rachel-weissburg-story.jpgWhere are your spiritual and geographic roots? How did those experiences bring you to Candler?

I have geographic roots in N. California, specifically the Bay Area. Northern California is very liberal, so it tends to make the Christian culture very counter-cultural. I grew up in a really conservative, almost cultish church that had very extreme views. Then I attended Wheaton College and spent seven years in the Midwest. I loved the friendly, laidback culture there. Wheaton is known for being conservative, but I became a lot more liberal when I was there! Now I’m an East-Coaster. I spent my formative years, most of my 20s and 30s, in D.C., and that feels most like home of any place I’ve lived. But I’m excited to get to know Atlanta and I have many friends in the Southeast.

Spiritually, my roots are all mixed up. My dad’s family are mostly agnostic. My mother grew up as a Lutheran pastor’s daughter. I learned a type of Christianity from my parents that I mostly needed to discard, but I acknowledge that I wouldn’t have a faith without them. They pushed me to learn, which has allowed me to transform my faith into something more complex.

What was your experience like returning to seminary after a different career?

I did not expect this. After my first master’s, I said, “No more school, I’m done with school.” But never say never! I’ve had an amazing experience at Candler and have gained so much. It’s just different, coming in later. I used to hear my professors in college talk about how more life experience changes the student experience. But it’s so true, and it’s because you’re immediately applying it in your head. Every lesson, I'm thinking, “This is how I would apply this in the hospital or in the community.” That can be exciting or frustrating, because you already anticipate the challenges.

What class or experience at Candler has been central to your growth in seminary?

I think Old Testament with Joel LeMon, and “The Bible and Poverty” with Ryan Bonfiglio. Before Candler, I had almost completely stopped reading the Bible. These two classes not only made me fall in love with scripture but made me want to run out into the streets preaching the gospel, saying, “This is our salvation!” They brought me back to Christ.

rachel-weissburg-story3.jpgWhat advice would you give yourself a year ago, as a student starting your program at orientation? Do you have any advice for online students in particular?

For students returning after a career or other life experience, lean into your experience. Lean into your specific giftedness. Let that show up in your writing and your discussions. People will really appreciate it. I’ve found that my educational experience has been a lot richer because I have a texture of experience to add to it.

For online students, my first piece of advice would be to tailor your expectations to the online experience. Don't expect to have the same in-person experience online. The second would be, make sure that you are grounded in relationships in your life and have key sources of support.

Rachel and her sister (left) visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden.What has surprised you most about being a student at Candler?

I originally saw this degree as a way to achieve my career goal of becoming a chaplain, and I saw chaplaincy as the next stage in my career because I wanted to do a specific kind of work and it would help me do that work. It wasn’t because I was super excited about the gospel or Jesus or any religion per se. I just wanted to be by the bedside of suffering patients and provide emotional support. I wasn’t expecting the teaching and the curriculum to expand my mind to the degree that it has. My view of my faith, of Christianity, is so much bigger, so much more complex, so much more nuanced and colorful now. My faith went from black and white to being in color. It’s beautiful to me now, Christianity.