Art by Amaryah Armstrong 12TWhen 3rd year MDiv student Stacey Doremus went through orientation at Candler, she was introduced to the practice of centering art.

“It really set the stage for me to begin seminary,” she says of the experience. “Centering art had a huge impact on my life at Candler. I wish I had been able to learn about more spiritual practices at that point, because it would have helped me during my time here.”

This year Doremus is serving as orientation coordinator, and her wish is coming true. Candler’s incoming class—190 students strong, representing 6 countries and 27 states and ranging in age from 21 to 62—will learn about spiritual formation opportunities at Candler on the first day of their orientation, which begins August 20 for international students and August 22 for all students.

“The new students will get a great picture of the spiritual formation resources the Office of Student Programming can provide,” says Doremus. “I’m really excited about this change to the orientation schedule.”

While some school orientations are synonymous with icebreakers, pep rallies and group games, Assistant Dean of Student Life and Spiritual Formation Ellen Echols Purdum cautions that students shouldn’t expect the same at Candler.

“Orientation is a time of transition—from one kind of education to another, from one home to another, from one vocation to another,” she says. “We help students navigate the transition to theological education, and the key components of that are thinking theologically and spiritual formation. We’re putting those two things front and center on day one of orientation and demonstrating to students the ways they’re intertwined.”  

To accomplish this, the orientation team is drawing on the expertise of faculty, students and alumni. Orientation’s opening plenary, entitled “Thinking Theologically,” will feature four faculty members talking about Scripture from a theological point of view.

“It’s a show, don’t tell, about how to engage in theological education,” says Purdum. “I hope the panel will change some assumptions about how professors and academics engage with students, with one another, and with biblical text.”

Following lunch, incoming students will hear from current students and alum Kimberly Broerman 00T, a spiritual director based in Atlanta, about spiritual formation. Broerman will introduce the ancient practice of scriptural prayer known as Lectio Divina (see the Candler Connection article for more on Lectio Divina), and then the students will break into smaller groups to try different spiritual practices such as walking a labyrinth, journaling, centering art, and praying the Daily Office.

Since the incoming class represents 30 different Christian denominations, Purdum and Doremus know that some of these practices are sure to be new to the students.

“My hope is that people will feel the freedom to try something new, but also get a sense of ‘This is why I came to Candler,’” says Purdum. “They may be nervous about it, because people can get very judgmental of themselves when it comes to their prayer lives, but hopefully they’ll get a sense of why they’re on this road.”

Roads are an important motif for orientation this year—the theme is “Build up the road!” and is taken from Isaiah 57:14. It reflects the idea that the new students have taken many different paths to get to this point. Orientation is a time to prepare the road ahead through seminary, and the increased emphasis on spiritual formation is an example of how the orientation team is trying to provide tools that will serve students well during their time at Candler and beyond.

Other “tools” that will be provided during orientation include panels on what Candler faculty expect from students, international study opportunities, research resources at Pitts Theology Library, and certificate programs. New students will also experience the many types of worship offered at Candler, from morning prayer to Eucharist to worship with liturgical dance.

Doremus says that current students will play a larger role than ever before in presenting this information to the incoming class. “There may be challenges on the road, but we want the new students to know there are other people on this journey with them,” she says.

For more about Candler’s orientation, please visit the orientation website athttp://candler.emory.edu/life/orientation/index.cfm.