From left to right: Elizabeth Pollard, Michael Graves, Ruth Ubaldo, Rachael White, David Cho.

Candler students report that the milestones of the school’s 100-year history offer important lessons for them today. Recently, (from left) Elizabeth Pollard, Michael Graves, Ruth Ubaldo, Rachael White, and David Cho took a few moments away from their studies to explore the timeline of major events that shaped Candler, and here they offer reflections not only on what they learned, but also the significance of being part of the Candler community during its centennial year.

For third-year MDiv student Elizabeth Pollard, reading up on Candler’s first 100 years reminded her that the school never existed in a bubble. “It became evident to me that Candler is a part of the world,” she says, noting the impact of World Wars I and II on student enrollment, and the changes Candler made in areas such as housing when soldiers returned to school on the GI Bill with families in tow.

The school’s commitment to the world outside the classroom was also evident to Ruth Ubaldo, a second-year MDiv student. On the timeline, she noticed that students were involved in supervised off-campus fieldwork as early as 1937. In 1971 the early stages of Candler’s current Contextual Education (Con Ed) program, which pairs students’ field placements with faculty-led reflection seminars, became a curriculum requirement. From those early days, Candler has recognized the importance of students learning theology by practicing it among people. Ubaldo’s own Con Ed experiences have included working with older adults in an assisted living community and college students in university fellowship. “People in 1937 and 1971 were seeing the need for connection outside of the campus,” she says. “I appreciate that so much, and I don’t know if that’s true everywhere.”

The recent establishment of Candler’s Erskine-Smith-Mosley Fund caught the eye of third-year MDiv student David Cho. The scholarship endowment honors Noel Erskine, Luther Smith and the late Romney Mosley, three of the school’s first African-American faculty, and provides students of Candler’s Black Church Studies Program with scholarships and stipends. For Cho, the fund signifies Candler’s dedication to diversity and serves as an inspiration for further engagement. “As a Korean American student, I feel positively challenged to do something similar, to build and leave a legacy of the Korean students’ theological exploration at Candler and honor their faithful works of ministry and scholarship all over the world,” he says.

As they explored their school’s history, students also noticed the willingness of the Candler community to consistently engage in dialogue on important issues. Rachael White, a second-year MTS student, cites the 1966 controversy surrounding Time magazine’s cover story “Is God Dead?” The story featured a group of American theologians whose scholarly work suggested that if Christ had been crucified then God, too, had died. One of the theologians was a religion professor at Emory College – not a member of the Candler faculty – but the article set off debate around the country that reverberated at Candler. “What struck me were the questions that caused that kind of statement,” White says. “They were really faith-based inquiries. Candler has a history of critically engaging faith questions, and I’ve experienced that here. One of the most impactful parts of my Candler experience is being able to critically, academically and intellectually address issues of faith, and build faith from a critical perspective.”

Michael Graves, a first-year MRL student, believes that Candler’s early conversations paved the way for the open dialogue he experiences at Candler today. He was drawn to the year 1997 on the timeline, when Emory affirmed that same-sex commitment ceremonies could be held in university chapels. It was a point of contention between the university (and thus, Candler) and the United Methodist Church, whose Book of Discipline taught that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. But despite the denomination’s official stance, Graves, an openly gay man, feels the energy of positive dialogue at Candler. “I walk into this space and know I’m safe to have these conversations,” he says. “The church that I’m a part of is still divided on this issue and yet Candler is this place where we’re not fighting over it – we’re talking about it.”

Graves sums up what it means to be studying at Candler during this historic time: “It’s not just about bridging divides. It’s about people wanting me to grow in my faith, wanting to be in community with me, and me with them. Sacred community is really important when you’re developing a theological framework.”