Nearly 200 new students will come to Candler Aug. 21-23 for orientation. The event takes as its theme “Planted by streams of water” from Psalm 1:3. Illustration by MDiv ’11 graduate Keri Olsen.

Roughly 200 new students arrive Aug. 21 for orientation at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. They come from all kinds of places and from all walks of life, but they all share at least one critical demographic—the value they place on attending seminary to prepare them to make a real difference in the real world.

“My undergraduate professors had a gift for making the gospel relevant in today’s world, and I hope to do the same for generations to come,” said Ashley Kirk of St. Louis, who is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree and a certification in Christian education so that she can “become a leader in education in the Church.”

Paul Lee’s parents told him at age 13 that his decision to attend seminary was preordained. A serious complication during his mother’s pregnancy inspired his parents to pray that his life be spared in exchange for a life of service to God. His calling, which “was always in the back of my head,” has led him to Candler, where he hopes to become a pastoral counselor. “I hope to bridge the disconnect between the psychiatric care and spiritual care communities,” said the Austin, TX, native, who is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree and plans to get a PhD in psychiatry after seminary.

Nia McLean

“Students who come to Candler are serious about making a difference in the life of the church,”  said David L. Petersen, Associate Dean of Faculty and Academic Affairs and Franklin N. Parker Professor of Old Testament at Candler. “We give them the opportunity to learn in a diverse community, to engage in ministry under the supervision of experienced mentors, and to become spiritually grounded Christian leaders.”

This academic year’s incoming students hail from seven countries and 26 states plus the District of Columbia, they represent more than 30 Christian denominations, their ages range from 21 to 63, and some 25 percent report non-white ethnicity.

Washington, D.C.’s Nia McLean, who received a journalism degree from Howard University, says she hates moving but felt like Candler was where she belonged after visiting campus last fall. Not only did Candler feel “synchronistic,” it met her standard as a seminary with an outstanding academic reputation and intense Contextual Education program.

Jay Butler

“I love that there is this hands-on opportunity to learn through service outside of the classroom,” said McLean, who has selected Genesis Shelter, a facility for homeless families with young children, as her first Con Ed assignment.

James “Jay” Butler knew the theological education he was seeking wasn’t too far from home. An Atlanta native, Butler grew up in The United Methodist Church and participated in the Wesley Foundation activities at the University of Georgia, which helped shape his goal of one day ministering to high school and college students. He chose Candler to purse a Master of Divinity because of its diversity. “I like hearing different viewpoints. I like hearing where people come from,” Butler says.

While the decision to attend seminary was easy for Butler, McLean says it took her two years to decide. “I finally took a leap of faith and applied after visiting Emory,” she said.