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Candler Alumni and Friends Help Students Prepare for Ministry

By Eric Rangus | Candler School of Theology | July 9, 2013

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Murals and flags in Belfast, Northern Ireland, signal its difficult past. Belfast is among the cities served by students in Candler School of Theology’s summer internship program, Candler Advantage.

Around her office in Belfast, Candler School of Theology student Carrie Harris 14T sees the signs of conflict. Opposing national flags fly above the buildings. A mural of two armed men wearing balaclavas claims the right to defend against an attack. Another mural mentions the victims of violence and vows to remember the past.  

“The whole city is filled with murals, ranging from peaceful and celebrating Belfast to violent imagery,” she writes in the school’s admissions blog. “You become conditioned to seeing them and walking straight past each day. The mentality that exists here is still separate and unequal.”  

Harris is among 14 Candler students gaining hands-on experience in ministry through the school’s Candler Advantage summer program, a paid internship funded by charitable gifts from alumni and friends. Her role is to work with the members of East Belfast Mission, a Methodist congregation, and reach out to the surrounding community through the church’s urban ministries.

“The outreach programming here is endless,” she writes. “While I participate and help with a handful of these, I realize the congregation of East Belfast Mission is far beyond the group that meets for church on Sunday morning, but is rather the entire community of East Belfast and every person that comes through this building and can feel the effects of its ministries.”

Now in its fourth year, the Candler Advantage Summer Internship in Congregational Leadership takes master of divinity degree students outside the classroom and places them in parishes of their choosing so they can more fully develop their pastoral leadership skills. The intense 10-week, full-time internship earns students two credit hours and immeasurable experience. Those who are selected receive an $8,000 grant that helps cover their expenses and salary. Candler is eager to extend to more students this combination of generous funding, targeted placement and total immersion in a church ministry. 

Candler Advantage received a significant boost in December 2012 with the establishment of the Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor and Reverend Rusty Taylor Endowment for Pastoral Ministry. Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor 75T and Rev. Rusty Taylor 75T, who live in Knoxville, Tenn., maintain close ties to Candler. A member of the Emory University Board of Trustees, Bishop Taylor serves the Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church. 

"We made this gift to Candler because we know that the future of The United Methodist Church will depend upon young clergy who will lead the church into the 21st century and beyond," she says. "We are committed to the mission of Candler in preparing these leaders."

The Taylor Endowment and other gifts to Candler Advantage are put to good, creative uses that are tailored to students’ interests and career goals. For Ashley Kirk, that means helping build a program in college-age ministry.

“Young adults experience one of the most formative times of their faith while in college, but ministry to this group is relatively underdeveloped in the church,” says Kirk, who is serving with The Gathering UMC in St. Louis, a city that’s home to several colleges. “The work will enable me to determine the specific context of my call, whether in on-campus ministry or in college-age ministry in the parish.”

Kirk hails from Missouri and is one of several Candler Advantage students heading home for the summer to contribute to their local communities. Tyler Sit and Darin Arnston are two others. 

Sit grew up in the Twin Cities suburb of Eden Prairie. It was a comfortable upbringing but one that drew him toward working with populations who had considerably fewer advantages. An interest in church planting led Sit to two-year-old Brooklyn Mosaic UMC in the less affluent Brooklyn Park area, northeast of Minneapolis.

“Mosaic offers a glimpse of what my own church planting ministry will look like in its beginning stages,” he says. “The congregation of Mosaic, coupled with its food pantry ministry for homeless youth, is focused and fearless in listening to the concerns of the community, identifying assets and catalyzing social change in whatever faithful ways it can.”

A native of the San Diego area, Arnston is serving at First UMC in suburban Chula Vista. The church is just 10 miles from the Mexican border and is one of few area churches to offer programming in both English and Spanish. That kind of cultural mix, endemic to Southern California, is becoming increasingly common across the country.

“There is a need for churches in United Methodist conferences to become more welcoming to immigrant and bilingual communities if we are to live up to our denominational claim of ‘Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors,’” Arnston says. “Firsthand experience in such a ministry setting will expose me to the type of sensitivity and intentionality required to facilitate language across borders.”

The opportunity to experience new cultures is among Candler Advantage’s benefits, and Harris is one of two students working outside the United States this summer. The other, Sari Brown, is serving in Medellin, Colombia.

Joya Abrams, an engineer by training, is one of many Candler students who have chosen seminary as a path to a second career. She is interning at Cumberland UMC in Smyrna this summer. As a parishioner, she attended large African American United Methodist Churches. The smaller and racially diverse Cumberland offers new perspectives and challenges.

“I needed an experience that was different,” Abrams said. “My continued presence at Cumberland helps me grow in the arts of ministry—worship, leadership and administration, pastoral care, teaching and preaching.”

Abrams is one of seven Candler Advantage students serving in the Atlanta metro area. All 14 of the summer 2013 participants and their placements are listed below. 

> Joya Abrams, Cumberland UMC, Smyrna, Ga.

> Darin Arnston, First UMC, Chula Vista, Calif.

> Sari Brown, El Gozo de Dios Methodist Church, Medellin, Colombia

> Holly Evenson, Central UMC, Mooresville, N.C.

> Carrie Harris, Skainos Centre & East Belfast Mission, Belfast, Northern Ireland

> Tyler Jackson, Oakhurst UMC, Decatur, Ga.

> Jake Joseph Seaside Community United Church of Christ, Torrance, Calif.

> Ashley Kirk, The Gathering, St. Louis

> Megan Lacy, Park Avenue Baptist Church, Atlanta

> Davina Massey, College Park UMC, College Park, Ga.

> Jennifer Roberts, Sacred Tapestry UMC, Marietta, Ga.

> Tyler Sit, Brooklyn Mosaic UMC, Brooklyn Center, Minn.

> Dora Thomas, St. Mark UMC, Atlanta

> Harrison Thornhill, Druid Hills UMC, Atlanta

To support scholarships for students preparing for ministry at Candler School of Theology, please contact Mathew Pinson, assistant dean of development and alumni relations, at mathew.pinson@emory.edu.