Lahronda receives her Candler diploma from Dean Jan Love.Any notion of continuing my education after receiving a master of divinity degree was laughable to me three years ago. I had already left my cozy, corporate job. And because I felt that so much was “given up,” the least I could do was make solid, predictable decisions on what I was going to do next. So, I decided to become a chaplain and a good, ordained Baptist minister. Currently, post-master of divinity, none of that came to fruition. Indeed, God has the last laugh.

I cannot name the moment in which my plan started to unravel. However, I do recall feeling intrigued by a panel discussion on what Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion (GDR) looks for in its applicants. It was Dr. Karen Scheib who said, “We look for interesting people.”

I wryly chuckled to myself when I heard that statement and thought, “If nothing else, I’m interesting.” After all, I was not in my twenties, but I had worked 20 years. I was not just out of undergrad, but I was a trainer of new graduates in the industry I just left. In spite of my internal, mildly sarcastic banter, that panel discussion helped me to envision scholarship more broadly than my preconceived notions allowed. I began ask myself, IF I was interested and IF it were possible for me to get into a PhD program, how would I begin to prepare myself given my previous experience and the length of time since I was last in school? How would I expound on my academic interests in a way that affirms my individuality?

Candler’s broad course offerings and rigorous instruction prepared the way to explore all that was possible in my second career. Specifically, the certificate programs were key in helping me to shape and develop my interests in public health and women, theology and ministry. It was at the intersection of health and religion that I began to question my long-held understanding of salvation, which at its root means “healing” and “wholeness.” Ideas and questions were brewing in my head and heart, and I found myself yearning to follow the path more deeply into the unknown.

Lahronda and Dr. Emmanuel Lartey post-graduation.To assure myself that I was not totally off the mark, I shared a few of my questions with Dr. Emmanuel Y. Lartey, L. Bevel Jones III Professor of Pastoral Theology, Care, and Counseling. I had already taken two classes with Dr. Lartey, and thus, he was familiar with my work. After an in-depth conversation, it became clear that my questions extended beyond my experience at Candler. Then suddenly, I was studying for the GRE and writing a personal statement.

The PhD application process is a test in itself of tenacity, patience, and humility. One of the smartest things I think I did was have ongoing conversations with people who were in various stages of study in the GDR. These students kindly shared the most helpful hints and encouraged me when I felt frustrated. And Dr. Lartey continued to be a wise mentor who perceived more in me than I did of myself. To my wonder, I was accepted into the GDR in the Person, Community, and Religious Life program. Dr. Lartey will supervise my work as I continue to deconstruct narrow and privatized salvation and move to the study of holistic soteriology.

Top photo: Cindy Brown 09T

Second photo: Bowtie Photos LLC