Dual-Degree Student Combines Concern About Body and Soul

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Gretchen Van Ess, a third-year Master of Divinity student, knew for certain she had chosen the right seminary during a worship service in Cannon Chapel. Speakers of Creole and French took part in worship, transporting her thoughts back to Gretchen Van EssHaiti.

She had been teaching life skills to disabled children there when she received her acceptance letter from Candler. She returned to Haiti after her first year of seminary as part of an interdisciplinary group from Candler and Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health to help local religious communities promote clean water.

That experience convinced Van Ess that she needed to be concerned about both physical and spiritual health. She became the first Emory student to pursue a joint Master of Divinity and Master of Public Health.

Haiti wasn’t her only international trip as a Candler student. She traveled to Indonesia for an internship funded by International Relief Development, Inc., an organization that sends Candler students abroad each summer.

One project on that trip was helping a group of youth plan “Pomona Idol”—a version of “American Idol” that brought together representatives of nine ethnic groups to promote peace. Another was working with Muslim and Christian women starting a sewing group together.

Van Ess had started out to be an architect, inspired by volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity. She soon learned “my passion wasn’t in it. Walnut floors didn’t fire me up.”

It was the people she was helping, not the style of the building, that really mattered to her.

Van Ess plans to be ordained to ministry in the United Church of Christ and continue to promote healthy living, especially among the needy.

"Clearly my heart—my calling—is on doing the nitty-gritty work that could bring relief to the marginalized,” she says. “That has made Candler and the opportunities it offers the perfect fit for me.”