and background information on a Monday and had until Saturday morning to research, brainstorm, and put together a professional proposal.  On Saturday morning the teams competed against each other with expert judges deciding on the best presentation and navigation of questions following.

In this experience I had my global perspective broadened.  I was able to think about and research how faith based organizations around the world were addressing the issues of people living on the margins.  As a theology student on the team it was often my role to consider people’s responses to programs based on their faith commitments and the overall ethical foundations of our proposed solutions.  Even more importantly I learned how to better communicate with people who have different ways of seeing and interpreting the world.  We all had a different way of talking about justice and health and had to either find a common language or learn each other’s languages in order to effectively communicate our ideas to one another.  I believe this will be an amazing tool for me in the local church as a pastor who believes we should be engaged with community health issues.  Empowering a congregation full of doctors, lawyers, nurses, business women and men, etc. will require knowing how to effectively translate theological themes that inform our involvement, effectively hear what other disciplines have to offer, and then translating that for other members of the congregation who have different vocations all together.

Candler is fertile ground to grow as a student of life and especially as a pastor.  The Global Health Case competition will be one of the things I miss the most about my time at Candler.  There are many other ways to get involved in community health at Candler.  One could do a dual degree with the public health or development programs, go on a trip half way around the world with organizations like International Relief and Development, take courses that introduce the intersection of faith and health, get involved with the Religion and Public Health Collaborative or Interfaith Health Program, or make friends with like minded people from one of the other 6 graduate schools at Emory.  If you are interested in how the church can be involved with community health, then Candler is the school for you.

- Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick is a third year United Methodist MDiv student from Kansas, a member of the Candler Singers, and a Student Ambassador.


Feb 1 2012

In the Home Stretch!

A note from someone who only three years ago was anxious even applying to seminary and will celebrate completing the MDiv program feeling enabled and affirmed for ministry in the church in the world. 

Patrick McLaughlinI was completely unsure if I was what seminary was looking for.  I even had an application in for a nursing program thinking I could partially put my biology degree to use and be guaranteed a job upon completion.  Then I got a phone call from the Candler admissions office, the only place I had applied for seminary.  I knew this must be good news as they surely would just send a letter to tell me no.  My intuition was correct; apparently the feeling about my fit at Candler was mutual as they even offered me a generous scholarship from the Sherman foundation.  I figured I would just put on hold my vocational calling into a health field while I discerned what Candler and I had to offer each other.  Little did I know these weren’t two separate vocational callings but just parts of a calling that would be complemented by biblical, theological, historical, and justice courses.  As someone who doesn’t consider themselves a great student, I am living proof that a hard worker with a willingness to learn can be transformed and be successful.  It has not been easy but has by far been the best investment I’ve ever made.

While at Candler I have been inspired by Old and New Testament instructors;  they are intent on making scripture real for students of the word.  Issues of racism and sexuality were common in our small group conversations in addition to learning how to read difficult passages, how to offer pastoral care through scripture, and how to offer a prophetic word to communities for justice.  My history instructors, in real and creative ways, helped me to understand the foundations of the complex paradigm in which we live today.  Finally, my justice oriented classes have prepared me to be a better pastor by giving me assessment tools, a better vocabulary for theological community engagement, and helped me focus on a root cause issue that is relevant to the church.  A consistent quality of instructors at Candler has been that they are focused on preparing future pastors.  Many of them admit that the reason they believe in Candler is because of its mission to prepare pastors.  Instructors also take great care of students who study in our other programs. Although coursework has been a very hard thing for me to find life in, I know that I have been very blessed to have taken so many courses that are of interest to me, even some at Emory outside of Candler.

The summer internships offered to me through Candler were formative.  A summer in Memphis and a summer back in my home conference, which I’d been away from for nearly a decade, offered me intensive opportunities to put into context the pastoral training I had received to that point. Furthermore I was able to flesh out how to raise questions of justice with parties invested in the issues from a multitude of complex angles.  These experiences offered me new insights into the proceeding semester’s classes.  Being able to say in class “this is how this scripture is being read by people on the margins” or, “I saw this particular theme, borne in some ancient thought, alive in the community” makes the theological education I received at Candler very real.

Engaging with student organizations Emory wide and as the president of one has enabled me to learn from other students perspectives and to enable other students to make their theological educations real.   I have been able to think theologically and respond pastorally to issues around global health, the Israel Palestine conflict, homelessness, immigration, and food security.  All of these opportunities have contextualized my education and will make me a better pastor after graduation.

And now here I am, sprinting towards home plate where they will hand me a diploma!  I’m on the road to ordination in the Kansas West Conference of the United Methodist Church where I look forward to one day being a pastor.  I started this journey not knowing anyone and am leaving with lifetime partners in ministry.  I am very thankful that I did not let my anxiety get between me and this amazing experience.

- Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick is a third year United Methodist MDiv student from Kansas, a member of the Candler Singers, and a Student Ambassador.


Jul 11 2011

The Root Level

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.

Hello, I am Patrick McLaughlin and I am working this summer through the Candler Advanced Summer Internship program.  My aim is to further explore how the church can be a community health promoter by better understanding the determinants of health that lie in our agriculture communities.  I have spent time with friends and family who are farmers, seed distributors, fertilizer salespeople, ranchers, feedlot operators, ethanol producers to gain their perspective on sustainability, health of people and the land, and life with God.  Check out my video to see how my summer is going and keep an eye out in August for a follow up video!

-Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick is a third year United Methodist MDiv student from Kansas and a Student Ambassador


Jan 21 2011

Not in Kansas Anymore

Students from all over the world converge at Candler. Each individual brings unique perspectives, passions, and gifts, and Candler offers students boundless opportunities to engage in conversations that generate a passion for further exploration of God’s multi-faceted creation.  When I joined the Candler community it became apparent right away that my theological education would be contextualized by a larger world view; an opportunity with which this small town Kansan was eager to engage.

After arriving at Candler I immediately answered the call to be a conversation partner.  Conversation partners are native English speakers who volunteer to meet with international students once a week.  I was paired with a Korean student who wanted to gain proficiency with his English.  Getting to know Wang has been a highlight of my seminary experience.  Learning about his family, his culture, and how he experiences God has been meaningful and humbling.  It has been meaningful in the sense that he has given me new perspectives into God as a father, a husband, and as a foreigner.  Humbling in the sense that he is very intelligent and has bravely chosen to study theology in English; a difficult enough undertaking in one’s own language.  It is a wonderful gift to me to help him learn to articulate his ideas about life and God in ways that I have never imagined.

One-on-one interactions are not the only way I have interacted with people different than me.  As a class representative on the Candler Coordinating Council, our student governing body, I get to meet with other student leaders on a regular basis to discuss the ways in which we utilize our student funding for programs.  The council also encourages collaboration between organizations and offers several opportunities a year to discuss, in open forum, issues of cultural competency that help our community grow together.

I have also been involved in cross cultural dialog through classes that are cross-listed with other schools at Emory.  Classes with Business, Law, Nursing, and Public Health students have given me the opportunity to hear about issues in the world from a different academic perspective and also to talk about the church in a way that many people often do not experience; one as an active agent for justice.  One of the most fun and intense of the interdisciplinary opportunities available to Candler students is the opportunity to compete in the Global Health Institutes Case competition.  Interdisciplinary teams are formed, given a global health issue and then over a few days analyze, produce, and present a viable solution to the issue.  Not only did I make many friends from other schools, but the lens through which I see issues now incorporates little pieces of their law, health, and entrepreneurial perspectives.

Candler has offered me an authentic world-view-expanding experience. Through individual relationships, participation in Candler student organizations and doing interdisciplinary work, it is clear that I am not in Kansas anymore.  I am looking forward to taking this experience back home so that I can offer a theological lens with a broader world view to the communities I serve.

-Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick is a second year MDiv student from Hutchinson, KS and a Student Ambassador. In addition to his time serving the community, he serves as a class representative to the Candler Coordinating Council, is a Candler Conversation Partner, and is a member of the Candler Singers.


Dec 3 2010

Considering Context at Candler

Recently, I’ve spent some time reflecting on my experience at Candler School of Theology.  One thing that continues to stick out to me about why Candler is a great place for a seminary education is its focus on context.  This context plays itself out in the classroom but also in our city.  Atlanta is an international hub of activity – an urban epicenter – but nestled in an otherwise rural region.   Candler students discern their vocation while serving Church and secular organizations addressing issues like homelessness, immigration, and equal rights among all people.

Context is built into the academic program for most students through Contextual Education; the MDiv degree requires that first year students serve four hours a week in a social service agency and second year students serve eight hours a week in an ecclesial setting.  My first year offered the opportunity to serve at the MUST Ministries in Cobb County.  While serving at MUST I learned a great deal about ministry with those experiencing homelessness.   I remember helping one gentleman with an online job application, and he was more grateful for my help than I expected.  It wasn’t just about being one step closer to a job; it was about overcoming the injustice of getting a job with an unaccommodating application process for those who had the job skills but lacked the computer skills necessary to apply for it.  Furthermore, he told me that he would be able to sleep that night thanks to the peace that came from submitting a job application.  My heart was broken as I considered the few nights of sleep I’d lost worrying about money or finding a job.  How much more stressful it must be to want so badly to work, but not be able to.  I learned quickly to respect those who are experiencing homelessness.  Their ability to survive and cope is admirable amidst a world that often chastises rather than helping them in appropriate ways.  Fortunately, the academic side of ConEd meant that we also had weekly reflection groups to help us process these new experiences and ways of seeing the world through a theological lens. But, the transformation I experienced at MUST made contextual education much more than an academic exercise.

Context is also experienced through voluntary service: a central part of the community life at Candler.  Most student organizations and individuals are highly involved in outside programs that continue to contextualize this education.  Some organizations focus on being in service to those within our community while others focus on issues that are world-wide.  The leaders of student organizations gather every other week to make proposals and allocate student activity fund money to programs that center on justice issues.  One local work day, organized by a fellow justice minded student, offered us the opportunity to get to know each other better, learn some new skills, and to make someone’s holidays a little better by helping them have their own home to celebrate in.  Spending the day on a Habitat for Humanity build with other Candler students reminded me of the conditions of those more immediately around us.  In the past month the Social Concerns Network also raised over $3000 for Haiti.  In one event students from all of Emory were invited to participate in a chili-cook off and students who have served in Haiti presented on the organizations with which they served. The cook-off proceeds then went to support those organizations.  It was great to see so many students from other schools come out and rally around an urgent need.  In another event the community donated hundreds of shoes for a region that has no paved roads, very little electricity, and no public sanitation.  The shoes will help prevent disease and gave the community an opportunity to give to a cause in which they might not have been able to otherwise.  There are often opportunities to be involved like this for local, national, and international causes.  It gives me a lot of hope about our future as the church to work and study with people whose hand is always on the margin.

I am grateful to be in a place that generates so much energy around contextualizing our vocational discernment process.  Whether next door or on the other side of the world, there are a multitude of opportunities to be in service and to experience transformation.  I am hopeful for the future of the church in which I intend to work because of the way I see and experience the preparation Candler offers.

-Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick is a second year MDiv student from Hutchinson, KS and a Student Ambassador. In addition to his time serving the community, he serves as a class representative to the Candler Coordinating Council and is a member of the Candler Singers.