formation-communities-story4.jpgPicture this: After a busy day on campus, you open the door to a violin’s cheerful hum and the smell of freshly baked bread. Two of your housemates are sitting on the couch laughing and recounting the day, while others work on dinner prep (homemade pizza!) in the kitchen. A candle and a stack of hymnals sit in the living room corner, ready for tonight’s worship service.  

Scenes like this one are a regular occurrence for third-year MDiv student Anna Swygert. “There is something about coming home to other students and just sitting in the living room together, unwinding after a long day.”  

Swygert lives with five students of different denominations in the Park Avenue Baptist Church (PABC) House, an unused parsonage owned by the congregation of the same name in Atlanta’s historic Grant Park neighborhood, one of two pilot “formation communities” that have launched at Candler this year. Drawn by the focus on intentional living and spiritual formation, both returning and incoming students from multiple degree programs applied last summer to take part in these first two groups.

formation-communities-story2.jpgFour more Candler students—including three first-year MDivs—call the Episcopal House home. It’s an Emory-owned property in walking distance of campus. Candler’s Episcopal and Anglican Studies program co-sponsors the house.

First-year MDiv student Hannah Kelly lives in the Episcopal House. “One of the things I was most nervous about when entering seminary was that everyone there would be disconnected from campus and I wouldn’t have as close of a community as I’d had during my undergraduate experience,” she says. “This offered the promise of community that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere.”

formation-communities-story5_1.jpgFirst-year MDiv student Will Drosos, another Episcopal House member, says that the distinctive opportunity to live and grow in faith alongside his peers drew him to Candler. “Living in intentional community has allowed me to make friends instantly, and has continued to allow for internal work that I wouldn’t be doing otherwise,” he says.

That internal work is a key piece of Candler’s formation communities program. On a retreat at the start of the year, each house worked to create a “rule of life” that would guide their days together. Prayer, fellowship, and celebration all figure significantly in the life of each house. They each also have a house chaplain—a faculty member or church leader—to support them and share in the journey.

formation-communities-story7.jpgThe houses gather regularly for morning and evening prayer, and prepare and eat a weekly meal together. They also share in community, whether that’s watching Netflix or playing music (Anna Swygert ticks off the musical instruments played by PABC house members: two guitars, two violins, a keyboard, an autoharp, and a dulcimer). 

One of the PABC House’s two weekly prayer gatherings is open to the wider Candler and Park Avenue communities. During this first semester, attendance has ranged from four to 20 people, and house members switch off leading services. “Creativity is really important to us as a house, so we find ways to cultivate that in worship,” Swygert says. 

Fformation-communities-story3.jpgor Swygert, the house’s rhythm of worship sits at the heart of this intentional living experience, weaving together every element. “There is something really sacred in setting apart this time to spend together and with God. No matter how busy we are, there are these gracious breaths that we give to one another each week. Though times can get hectic and stressful, we can still take time to honor ourselves, our relationships to one another and to God. Our prayer time together has strengthened our connections with one another, and this is sustained through our casual everyday interactions.” 

formation-communities-story6.jpgHannah Kelly of the Episcopal House agrees. “From being able to walk to school with my roommates every day, to having people to study and discuss classes with, to starting and ending the day together in prayer, this living arrangement has made my time at seminary feel so much fuller. I don’t think ‘regular’ roommates would get up at 7 a.m. to pray with me every morning, and I think I would miss out on many philosophical and theological conversations that happen over dinner or when we’re hanging out in the living room.”

Living intentionally alongside fellow students, Kelly says, highlights what she calls their shared threads of life, particularly the common experience of seminary at Candler.

formation-communities-story8.jpg“It has exceeded all of my expectations. The rhythm of life in an intentional community has brought a sense of peace and consistency to my days, and I feel more motivated and confident because of life with my roommates. I think seminary is a really unique time in our lives, and it’s been completely worth it to fully invest my time and energy in the community here.”

At the PABC House, pizza has been eaten, candles are lit, and instruments are being tuned. Come, let us worship the Lord.

Want to learn more about the opportunity to live in a formation community at Candler? Email candleradmissions@emory.edu.

Photos: Emory Photo/Video