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.

I was walking through the Tampa convention center hosting the United Church of Christ’s 28th General Synod last Friday when an elderly gentleman asked me if I knew where he could get some coffee. We set off in search of liquid caffeine and before I knew it, I was having a cup of joe with Avery Post, former General Minister and President of the UCC (1977-89). I had just serendipitously wandered into a coffee date with a man whose leadership around racism and justice issues made him a really big deal in our denomination. It was like a UCC celebrity sighting–I was so jazzed I called my mom and told her about it ASAP.

Amidst all the Six-Degrees-of-UCC connections I made with Rev. Post (it’s a small but mighty denomination, so almost everyone you meet knows someone you already know), I told him that I was about to enter my third year at Candler.  When I mentioned that Jan Love is our dean, Avery’s face lit up—“Oh, Jan!  She and I worked together for years on the World Council of Churches. She’s brilliant…and may I say, beautiful!”  His passion for ecumenism shined through as he shared fond memories of WCC time spent with Dean Love.

I understood his enthusiasm.  Ecumenism is one reason I came to Candler—there are several excellent UCC-related seminaries out there, but I wanted to attend a school where I would not be in the majority, denominationally or theologically speaking.  And aside from all the good-natured jokes about “Unitarians Considering Christ” and the UCC being the denomination that will take anybody (okay, that part’s true!), I’ve found Candler to be a really rich blend of theological perspectives, faith traditions, and ministry outlooks.  It’s deeply satisfying to dig deep into such a fertile mix of experiences and viewpoints and let them help hone and define your own.

Leah serving commuion to Praxis UCC members.

Leah serving communion to Praxis UCC members and fellow Candler students.

Candler is not only a place where I can practice the vital pastoral skill of dialoguing with people whose views are very different from my own; it’s also a place where I can follow in the footsteps of Rev. Post and try my hand at being a prophetic voice in the mainline church (which is why you’ll see Facebook photos of me participating in Candler’s protest against Westboro Baptist and in support of people of all sexual orientations, or, inspired by Beth Corrie’s class on Teaching Peace in Congregations, wearing sackcloth and ashes to repent for our part in American militarism and war violence).  Classes, professors, and students at Candler have all pushed me to sharpen that prophetic voice and develop those distinctive views.  And the Candler Advantage internship program has allowed me to work full time this summer for Praxis UCC, the new church my husband and I started last year.  That’s also how I was able to attend five days of a denominational conference and make it a key part of my internship—waitressing doesn’t give you that much vacation time!

When I met a fellow UCCer who is matriculating at Candler in the fall for drinks (yes, we drink!) at the young adult clergy group at Synod, I told him how much I love defining my faith in a context where most people don’t think like I do, and how excited I was to be interning with Praxis this summer.  How ecumenism, academic excellence, and on-the-ground ministry experience were what drew me to Candler.  How glad I am to be here.

I certainly needed that cup of coffee on Friday morning—between Praxis’ small group wrapping up its discussion on “ordinary radicals” and catching our flight to Tampa, I’d only slept 4 hours the night before.  So I felt truly grateful for the reinvigorating liquid, but I was also thankful to be able to brush elbows and swap stories with a living legend in the United Church of Christ.  And I recognize with gratitude that it is through Candler’s generosity, hands-on learning style, and ecumenical commitment that I get to dive into experiences like these and really get the most out of them.  Here’s to another year of theological and ministerial adventure—and thanks, Candler!