Tyler Confession: When I arrived at Candler, I was a control freak. If given the opportunity, I would develop a mental map for every detail in my life plan – from seminary to retirement. (And I’m in my early twenties…) It was thus with this attitude, back in August, that I found myself wrestling with my first academic decision at Candler – what Contextual Education I site should I choose? There were twelve sites offered to my class, and my options ranged from working with refugees to being a chaplain with Georgia’s juvenile detention services. I had countless questions.

Which site will be most conducive to my vocational plans? Is there a site where I can bring my experiences to the table? Or, is there a site that will push me in some necessary way? Do I honestly know where I need growth? Is it possible I am overthinking this?

While that process of inquiry and deduction was constructive, I now recognize I did not grasp the fullness of the program nor how it would transform me. Although selecting one’s site is a foundational piece to the Con Ed experience, it only serves as the practical backboard against which academic content and personal transformation is experienced. Con Ed is the forum through which we learn how to approach unfamiliar circumstances, to grow in that extension of ministry, and to develop practices of self-care. Through the reflection groups and pastoral care classes centered on the sites, we find transformation by dialoguing with the unfamiliar.

In the end, I (the control freak) found myself confronted by the unfamiliar. I chose to serve as a chaplain at Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville, where I was assigned to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU). I believed this site would best strengthen my ability to provide pastoral care in my future vocation as pastor. Yet, what I was found was completely unexpected.

I listened to patients as they processed their trauma, sat with family members who were weighing the options, and drank coffee with medical staff who were in a state beyond words. I sat in silence with the patient who was told there is no more time, and I witnessed the passing of life.

But I could never have imagined the level of laughter and joy in that place. I saw a recovery, which led to a wedding in the chapel. I saw pain and anger progress into a call for social activism. I was confronted with the fullness of love expressed in all its forms and dynamics. And the entire time I was surrounded by the support of students and professors on this pilgrimage with me.

Con Ed I has provided enough theological questions to last a lifetime, but it has ultimately provided personal transformation. My very posture has altered from my ‘control freak’ ways of the past to a disposition of contemplation and patience. For with all of my past controlling tendencies, I could have never imagined the transformation possible in sitting in that sacred ‘awkward silence’ with others.

Learn more about Contextual Education here.

[Top photo: Tyler and his fellow Candler students on one of their first days at Gwinnett Medical Center.]