For the second year in a row, Candler’s traditional Honors Day Convocation celebrating vocational and academic excellence took place virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The community gathered online on April 27 at 11:30 a.m. to view a Candler-produced video highlighting the outstanding students, faculty, and staff of 2020-2021 and the awards they won.
Honorees for vocational excellence and community service
This year there were two recipients of the Claude H. Thompson Award, which is presented to a student(s) who demonstrate concern that the gospel of Christ comes to complete expression in the lives of men and women through acts of justice and reconciliation.
The first recipient, Dan Levine, MDiv 2022, has loved the supportive community which has embraced them fully for who they are and has been a safe place for them to land, through their instructors, classmates, and especially this year through the Bonhoeffer House Virtual Formation Community. The support from the Candler community has strengthened them for their continued work, both in the local church and in the work for full inclusion of queer and transgender people in The United Methodist Church.
The second recipient, Darrin Sims, MDiv 2021, says that one of the most important things he has learned during his time at Candler is that service to one’s community is one of the highest honors of our lives. In his words, “We must always strive to show up and show out for our people.”
This year there were two recipients for the Berta R. and James T. Laney Award in Contextual Education, presented to a third-year MDiv student(s) who have completed both years of Contextual Education and whose engagement with the practices of ministry exemplify H. Richard Niebuhr’s concern to do theology as simultaneous reflection and action carried out within the personal and social context of love of God and neighbor.
The first recipient, Alex Revelle, says he found most meaningful how Candler’s contextual education experiences pushed him from day one to take what he was learning in class, be challenged with a cohort of learners, and figure out how to apply it to the real-world setting in which he was working. Whether serving as a hospital chaplain or working with a local congregation to build affordable housing in southwest Atlanta, he attests that the contextual education process made him not merely a better seminarian but also a better human being.
The second recipient, James Ginn, completed Con Ed I, Con Ed II, and a summer internship at Lee Arrendale State Prison. Having worked as an educator and a police officer in prior careers, he came to prison chaplaincy interested in the way that ministries could prevent incarceration and recidivism and support returning citizens. During a time when few volunteers were allowed to be present at Arrendale, James was able to gain permission to work at the prison. He worked diligently alongside Chaplain Susan Bishop during a particularly challenging time to meet the needs of the Arrendale community.
Jonese Austin, MDiv 2022, received the Charles O. Smith, Jr. Scholarship, given with the support of Deen Day Smith and awarded to a second-year student with exceptional promise for service in ministry in the Baptist tradition. Jonese shares that her Contextual Education II internship at Ebenezer Baptist Church has been meaningful in many ways, providing her with the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to prepare for Baptist ministry. The highlight of her experience has been the conversations she has had with members of the congregation, feeling the support of her Ebenezer family. Having these encounters and seeing the true impact of the tasks, projects, and events she has worked on makes her realize again why she does what she does, reigniting her passion for ministry.
Austin also received the Erskine-Smith-Moseley Award, established to honor Candler’s first black academic and given annually to a student of the Black Church Studies Program who portrays prophetic and compassionate leadership. During her time at Candler, Jonese has found her Black Church Studies courses meaningful in helping her to come to a deeper understanding of her calling within the Black Baptist Church and the academy. Specifically, her Black Church Studies sociology of religion courses helped her to further develop her passion for studying the Black Church and her commitment to changing the Black Church in ways that better meet the needs of those who have often been marginalized within Black Church and Black Baptist Church spaces.
Erin Sears, MDiv 2021, received the Fellowship Seminarian Award, which is administered by The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts and presented to the graduating student who displays outstanding leadership in worship arts. During her time at Candler, Erin has loved how formation goes beyond the classroom. She will take with her the meaningful experiences of spiritual transformation and renewal she found in the arts and worship at Candler, including attending, participating in, and leading worship within Cannon Chapel, the community, and most especially the Helms Facility at Metro Transitional Center in Atlanta.
Rachal Little, MDiv 2021, received the Hoyt Hickman Award, which is presented to the senior who, in the opinion of the Emory Chapter of the Order of St. Luke, has most contributed to the worship life of Candler through liturgical leadership and pastoral care. Getting to be part of the worship life at Candler has been one of Rachal’s favorite parts of her seminary experience. She is grateful to have worked on a diverse team with so many creative and inspiring peers from different years, degree programs, and denominations. The Office of Worship team and Dean Khalia Williams have been important teachers and sources of encouragement to her during her time at Candler, and she appreciates the time she got to spend as a member of the Office of Worship.
Astria Wilson, MDiv 2021, received the Candler Community Service Award, presented to the graduating student who has given outstanding service to the Candler community. Astria entered Candler with a desire to serve those with whom she finds herself in community. Her time at Candler offered her the opportunity to serve within both the School of Theology and the larger Emory community. She has learned the true meaning of servant leadership and support for those around her. For her, community service is a missional effort; one must connect to people and lead alongside them, not in front of them. She leaves Candler knowing that although she might be out front, the work happens among the people.
Eric Vickers, MDiv 2021, received the John Owen Smith Award, presented to the MDiv senior who is best able to communicate faithfully and imaginatively the gospel through preaching. The Candler experience has taught Eric that a prepared mind and humble heart create the fertile ground for faithful and imaginative preaching. Being theologically formed and nurtured through Candler deepened his commitment not only to preach about Jesus, but to preach the radical message that Jesus proclaimed: good news to the poor, the release of the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, setting the oppressed free, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.
Melanie Foust, MDiv 2021, received the Frederick Buechner Award. Established by the Frederick Buechner Center of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the award is given to the student who, in the opinion of the faculty, best exemplifies the gifts of imagination, creativity and literary excellence in preaching that have been hallmarks of Buechner’s own preaching and writing. Learning to preach at Candler has taught Melanie the gift of finding one’s voice and preaching from one’s particularity, while also crafting sermons through the empowerment of the Spirit—the Spirit that can speak to diverse peoples who bring all of their own particularities to the sermonic moment.
Alex Revelle, MDiv 2021, received the John W. Rustin Award, which is presented to the student who, in the opinion of the preaching faculty, best exhibits the capacity for prophetic preaching. While he admits that he arrived at Candler with timidity towards prophetic preaching, the process of sitting in classes or meeting with incredible professors, such as Dr. Emmanuel Lartey, Dr. Jacob Wright, Dr. Ted Smith, and Dr. Teresa Fry Brown, enabled Alex to see firsthand the passion they had for the topic they were teaching. He realized that a critical key to being a great professor, pastor, or preacher is first by ensuring that his life serves as an example of what he hopes to teach, preach and be. He is prayerful that such a life will contribute to his continued growth in the area of prophetic preaching.
Rosalind Turner, MDiv 2021, received the Ruth Sewell Flowers Award, which is presented to the senior MDiv student who has shown the greatest improvement in ministerial qualifications during three years spent at Candler. Rosalind entered Candler as a candidate for ordination in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and prior to graduation she prayerfully will be considered and ordained as an itinerant elder in that denomination. With the support of her colleagues at Candler, Rosalind has grown by establishing her voice as a budding womanist theologian. Her desire to seek justice for all people motivated her academic endeavors to include pursuing a concentration in Race and Religion. She understands personal growth together with academic growth will help shape the people she will serve. Rosalind’s words to live by are, “We must grow if we desire to go.”
This year there were two recipients of the G. Ray Jordan Award, which is presented to the MDiv senior(s) who show unusual promise for usefulness in ministry and demonstrate excellence in integrating academic study with constructive leadership and service.
The first recipient, Marisa Sifontes, MDiv 2021, says that since her very semester at Candler, sitting in Theology and Ethics of Reconciliation with Dr. Lambelet, she has worked to understand how we as Christians can approach the work of reconciling ourselves both with God and with each other. Over the past three years, Marisa has done her best to bring that work to life, as part of her coursework, at her contextual education parish, and in her day-to-day interactions. It is the work of connection, of listening, of telling stories, that drives her both inside and outside the classroom. More than anything, the Candler community has fueled her work and given her hope as she grows into her vocation and expands her ministry.
The second recipient is Joselyn Spence, MDiv 2021. There are many things Joselyn has loved about her Candler experience. It is hard to choose one, but she notes that both of her contextual education experiences, at Gwinnett Medical Center and Spelman College, provided rich opportunities to integrate and practice the pastoral care she was learning and discussing in the classrooms. In addition, the mentorship from professors and site supervisors gave her sacred space to conceptualize her own understanding and model of care she desires to offer to the communities she will serve beyond her time at Candler.
Brianna Heath, MTS 2022, received the inaugural Pitts Theology Library Student Research Award. Established this year, the award is presented to the student who demonstrates creativity in research, maturity in theological thought, and excellence in using library resources to mount an argument, all demonstrated through a submitted research project. As an MTS student studying at the intersections of performance studies and womanist theology, Candler has given Brianna the space and time to wrestle with questions that bring her joy. She says, “Being a part of an academic community that considers the whole person has helped me embrace this joy and radical love, for myself and my community, that grounds my work.”
Honorees for academic excellence
The United Methodist Foundation for Christian Higher Education Award is presented each year to a rising MDiv junior, middler, and senior. Recipients must have been active members of the UMC for at least one year and must demonstrate outstanding scholarship and leadership ability. The Admissions staff will select a recipient from the incoming class for the junior award.
Sandra Parks, MDiv 2023, and Jay Horton, MDiv 2022, received the awards for a rising middler and senior. Sandra says that adding depth to her Christian knowledge for the purpose of enhancing service and growth has long been her goal, and becoming a student at Candler has not been a disappointment in helping her to achieve it. Courses and studies in public worship, early church thought, moral leadership, and social justice have taken her to enriching spheres, igniting a renewed vigor to serve God continuously.
Jay’s Candler education and experiences have instilled in him a greater appreciation for the global Methodist connection, historic Wesleyan way of love, life, and ministry in community, and a renewed call always to be a peacemaker and justice-seeker.
This year two individuals received The United Methodist First Career Seminary Award, which is presented to a student(s) for whom ministry will be the recipients’ first career. Recipients must be planning to enter parish ministry and must demonstrate outstanding scholarship and leadership ability.
The first recipient is Katie Wax, MDiv 2023. Katie has loved three aspects of her first-year Candler experience that have challenged, encouraged, and pushed her to a deeper level of asking questions. She has gained new insights about food insecurity and the importance of our bodies through the contextual education program, pursued her love for the Old Testament, and deepened her desire to learn about and challenge United Methodist history and polity. Each of these is a critical component in solidifying her call as an elder in The United Methodist Church. As she continues to discern her call to ministry, she prays to glean effective ways of journeying with people both religious and non-religious, meeting them where they are, and emphasizing the importance of health, bodies, and self-care.
The second recipient, Annie Deaderick, MDiv 2022, has loved the relationships she has formed at Candler, especially through being involved in the formation communities for two years. The friendships and relationships she has built in these communities have challenged her and made her a better seminarian.
Chase McKoon, MDiv 2023, received the United Methodist Seminary Award, presented to a member of the first-year class who demonstrates outstanding scholarship and leadership ability and plans to enter parish ministry. Chase has loved learning about how to apply the weighty theology that we learn in our classrooms to a variety of forms of practical ministry settings. Whether it be a conversation with a fellow volunteer at a local food bank or the Sunday School classroom, he has loved learning how to share with others the work that we engage here at Candler.
Matt Schramm, MTS 2021, received the Mary Katherine (Myki) Mobley Memorial Award, which is presented to the MTS student who demonstrates academic excellence and significant social concern. Matt says that his time at Candler has allowed him to explore a wide variety of theological traditions, crossing denominational, cultural, and historical boundaries. This breadth of study allowed him to explore how theological thinking can manifest in different forms of life in the world, and, in turn, has enriched his understanding of the connection between his faith commitments and his socio-political commitments.
Theneshia Dixon, MDiv 2022, received the Nolan B. Harmon Award, presented to the second-year MDiv student who has shown the most marked improvement during the first two years at Candler. Theneshia has loved the variety of opportunities at Candler that have been available to assist in discerning her call to ministry. Candler’s faculty support has allowed her to venture beyond her comfort zone and lean into her gifts.
Eunchong Kim, MDiv 2022, received the James D. and Alice Slay Award, which is presented to the second-year MDiv student who exhibits outstanding academic performance and promise for pastoral ministry. Eunchong has loved exploring both fields of scholarship and Christian ministry at Candler. In so doing, she has learned that theology cannot be separated from actual ministry and has hopes to become a bridge between these two fields throughout her academic and ministry journey.
Janine Warrington, MDiv 2022, received the Chad Davis Memorial Award, which was established by Dr. Sara Mandell in memory of The Rev. James Chadwick Davis, a 1959 graduate of Candler. The Bible faculty selects a recipient who has done well in Old or New Testament courses. Attending Candler has been an important part of Janine’s journey. Not only has she learned about original biblical languages, different hermeneutics, and exegetical methods, but she also has learned much from her professors’ examples of pedagogy and care. Moving forward, she hopes to continue learning and teaching, and to experiment with ways of making biblical education more accessible and fun for all people. Candler has provided her with a close network of friends that continues to be essential to her success, and she is especially grateful for the gift of her partner Shelby, one of the first people she met at Candler.
Minoo Nam, MDiv 2021, received the Boone M. Bowen Award, which is presented to the student who, in the opinion of the biblical studies faculty, has the best record in biblical Hebrew. Minoo says that life at Candler has vivified his ministerial and academic vocation, equipping him to be a critical thinker, a promising exegete, and a passionate pastor. Learning about the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and its original cognate languages has taught him what the ancient, yet divine, Word continues to reveal to the world in which we live today.
Carson Thaxton, MDiv 2021, received the Russell E. Richey Award, which is presented to the student who has demonstrated excellence in Wesleyan studies. Carson has loved, learned, and found meaningful the various ways in which we worship together. Many perspectives, one God; many cultures, one Christ; many opinions, but one Holy Spirit that binds us. All of this comes to beautiful fruition in our genuine sharing of and as the body of Christ. His prayer is that we keep on praising God!
The Awards for Academic Excellence are presented to the MDiv senior and the MTS senior who, in the opinion of the faculty, have achieved the highest academic excellence. Traditionally, these students have the honor of serving as student marshals at Emory’s Commencement service, leading the procession of theology graduates and representing their fellow graduates on stage when the Emory President formally confers their degrees.
Seul-bin Lee is the recipient of the MDiv Award for Academic Excellence. Seul-bin’s theological learning, research, and writing have been more grounded in her social self and the history that she represents as a person from Gwangju in South Korea, which carries the intergenerational trauma of military coup massacre. As she has pursued concentrations in theology and ethics and chaplaincy, her awakened awareness of her social location became the ground from which she has developed compassion with other groups who have collectively suffered from the consequences of human sin throughout history. She is grateful that her academic endeavors have become a spiritual and vocational discipline, during which she continuously dances with and wrestles with the triad of God, lived experiences of people, and her calling to become a minister and scholar.
Alaina Keller is the recipient of the MTS Award for Academic Excellence. At the end of her time at Candler, Alaina is grateful for the many blessings she has discovered here, for the stalwart support and guidance from incredible professors as well as for the newfound friendships within her MTS cohort. These heartfelt relationships, more than any research or thesis paper, have continually grounded her in faith and inspired her to question, to learn, and to reach beyond what she initially thought was possible for herself.
Faculty and Staff Honors
Ashly Cargle-Thompson, associate director of financial aid and admissions, received the award for Outstanding Service to the Candler Community by a Staff Member, conferred by Candler students. Ashly is known for her diligence and tenacity in one of the most impactful jobs within Candler. On a daily basis, she manages the financial aspect of the student experience, going above and beyond to ensure students are aware of resources and are making sound financial choices. Students have described her as a tireless advocate with a loving spirit, willing to lend her expertise to not only Candler students but the entire Emory community. Her willingness to be present with students and support them as they navigated the financial aspect of theological education, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been an example of her commitment to excellence and the overall well-being of Candler students.
Sarah Bogue, assistant professor in the practice of the history of Christianity and director of digital learning, received the award for Outstanding Service to the Candler Community by a Faculty Member, conferred by students. Bogue has helped make it possible for Candler to function in a pandemic, providing tech and pedagogical support and expertise, a listening ear, humor, and music to faculty, staff, and students. As a professor, Bogue is known for her ability to make classroom learning applicable to a contemporary context, even when teaching a class like Medieval Christian Thought and Culture. Her personality shines through in the way she teaches, and it is evident that she desires to bring the academy to life with honesty, compassion, and attention to detail.
Noel Erskine, professor of theology and ethics, received the “On Eagle’s Wings” Award for Excellence in Teaching, conferred by the senior class in recognition of faithful and dedicated service. Throughout his time at Candler, Erskine has been instrumental in leading the Candler community forward. Not only is he known for his revolutionary work as a thought leader in the areas of theology and ethics, but he is also known for his pedagogical style which students describe as transformative and groundbreaking, filled with love, wisdom, and compassion. His commitment to scholarship invites his students to interrogate their embedded theologies alongside the voices and writings of a rich and diverse list of scholars and thought leaders. This approach to teaching makes his classrooms not only spaces of learning, but laboratories in which budding scholars emerge with a new sense of self and a renewed commitment to understanding the dynamic natures of ethics and theology.
Congratulations to all of this year’s awardees!