As graduation quickly approaches, I find myself reflecting fondly on my time spent at this wonderful institution that I have called home for nearly three years now. While graduations are always exciting, I find myself feeling particularly bitter sweet about this one. It is difficult to narrow all of the reasons down to only a few paragraphs, but I will do my best to keep it brief. Below are the reasons why I am forever grateful that I chose Candler and that Candler chose me:
ONE: The Community. I began my career at Candler with a bit of anxiety – I was three years out of college, and was unsure how I would fit into the mix at Candler. Immediately, however, I found my niche. My fears were relieved within the first month as I settled into classes and began developing relationships with my ConEd group. Again, those in the Admissions Office warmly welcomed me as I began working with the Student Ambassadors each week and was invited on a retreat as a small group leader. I was amazed with the sense of community that existed within Candler, both among the students, staff, and faculty.
TWO: The Curriculum. Since I had been removed from school and had not practiced good study habits for a few years, I was very intimidated by the coursework at Candler and feared that I would struggle in maintaining good grades at such a prestigious institution with such renowned scholars as my professors. Yet again, I was pleasantly surprised with the willingness of the professors to help and even build relationships with the students. Furthermore, the variety of coursework offered at Candler is truly remarkable. Classes such as Old and New Testament, History of Christian Thought, and Systematic Theology could challenge my theology. And I was able to develop practical skills and lifelong knowledge through courses such as Pastoral Care, Empowering Youth for Global Citizenship, and Vocational Discernment.
THREE: The Contextual Education Program. This internship program, in my opinion, is Candler’s biggest selling point! I was able to cater my ConEd experience both my first and second year to my vocational goal, which involves youth ministry. My first year, I did ConEd at the United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH) in Decatur. So I worked four hours each week with the youth who were living in this group home, sharing meals with them and leading them in Bible studies. I would then bring my experiences back to my small group, all of who were also doing ConEd at the UMCH, during class each week. My second year, I chose to work eight hours each week with a large youth group at a UMC in Decatur. This experience helped to clarify my calling and even offered me a paid job for my third year of seminary. God is good! But having these “internship” experiences fulfilled during the academic year, alongside my other coursework, enabled me to apply the things I was learning in the classroom to my ministry.
FOUR: Summer Opportunities. Since my ministry internships were completed during the academic year, my summers were free to experience other transformational opportunities. Among these summer opportunities is the Middle East Travel Seminar (METS), which I applied for and was accepted. This gave me the opportunity to travel the lands of the Bible with other seminarians for three weeks. The experiences and relationships that this trip was able to offer me forever changed my life. My vocational dreams and my personal priorities were made clear and I was able to come home a better person. Had I chosen a different seminary, I could have missed this once in a lifetime experience.
Ultimately, I could not have found a better match for my three years in seminary. My life was transformed in my time at Candler and I will forever be grateful for the relationships, courses, and practical ministry experience that I encountered in and through this place.