Passing the Torch


Molly Edmonds, Claire Lennox, and Valerie Loner 10T
April 1, 2020

The past few years have seen the retirement of some Candler icons, celebrated both for their individual gifts and their collective impact on the school. Here, we look back on their accomplishments as they pass the torch to a new crop of teacher-scholars.


BARBARA DAY MILLER: Creating Space for Everyone’s Song

Photo credit: Emory Photo/Video

Photo credit: Emory Photo/Video

For nearly two decades, Barbara Day Miller 88T was a fixture in a worship space known for creativity and excellence. She retired from her position as associate dean of worship and music in 2016, but she has made an indelible mark on the worship life at Candler.

Throughout her career, Day Miller combined the skills of a superb worship leader, talented musician, and consummate hostess to create worship experiences that exuded a spirit of welcome to all.

“One of my goals was to be sure that we had—metaphorically speaking—space for everybody’s song, that there were opportunities for everyone’s own true liturgical style,” she explains. “That’s what I worked very hard to do for 20 years.”

Making space for different songs and traditions is Day Miller’s way of rolling out the welcome mat, and it’s an effort that has been widely noticed.

“Everybody is welcome, everybody has a part, and everybody can have a voice,” says Toni Belin Ingram 07T, who worked with Day Miller in the Office of Worship as a student. “It’s just who she is.”

The desire to extend welcome is reflected in what Day Miller describes as one of her primary tasks: “helping students to become liturgically literate and articulate in their tradition and others.” Former students attest to her success, naming liturgical literacy as one of her enduring gifts to them.

“We should have well-designed liturgy that is accessible and linguistically rich,” says Meredith McNabb 07T, who served on the chapel planning staff during her student days and worked for Day Miller over the summers. She now leads clergy and congregational trainings around the country in her role as associate director of educational programming at Lake Institute for Faith & Giving.

One of Day Miller’s signal achievements is designing a model for planning worship that has been implemented in settings far beyond Cannon Chapel. Called the POWR model—Planning, Ordering, Worshiping and Reflecting—it has empowered laity to assist in worship planning, becoming a model in churches and conferences. McNabb took the model into her first appointment, where she says it transformed the church’s worship.

The POWR model reflects both Day Miller’s innate desire to design and lead worship in a manner that encourages excellence, and her commitment to excellence in general. It’s a passion praised by students and colleagues alike.

“Whatever she puts her hands to, it’s simply off the charts,” notes David Pacini, professor of historical and philosophical theology. “She’s one of the most tenacious, hard-working persons I know.”

Her former students echo that description.

“Barbara has this gracious insistence on excellence,” McNabb explains. “I think that comes from her commitment to the church and to the faith. ‘If this is the work of the kingdom of God, this must be done right.’ She’s not a task master, but she knows what your best is, and she expects it.”

Perhaps Day Miller’s insistence on excellence was most visible in the Candler Singers. Under her leadership, the group of auditioned choristers toured throughout the Southeast and sang four times at the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. She also directed worship for North Georgia’s Annual Conference for several years, and served as music director of the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh, working with nearly 100 musical groups to coordinate all the music for the 12-day meeting.

Day Miller asserts that retirement isn’t the end of her desire to create. “You’re just turning a corner and doing a new thing. I’m a believer in resurrection and new things,” she says. Now she has time to pursue writing, teach occasionally, and resume making pottery. And in one nod to her childhood growing up on a farm, she and her brother are starting a cattle business together.

Even though there is much to anticipate, Day Miller sounds a little wistful when describing what she will miss most: “Students who come in the door with some new thought or idea. I’ve got to find ways to keep that conversation going with young minds and young people,” she says determinedly.

There’s no doubt that she will. —VL


M. PATRICK GRAHAM: The Librarian Turns the Page

Photo credit: Emory Photo/Video

Photo credit: Emory Photo/Video

No food or beverages are allowed in the Special Collections reading room of Pitts Theology Library, but despite that restriction, you might find yourself a guest at a feast there. That’s how Pat Graham, Librarian and Margaret A. Pitts Professor Emeritus of Theological Bibliography, sees the work of the library.

“It’s like hosting a banquet, where you introduce your guests to the greatest scholars and authors of all times and places, provide a hospitable surrounding for their engagement, and then admire the great things that come from their time together,” he says.

Graham, who retired in 2017, was first a guest at this banquet when he was a student in Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion, where he earned a PhD in Old Testament in 1983. He returned to Pitts in 1988, serving two years as a cataloger of non-English language materials and four years as a reference librarian. While working at Pitts, he earned a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Texas at Austin and further perfected the intricacies of academic librarianship under Channing Jeschke, the influential librarian who catapulted Pitts to stardom by tripling its holdings through the acquisition of the Hartford Seminary collection.

Carl Holladay, Charles Howard Candler Professor Emeritus of New Testament, says that Jeschke and Graham were alike in many ways: “Each possessed a persona of quiet dignity that masked a powerful Protestant work ethic driven by an expansive intellectual vision and a disciplined creativity, gifts enhanced by stunning organizational and administrative skills.”

When Jeschke retired in 1994, Graham became director of the library—“the librarian,” in library parlance—and continued the work of growing the Pitts collections. During his 29-year tenure, the library expanded from 460,000 to 610,000 volumes, a 32.6 percent increase. Graham also took the lead on making the library’s resources more widely available by creating the Digital Image Archive, an online catalogue of 60,000 downloadable images scanned from Pitts’ Special Collections.

Just as Pitts was growing, so too was Candler. Graham spent a decade as chair or co-chair of the committee that oversaw construction of the 128,600-square-foot Rita Anne Rollins Building for Candler. “He spent untold hours consulting and working with faculty, Emory’s Campus Services staff, architects, and the design and construction specialists,” says Holladay. “Through all of this, he faithfully represented Candler’s interests and priorities and advocated effectively on our behalf. His footprints and fingerprints are everywhere to be seen.”

Graham’s legacy also includes the remarkable staff at Pitts. Holladay notes that Dennis Norlin, former executive director of the American Theological Library Association (ATLA), once called Pitts “the finishing school for theological librarians.” While Candler professors sent their students from the classroom to Pitts, Pitts was Graham’s classroom, and his former students serve theological libraries across the country.

Graham counts the cultivation of the extraordinary staff at Pitts as one of his greatest accomplishments. “The quality of service and professionalism among Pitts staff impresses visitors or newcomers who have come from other academic institutions,” he says. “They tell me how impressed they are with the competence of Pitts staff, their commitment to service, and their intellectual engagement with those who come to them.

“Such excellence does not just happen but is the product of hard work, mutual encouragement, thinking together about our profession, and helping one another to go beyond what is the baseline for performance,” he says. Graham takes great pride that this level of excellence is now considered the norm for Pitts.

Graham says he will miss his favorite tradition—“the opportunity to welcome new students, call their attention to the wonderful resources that have been assembled for their benefit, and then offer them encouragement for one of the most important periods in their lives”—but he knows he has built a staff that can ably handle the task.

“There are strong currents in higher education today that push libraries to treat students and faculty as customers,” Graham says. “My hope is that the staff of Pitts Theology Library will continue to resist this impulse, see themselves as educators, and offer the very best professional expertise to Candler and the university as a whole.”

In his retirement, Graham looks forward to spending more time with his children and grandchildren, developing his gardening and photography skills, and completing his own research projects. He also plans to volunteer for a “good theological library in the area.” After all, how can you pass up such a lavish banquet? —ME


CARL R. HOLLADAY: Consummate Scholar, Wise Mentor

Photo credit: Emory Photo/Video

Photo credit: Emory Photo/Video

True to scholarly form, Carl Holladay has given good thought to what his 39 years on the Candler faculty mean in their fuller context: “Almost half the school’s life,” he says. In those nearly four decades, Holladay, who retired as the Charles Howard Candler Professor of New Testament in 2019, has made his mark on Candler, generations of students, and the broader field of New Testament studies.

Holladay recalls coming to Candler in 1980 and the “generative context” that the school and his fellow faculty members provided from the start. “I found myself surrounded by a circle of dazzling colleagues, talented and energetic, from whom I learned so much,” he says. “I found myself having to stand on tiptoe, just to see over the ledge what was going on—high-order scholarship that stretched my own intellectual horizons, people doing field-defining research and writing influential articles and books that became referential in their respective fields and beyond.”

In the years since, Holladay has joined the ranks of Candler faculty whose scholarly influence is felt far and wide. He has authored eight books, including A Critical Introduction to the New Testament: Interpreting the Message and Meaning of Jesus Christ (Abingdon, 2005), which is used extensively by seminaries and ministers.

He has received prominent fellowships and honors, including a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award, a Luce Fellowship, and a Festschrift titled Scripture and Traditions: Essays on Early Judaism and Christianity in Honor of Carl R. Holladay (Brill, 2008). A member of the Society of Biblical Literature, he has also served on editorial boards for multiple scholarly journals, and as the 2016-17 president of the Society for New Testament Studies. And in a career-capping flourish in 2017, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies.

No matter how far his scholarly work has taken him, Holladay has given his time and talents to Emory as well, including as a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, a faculty member in the Laney Graduate School’s Graduate Division of Religion (where he served as co-director from 2010 to 2012), and as Candler’s associate dean of academic affairs from 1983 to 1991, and dean of the faculty and academic affairs from 1992 to 1994.

Former Candler students think of Holladay first as a mentor who provided immeasurable support in seminary and after, helping them to find their voice, whether it was in the world of ministry or academia.

Christy Bonner 03T got to know Holladay as her academic advisor, Con Ed professor, and New Testament professor. She describes him as an engaging teacher who took the time and energy to invest in his students, from their papers to their vocations, and says he was integral in helping her discern her next steps after graduation.

“The feedback and support Dr. Holladay offered as we considered the many possibilities regarding my particular future in ministry were invaluable. I am grateful to him for encouraging me to continue my education beyond Candler by pursuing a DMin degree,” she says. “I am only one of many who have been impacted by his wisdom, teaching skills, and encouragement. I hope he knows what a difference he has made in my life, and in the lives of so many students.”

Erich Pracht 18T also credits Holladay with guiding him through a pivotal time of vocational discernment. “I knew I wanted to pursue a career in New Testament studies, but needed help understanding how to adequately prepare and a great deal of direction in refining my research interests,” he says.

Holladay’s conviction that students should take ownership of their reading of biblical texts—“that we should be creative, take risks, and develop interpretations that are ‘ours’” was especially helpful, says Pracht.

Faculty colleagues appreciate his approach as well. Steven J. Kraftchick, professor in the practice of New Testament interpretation, borrows one of Holladay’s favorite quotations from Ralph Waldo Emerson to describe a defining trait of his longtime friend and colleague: “The first rule of writing is not to omit the thing you meant to say.” Kraftchick considers the line a watchword for Holladay’s writing, from his academic work to sermons and lectures. He then quotes directly from Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner’s Handbook (Westminster John Knox, 1st ed., 1982), co-authored by Holladay: “Text criticism is ‘based on common sense and ingenuity.’ To do that work well requires tireless attention to specifics and an expansive imagination. In a nutshell, that has defined Carl’s careful and consistent work on the New Testament. There are scholars who give us the data, but too often nothing about the ‘so what.’ There are scholars who are happy to provide an ingenious interpretation, but often at the expense of the texts themselves. Carl never succumbed to either, but rather his work combines both: a keen eye for every detail and interpretive sentences that, in the words of Emerson, do not ‘omit the thing’ one meant to say.”

Holladay has high praise for fellow faculty members as well. “One of the greatest benefits I have enjoyed at Candler has been the company of friendly, but honest critics—colleagues not only willing to listen to my ideas, to read my work, but to critique it,” he says. “Caring colleagues to keep you honest and make you better—what a rarity!

“My debt of gratitude to Emory and to Candler is huge. No one said it better than Lou Gehrig: ‘I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.’” —CL


DAVID O. JENKINS: Community Beyond the Classroom

Photo credit: Emory Photo/Video

Photo credit: Emory Photo/Video

During his 18 years at Candler, David Jenkins made an impact beyond the classroom as he focused on serving neighbors, whether near or far.

When asked to consider his most meaningful experiences at Candler, the associate professor emeritus in the practice of practical theology, who retired in 2017, immediately turns to the many ways he has been active in teaching—and doing—hands-on ministry alongside his students, from revitalizing the Contextual Education curriculum and designing new degrees to expanding Candler’s international partnerships and modeling experiential learning.

His efforts in the areas of theology and immigration and theology and disability, especially, have shown seminarians how to engage effectively and compassionately with their communities, in ministry or otherwise. He has been deeply involved in the Atlanta disability community, inspired by his years serving and living with the L’Arche community in London in the 1980s. He helped establish L’Arche Atlanta, served as president of L’Arche USA, and chaired the organization’s first national capital campaign, as well as the L’Arche USA National Task Force on Spirituality and Religious Identity. He brought this passion to various academic communities, organizing Candler’s first Nancy Eiesland Lecture on Theology and Disability Studies in 2015, delivering the 2016 Boston College Pyne Lectures on the practical theology of L’Arche, and presenting at Emory’s Disability Studies Initiative Scholar Showcase. He designed and taught courses on the church and disability, so that students would encounter a gifted world of disabilities, new theologies of vulnerability, and authentic friendships with those who are differently abled.

Jenkins was director of Con Ed I and Clinical Pastoral Education from 2005 to 2014, working alongside then-director of Con Ed II and Teaching Parish P. Alice Rogers to revitalize the Con Ed curriculum, including the development of new sites centered around refugees and immigrants. The pair visited 15 theology schools to determine best practices, hosted a national conference to discuss them, and co-authored a book on their findings, Equipping the Saints: Best Practices in Contextual Education (Pilgrim Press, 2010).

Not only has Jenkins shaped opportunities for Candler students to pursue experiential learning outside the classroom, he’s also been integrally involved in creating new degrees and courses. He designed Candler’s MDiv/Master in Social Work dual degree with the University of Georgia, and the school’s dual MDiv/Master in Development Practice degree with Emory’s Laney Graduate School.

Lyn Pace 02T 17T, chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University, has called Jenkins a mentor and friend throughout his MDiv and DMin journeys at Candler. He says that Jenkins “expects a lot from his students. He expects you to read, do the work, and put your body into your local community to be in real relationship with people.” That last piece, Pace notes, “sounds a lot like what we’re called to do as Christians in the life of faith and ministry.”

International study has also been important to Jenkins, who served as Candler’s founding director of international initiatives. Through this work, he developed relationships with schools in Africa, Asia, and Latin America for the first time in Candler’s history, increasing the school’s global partners from three to 21, and expanding international summer ministry internships. He’s led students on travel seminars to Cuba, Honduras, Brazil, and Mexico, including five “Church on the Border” courses co-led with Scholar-in-Residence Marie Marquardt, where students spend a week at the U.S./Mexico border to study the church’s response to immigration.

Marquardt says that Jenkins balanced holding students to the highest standards of academic rigor while engaging with them pastorally in the challenging environment. “In our time at the border, I witnessed him holding sobbing students in his arms, sitting quietly beside students in crisis, and gently offering words of support and encouragement. Like any good shepherd, he intuitively knew when to let them wander, and when to gather, lead, and nourish them.”

MDiv student Jad Taylor 20T took the Church on the Border class and calls it one of his most transformative seminary encounters. “Dr. Jenkins opened my eyes to the alternative future the church can and should imagine with the world. He is more than a professor—he is a fellow sojourner working toward a more just and caring world.”

Many students over the years have considered Jenkins a “fellow sojourner.” They voted him 2004-2005 Faculty Person on the Year, and welcomed his advising in student organizations including Sacred Worth and the Social Concerns Network. He chaired Candler’s Worship and Spiritual Formation Committee, as well as its Sustainability and Climate Action Plan Committee. And he’s donated more than 1,000 books to Pitts Theology Library.

Lyn Pace points to the common thread in these varied roles. “The constant is the way in which David lives out his calling: that being in relationship with people in the community in which you find yourself is of utmost importance. It’s what the gospel is calling us to do.” —CL



Photo credit: Cindy Brown 09T

Photo credit: Cindy Brown 09T

If anyone discovered what gives Luke Timothy Johnson his extraordinarily high energy level, they could bottle it and make millions. The effervescent Johnson served for 24 years as the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins before retiring in 2016. The Woodruffs are Emory’s most distinguished endowed chairs—but don’t confuse “distinguished” with “stuffy.”

Former students speak fondly of Johnson—whom they affectionately called “LTJ”—and his annual vertical leap. Up until his mid 60s, Johnson would select a day each year to launch himself from a standing position onto a nearby desk. It was an event not to be missed.

“I witnessed multiple jumps,” recalls Brian Erickson 00T, senior pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood, Alabama. “They were impressive.”

Erickson, who took a class with Johnson every semester he was at Candler except for a term when Johnson was on sabbatical, says he wishes he had witnessed the leaps during the cell phone era so he could have recorded them.

While the jumps were remarkable physical feats, they were more than matched by the mental dynamism and fortitude that have marked Johnson’s illustrious academic career. His scholarly output is staggering and still growing: At the time of his retirement, he had written more than 30 books (with three more under contract); 70 journal articles; 100 popular articles; 190 book reviews; and 175 academic lectures. And that doesn’t include the hundreds of presentations he’s given at churches over the years.

A former Benedictine monk and Catholic priest, Johnson will tell you that he is “precociously gifted with energy” and that his mind-boggling productivity is the result of his passion for Scripture and teaching—a passion fueled by both love and anger.

“I’m passionately in love with the subject matter,” he explains. “I’m constantly energized by the Scripture itself—its significance, obscurity, and beauty. But I’m energized by anger, too, because biblical scholarship also has its idiocies and misbegotten theories.”

Johnson has trained countless pastors in the study of Scripture and has helped produce no small number of academics who now teach students of their own. One former student who is now a professor describes Johnson’s passion for studying Scripture as “infectious.”

“He reminds students repeatedly that scholarship requires courage, that researching, writing up your findings, and thinking through their impact on the church and the world is a courageous act,” notes Shively Smith 15G, one of Johnson’s doctoral students and now assistant professor of New Testament at Boston University’s School of Theology.

Erickson agrees.

“You always felt like you were playing with fire,” he recalls. “Something might happen! This was dangerous, sacred, holy stuff we were dealing with and we’d better give it the best we’ve got. Whenever I stand in the pulpit, I hope I’m doing justice to the time he put into me.”

Johnson’s enthusiasm for Scripture is apparent in his writing, which has won acclaim from both academic and general audiences, from the $100,000 Grawemeyer Award in Religion for the scholarly Among the Gentiles to the Catholic Book Award for Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church.

“One of the hallmarks of Luke’s academic work is a belief that biblical scholarship has a place in the public square, that it can and should serve the greater good of humanity,” Smith says.

To Erickson, the accessibility of Johnson’s work further marks him as a great thinker. “I have no doubt that Luke could melt your brain with 12-syllable words all day long, but his work is meant to be used in the real world.”

Scholarly accolades aside, Johnson leaves a tremendous example of blending inspired teaching and servant leadership. He has an impressive record of committee service, most notably chairing both Candler’s Centennial committee and the committee that revised Candler’s distinctive Contextual Education program.

Among the youngest Woodruff professors ever hired, Johnson says he was determined to use his time wisely. “I was resolved…to change the mold,” he explains. “I tried to be a good a citizen of the university and of the School of Theology.”

His former students say he also embodied the model of caring professor. Erickson recalls occasions after class when Johnson would walk with him and his classmates to Everybody’s Pizza across from campus. “It was like a Dead Poets Society moment,” Erickson says. “He didn’t just want to teach and escape. He cared about who we were and where we were coming from.”

Johnson’s dedication to his students was recognized by both Candler and Emory: He received the “On Eagle’s Wings” Excellence in Teaching Award from Candler’s graduating class in 1997 and 1999, was named Candler Outstanding Faculty Person of the Year in 2006, and received the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award, the university’s highest award for teaching, in 2013.

Smith notes that Johnson’s signature passion and compassion have worked together to heighten his students’ educational experience. “He cares about his students’ overall well-being as well as their critical intellectual development,” she says. “In that way he’s very pastoral.

“For him, the task of teaching is also a discipline of compassion. That compels students to work hard and take seriously their studies. You’re learning from someone who not only cares about the material and its significance in the world, but who cares about you and your role in the world. That’s a real gift in higher education.” —VL


REX D. MATTHEWS: The Man Who Knew John Wesley

Photo credit: Cindy Brown 09T

Photo credit: Cindy Brown 09T

Stories extolling the professorial prowess of Rex Matthews abound at Candler. One in particular stands out to Thomas W. Elliott, Jr. 87T 97T, associate professor in the practice of practical theology and Methodist studies, who came across a group of students talking about how much they enjoyed Matthews’s classes. Out of curiosity, Elliott asked them, “What makes Dr. Matthews such a great teacher?” They said, “We think the man knew John Wesley!”

Matthews, who retired in 2017 as professor in the practice of historical theology and Wesleyan studies, introduced hundreds of students to a deeper understanding of Wesley and Methodist history. His research on the life and thought of John Wesley, and the historical and theological development of Methodism in both Britain and America has enlivened his students’ theological imaginations. His natural gift for teaching—combining extensive knowledge, remarkable communication skills, and a deep concern for his students—has made him among Candler’s most beloved professors.

Matthews first came to Candler in 1981 alongside his wife, Carol Newsom, who was joining the faculty. His significant talents and Harvard MDiv degree were noted, and he was recruited to teach classes even as he managed the on-campus Cokesbury bookstore, undertook part-time editorial work for Abingdon Press, and completed his doctor of theology at Harvard, which was awarded in 1986. In 1989, he moved to the world of academic publishing, where among his notable accomplishments was establishing the Kingswood Books series for scholarly works in Wesleyan and Methodist studies.

Matthews returned to Candler’s faculty in 2004, and his work in the classroom has been lauded. He received the “On Eagle’s Wings” Excellence in Teaching Award in 2010 and 2016, the Exemplary Teaching Award from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of The United Methodist Church in 2012, and the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award from Emory University in 2011.

“As a teacher, Rex has the rare gift of framing complex theological thought in a way that is accessible and brings John Wesley to life for his students,” says Teresa Angle-Young 07T, a certified clergy coach and an elder in the North Georgia Annual Conference. “He gave me the language with which to interact with fellow scholars, but also to teach and preach Wesley in a congregation. As a mentor, he has encouraged me, sought out professional opportunities for me, and supported me in ways that have had significant impact on my life and career. His personal integrity, excellent scholarship, and generosity of spirit are unmatched.”

Matthews’s scholarly pursuits have garnered recognition throughout his career as well. Russ Richey, dean emeritus and William R. Cannon Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church History, says that Matthews has been “the greatest facilitator and promoter of Wesley studies and Methodistica for at least the last half-century” through his work in academic publishing and his role as managing editor of the Methodist Review: A Journal of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies, an online academic journal launched in 2009. Additionally, Matthews served as co-chair of the Wesleyan Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion from 2007 to 2013, was a Luce Exchange Fellow and visiting professor at the Methodist University of São Paulo in 2013, and a fellow of the Summer Wesley Seminar at Duke Divinity School in 2004 and 2014. He received the Florence A. Bell Scholar Award from Drew University Theological School Library in 2014.

Matthews’s book Timetables of History for Students of Methodism (Abingdon Press, 2007) received the 2007 Saddlebag Selection Award from the Historical Society of The United Methodist Church as the best book published during the year on the history, biography, polity, or theology of United Methodism. More recently he edited The Vocation of Theology: Inquiry, Dialogue, Adoration (GBHEM/Foundery Books, 2017), a collection of essays from Candler’s centennial celebration, and wrote Ministerial Orders and Sacramental Authority in The United Methodist Church and its Antecedents, 1785–2016 (GBHEM/Foundery Books, 2017).

Elliott notes that Matthews has been an incredible resource both inside and outside Candler. “I once heard Rex say that it is important to find your role or niche in life, which for him was supporting theological education and the work of others in the field,” he says. “This he has done faithfully through his roles as teacher, advisor, editor, researcher, author, Wesleyan historian and theologian, and consult for UM Boards of Ordained Ministry, to name a few. Many have benefited and been blessed by his vocational clarity.”

In retirement, Matthews is spending time with his mother, who is in her 90s. He says he also hopes to “improve my photographic skills, learn to tie flies, spend more time on the water using some of those flies, and teach myself how to read again for pleasure—something I’ve almost forgotten how to do.” And he hints that at some point, he may return to the classroom for a “limited engagement.” Future students will be grateful to spend time with the man who knew John Wesley. —ME


CAROL A. NEWSOM: The Biblical Matchmaker

Photo credit: Emory Photo/Video

Photo credit: Emory Photo/Video

During Carol Newsom’s 39-year career at Candler, she has amassed honorary doctorates, prestigious fellowships, and multiple awards for outstanding teaching. She’s written or edited 15 books, scores of articles and book chapters, encyclopedia entries, translations, and reviews. She’s made history as the second woman to hold a tenure-track position at the institution, and the first to be appointed to a chaired professorship.

Despite this remarkable career, Newsom, who retired in 2019 as the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament, still thinks of her vocation in simpler terms: as that of a biblical matchmaker. “I have these students, and I know these great texts, and I am positive that they will fall in love with each other if I introduce them,” she says. “Watching students make connections with the texts is what makes teaching worthwhile.”

According to Amy Chatelaine 20T, Newsom’s teaching style helps students make meaningful connections with the text. “Through the final course of her teaching career, Dr. Newsom approached biblical studies with the same inextinguishable sense of wonder, curiosity, and delight as one who was encountering the material for the first time. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and opens her learning partners to anticipate new revelations from both the biblical texts and people we assume we have ‘figured out.’”

Described by Associate Professor of Old Testament Joel LeMon as “the most consequential scholar of her generation,” Newsom is a widely respected expert who has been recognized numerous times for her scholarship. She has published 76 articles and book chapters, dozens upon dozens of reference works, and ten books as author and five as editor, including co-editing the acclaimed Women’s Bible Commentary, now in its third edition. She has received honorary doctorates from Virginia Theological Seminary, the University of Copenhagen, and Birmingham-Southern College, and her research fellowships include grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Henry Luce Foundation. In 2015, she was presented with two Festschrifts from former students. And in 2016, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Apart from her own scholarship, Newsom has served the guild in many ways, most notably as president of the Society of Biblical Literature, an honorary member of Great Britain’s Society for Old Testament Study, and a member of a dozen editorial boards. At Emory, she was a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, director of the Graduate Division of Religion from 2012 to 2014, and a member of the search committee that brought Emory its first woman president.

Along with her impressive status as a scholar and leader, Newsom is known for her dedication to her students, as evidenced by honors including the 1998 “On Eagle’s Wings” Excellence in Teaching Award given by Candler’s senior class, and the 2009 Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award given by Emory University.

According to LeMon, Newsom’s students often mention the same trait when describing her: “They say that Carol made them feel that she had all the time in the world for them. Her commitment to each conversation reinforced the value of who they are and what they thought.”

Evan Bassett 24G, who served as Newsom’s research assistant, seconds this sentiment: “To me, one of Carol’s most impressive qualities is her ability to listen well. She listens to her students with undivided attention and unwavering curiosity, as if we might say something worth hearing. And indeed, that is the effect: When you have Carol’s attention, it makes you want to say something worth saying. Her voice of wisdom has been a great gift to the Emory community, but as her student, her listening ear has taught me just as much.”

Newsom has applied that same focused attention when working with colleagues. “Over the past 17 years, I’ve been struck by Carol’s steadfast commitment to those around her,” says LeMon. “Having her read and respond to your work is to feel the full range of emotions. You know you are in the presence of a person who has extraordinary skills of perception. Like the prophets of old, she is able to see what others cannot see. She can read the world through a unique lens, she is able to observe phenomena and find the hidden structure therein. She is critical and kind, someone who loves you and your ideas, and wants to make you a better thinker.”

While Newsom says it’s hard to pick a favorite moment from her Candler career, she does have a special affection for Cannon Chapel, which she describes as both a “challenging” and an “awe-inspiring” space. “I have always liked the fact that it is a space that only fully comes alive when it is filled with people. When the congregation is there and you look up from the floor, you see people’s heads and shoulders—and they look just like the medieval paintings of the ranks of angels in the heavenly choir.”

In her retirement, Newsom will continue to write—she has three books under contract—but she also looks forward to having more time to indulge her lifelong love of “making things.” She has been learning to spin, weave, and dye yarn, and plans to spend more time in her vegetable garden. Moving beyond biblical matchmaking in the classroom, she is now free to be a maker of a different kind. —ME

STEVEN M. TIPTON: Intellectual Curiosity for the Common Good

Photo credit: Courtesy of U. of Oregon

Courtesy of U. of Oregon

If you’re about to meet with the president of the United States and you need to check some facts in your presentation, who would you call?

For Candler professor Robert Franklin, this was an actual scenario, the real-life version of phoning a friend on a high-stakes game show. In 1996, Franklin, now the James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor in Moral Leadership, was about to meet with then-President Bill Clinton. He needed to verify some information, so he called one of the most remarkable scholars he knows: Steve Tipton.

Tipton came through, and Franklin’s meeting went well. That’s par for the course with Tipton, who came to Candler in 1979 as he was completing his doctoral studies and retired at the end of the spring 2016 term as the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Sociology of Religion. His vast knowledge impresses both his accomplished colleagues and his students.

“We’ve all benefited from his overflowing fountain of erudition,” Franklin says, laughing. “He would open his mouth at faculty meetings, and we’d all sort of sit in awe about how much he knows about so many things. He’s a mix of Aristotle and Thomas Jefferson.”

Letitia Campbell 17G, assistant professor in the practice of ethics and society and a former teaching assistant for Tipton, describes him as “intellectually expansive.”

“The range of things that he’s interested in and about which he has thought or written is enormous,” notes Campbell. “I don’t think I ever found the edge of what he’s curious about.”

Candler alumnus Jermaine Pearson 16T experienced Tipton’s intellect in action in multiple classes and as an advisee, and marvels at the way his mind works. “I’ve never met someone who knows something about everything,” says Pearson.

A noted expert on the work of eminent sociologist Robert Bellah, Tipton authored the monographs Getting Saved from the Sixties (1982) and Public Pulpits (2007) as well as a number of collaborative publications with fellow scholars, including Bellah. His work has been sponsored by such institutions as the Guggenheim Foundation, Lilly Endowment Inc., the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Louisville Institute, and the Ford, Rockefeller, Luce, Danforth, and Sloan Foundations, among others.

But Tipton is more than a renowned scholar; he’s also passionate about pursuing social justice. In his early working years, he served as a murder investigator for an indigent defendants’ fund in Harlem.

“He has the heart of a social justice clergyman,” asserts Franklin, who has been a friend of Tipton’s for almost three decades. “Think along the lines of John Wesley and William Wilberforce. He’s a sociologist and a moral philosopher. It’s quite rare to have one scholar bring these together in such a creative and vivid way.”

Tipton is eloquent in lobbying for “justice across generations,” making the world more just for future generations. That desire to pay it forward is evident in the way he engages and inspires his students.

“Dr. Tipton is not just an advisor,” Pearson explains. “He’s more of a coach. He’s really invested in your professional development as well as your growth as a student. If you think about how basketball coach Phil Jackson developed Michael Jordan, that’s Dr. Tipton developing his students. He wants to get the best out of you.”

Campbell references Tipton’s academic coaching as well, recalling a conversation she had with him at the beginning of her doctoral work. She went into his office to talk about a research idea and left with a list of potential conversation partners and resources to assist in engaging the idea.

Tipton, who directed Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion from 1998-2003, has retired from full-time teaching but not from being a scholar. His most recent book is a case of life imitating art: He researched and wrote about retirement in The Life to Come: Re-Creating Retirement (Wesley’s Foundery Books, 2018). Tipton interviewed retirees in Atlanta and Silicon Valley about their plans for and realizations about retirement, and found that the pursuits of those he interviewed range widely: Some are getting in shape; others are falling in love. A few are working to check items off their bucket lists.

“This is a book of dreams and doubts,” Tipton explains, noting that retirement is less secure and certain today that it was for the immediately preceding generations.

One thing is certain for this retiree: He’s not done yet. He says his plan for retirement is typical of many professors: “I’m retiring so I can get more work done.”

Tipton says he has been “graced” to call Candler home for the entirety of his academic career, an arrangement that has paid healthy dividends to the school as well, Franklin observes.

“He’s a friend to the institution who gives his best for the common good.” —VL

BISHOP WOODIE W. WHITE: A Pioneer with Powerful Prayers

Photo credit: Cindy Brown 09T

Photo credit: Cindy Brown 09T

Bishop Woodie White is far too humble to tell you himself, but he is a pioneer.

That’s how his colleague Anne Burkholder describes White, who served as Candler’s bishop-in-residence from 2004 to 2016. Burkholder, associate dean of Methodist studies, is amazed by both White’s humility and his accomplishments.

His first pastorate was a cross-racial appointment in Detroit in the 1960s. He served as a delegate to five General Conferences, including the 1968 gathering that birthed The United Methodist Church. He worked tirelessly to integrate the church, becoming the first General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race in 1969. Elected bishop in 1984, he led the Indiana Conference in building four dormitories at Africa University in Zimbabwe. Both a dormitory and a bridge are named in his honor there. And even in his (second) retirement, he is still active in the field of social justice, serving as chairman of the mission board of The Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights at Clark Atlanta University.

When White retired from the episcopacy, he accepted the post of bishop-in-residence at Candler expecting to stay four years. Instead, he stayed 12, witnessing several milestones at the school, including new leadership, curriculum, and facilities.

“It’s been amazing,” he reflected as he retired. “It’s been a very decisive 12 years for the school. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Given his trademark humility, White isn’t prone to being prideful, but he is proud that one of his Candler classes—The Methodist Church and Race—has been transformative for many students.

Several years ago, he added a civil rights heritage tour to the class. The tour takes students to 12 Alabama sites significant to the civil rights movement. Among the most memorable is 16th Street Baptist Church, where four young girls were killed in 1963 when a bomb exploded there. The tour culminates in a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in commemoration of Bloody Sunday.

“The students have overwhelmingly expressed appreciation for what they have called a transformational experience,” the bishop shares. “If anything gives me pride, that does.”

One of those transformed students is Natalie Wilson Faulkner 18T, who describes the tour as “life-changing.”

“I have an entirely new appreciation for the civil rights movement after that experience, and now I feel empowered to serve as an activist,” she says.

Faulkner also praises White’s teaching style and compassionate nature, which cultivated an atmosphere of trust in his classrooms.

“Bishop White gives students his personal perspective, knowledge, and experience in his classes,” she says. “He is one of the most compassionate people I have ever met. He teaches difficult topics that many people address with anger, but instead he teaches us with love and compassion, recognizing that we all come from different experiences.

“He addressed really tough questions in his class, but he did it in a way that valued my questions and opinions,” she recalls. “I loved that he encouraged us to address our own family history and past experiences as part of the class.”

White’s tenure at Candler was notable for other contributions as well, particularly his moving and theologically rich prayers in chapel, at ceremonial occasions, and at the start of each of his classes.

“That’s probably the most striking thing about Bishop White,” Brian Tillman 11T says. “His prayers get right to the heart of the matter.”

The manner in which the Candler community embraced his prayers surprised White.

“That was something I did not expect,” he says. “I never associated my prayers with other people per se. It was what I did. The Candler community’s response to my prayers has made me more conscious of the importance of public prayer. That’s been a gift the Candler community has given to me.”

Former students like Tillman can talk at length about gifts White has given to them. Tillman first met White during his time as bishop of the Indiana Conference. Tillman, then a teacher, was wrestling with a call to ministry, and the two met to talk. Tillman continued to teach school and later moved to Atlanta, where he reconnected with White at church. It wasn’t long before Tillman decided to follow his call and enrolled at Candler. He is effusive in praising White for his guidance and compassion.

“He’s the real deal,” says Tillman, now associate pastor of Ben Hill UMC in Atlanta. “People love him across racial lines, across theological lines. He’s honest, he’s wise.”

White continues to mentor Tillman and other former students, and Tillman’s emotions come to the surface when he describes the experience.

“What’s it like? I never understood what it meant when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples,” Tillman says, his voice breaking as he recalls a Maundy Thursday service during his time as a Candler student. “Bishop White was washing feet. I never felt that Scripture like that before. Bishop White washing my feet? No!

“It was humbling,” he continues. “I will never, never, never forget that. Ever.”

As for White, he says he will never forget the zest that Candler students have for ministry and their genuine excitement in serving.

White and his wife, Kim, continue to make metro Atlanta home, along with three of their five children and seven of their eight grandchildren. Perhaps that’s close enough for him to offer a prayer at a Candler gathering once in a while. —VL

Passing the Torch Photo Credit: Ververidis Vasilis /