JulianCandler prides itself on training its students for ministry experiences in "the real world," for whatever God has for us beyond the walls of 1531 Dickey Drive. With this mantra in mind, I entered school this past fall with the hope of discerning a call to ordained ministry and doctoral studies in theology. A year in, the call to theological studies has become clearer. I am enamored with theological education. However, the call to local church pastoral ministry has evolved differently than I initially expected. My two encounters with Chance the Rapper explain this well.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Chance the Rapper in the studio in Chicago, our shared hometown. I was visiting a good childhood friend, his trumpet player Nico Segal (formerly Donnie Trumpet). Soon after I arrived, Chance walked in the room and sat down next to me on the couch. I prayed to God for a word of encouragement to share with him, but ultimately lacked the courage to share this "religious message" with a "secular artist." So instead of telling Chance to be honest about God in his music, I merely told him to be honest. Though a slight alteration, it changed the entire meaning. I had reflected on that moment of cowardice for years, and hoped that God would give me another chance (pun unintended) to minister directly with him. That opportunity came towards the tail-end of my first year here at Candler.

Last month, I got to meet Chance again at the launch concert for my new jazz group, The JuJu Exchange, comprised of Nico, my brother Everett, our friend Lane, and myself. Chance was there (and even performed at the end of the show with us). After finishing the release concert for our album entitled "Exchange," I was able to engage Chance again. I told him that when we first met a few years ago, I was too afraid to share my message. I told him that he was a pastor through his music, and that the youth with whom I work at Metro Regional Youth Detention Center (through Con Ed I) recognized his music when I played the song "Sunday Candy," which he and Nico wrote. I then had the opportunity to pray for him and bless his work, bless his ministry. It was an extremely instructive experience, as it showed me how God was at work in both Chance and myself. In the time between our two encounters, Chance had grown a lot more vocal about his Christian faith. This was particularly on his latest album, the Grammy-winning "Coloring Book." So when we connected again in Chicago, we were both more outspoken about our faith—he with his fans, and I with him. I hope that God has more in store for our relationship in the future, maybe even making music together.

Candler helped me assert myself as a pastoral presence in this moment. In her pastoral care class, Dr. Karen Scheib challenged us to find our pastoral voice, to understand and challenge the narratives that we believe about ourselves and others. During that initial encounter with Chance I believed the narrative that Chance was not the kind of person that would receive well religious words of encouragement (man, have I been wrong). Dr. Scheib helped me grow in courage to see the real needs of people in the moment, to assert myself as a pastoral presence who wanted to pray for Chance.

My Contextual Education placement at Metro has also been a site for discovering this pastoral voice. Teaching piano to these boys in blue and orange has given the students and myself profound joy, like when I played "Sunday Candy" for them on piano. Moreover, it has shown me how music itself is a form of pastoring that I am able to steward well. Words cannot describe how I feel when a big grin lights up their face as they learn "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Indeed, their reaction is similar to how Chance responded when I told him in that green room that his music was reaching and impacting these boys in prison.

I realize that my pastoral voice will involve music in newfound ways, and this produces new theological questions that I can study during the rest of my time at Candler. I am intrigued with the set of questions that are emerging. How does theological education primarily focused on ecclesial settings translate into post-Christian settings, a milieu that is generally pervading the millennial generation? How do Christian ministers correlate theological discourse about the Trinity or atonement when my peers are drawing less of their theology from church settings? Dr. Joy McDougall, a systematic theologian who has greatly mentored me this year, has been helping me think through questions of Christian witness as it relates to the plural theologies present in the modern Christian world. I look forward to pursuing these questions about public witness and pastoral voice throughout the duration of my Candler experience.

[Photo: Julian plays piano during chapel worship at Candler. Photo by Orlando Evans 19T.]