On April 20, the Candler community gathered in Cannon Chapel to celebrate vocational and academic excellence in its traditional Honors Day Convocation. Watch video of the ceremony here.
Here’s a recap of the award recipients and how Candler has influenced their lives and callings.
HONORS IN SCHOLASTIC AND MINISTERIAL LEADERSHIP
The Charles O. Smith Jr. Scholarship Award is given with the support of Deen Day Smith and presented to a rising senior with exceptional promise for service in ministry in the Baptist tradition. This year’s recipient is Brandon Brown, who maintains a sincere concern for the needs of his community and seeks to utilize his interest in chaplaincy and pastoral leadership to engage the pressing theological issues impacting local congregations. Brown credits Candler’s Baptist Studies program as essential in helping to expand his ministerial opportunities and vocational interests.
The Pitts Library Research Scholarship 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. This year’s recipient is Emily-Elizabeth Castelloe, who has dedicated her Candler experience to deeply informed scholarship culminating in the completion of a master’s thesis inspired by a lifetime of service to The United Methodist Church entitled “The Makings of a Methodist: Early Christian Education for Conversion, Profession, and Membership in the Early Methodist Movement (1738-1864).”
The Berta R. and James T. Laney Award in Contextual Education is presented to a third-year MDiv student who has completed both years of Contextual Education and whose engagement with the practices of ministry exemplifies 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. This year’s recipient is Christopher “Trace” Rudolph III, who is celebrated for his ability to connect the academic world to an on-the-ground ministerial practice, especially utilizing contemplative approaches to ministry to craft a wholesome practice of care and justice.
The Erskine-Smith-Moseley Award was established to honor Candler’s earliest Black academic appointments. It is given annually to a student of the Black Church Studies Program who portrays prophetic and compassionate leadership. This year’s recipient is Lessie Johnson. Johnson has endured many challenges during her academic journey and credits the love and support of the Candler community—both student colleagues and faculty members—for guiding her quest to overcome adversity. Her resilient spirit and everlasting faith in God have informed her leadership and enhanced her gifts in ministry.
HONORS IN THE WESLEYAN TRADITION
Allison Burnette received the United Methodist First Career Seminary Award, presented to a United Methodist student for whom ministry will be a first career and who has demonstrated outstanding scholarship and leadership. Throughout her time at Candler, Burnette has learned to integrate spirituality and social action to create spaces of true belonging. With an ecumenical slate of classmates and professors, a cross-racial internship in a local United Methodist Church, and the opportunity to study with Methodists from around the world at Wesley House in Cambridge, England, she has been struck by the power of engaging across difference. Reconnecting with her Methodist roots in these diverse communities has given Burnette hope for the future of the church universal, as well as for The United Methodist Church she calls home.
Grace Emmanuelle Okerson received the United Methodist Seminary Award, given to a second-year, full-time, degree-seeking United Methodist student who exhibits unusual promise of usefulness in the local parish and who demonstrates outstanding scholarship and leadership ability. Okerson has found tremendous joy in serving the Candler community in her role as vice president of the Black Student Caucus. She credits her communal experiences with shaping her understanding that true leadership often happens behind the scenes and in the small spaces.
The United Methodist Foundation for Christian Higher Education Award is presented each year to a rising MDiv junior, middler and senior who have demonstrated outstanding scholarship and leadership ability. The recipient in the rising junior category is Marcus Gaut, who will begin a Master of Divinity degree at Candler in the fall of 2023. Gaut, a nursing professional, is eager to join the Candler community in the fall and believes in Candler’s commitment to providing diverse learning experiences for its students. He has found Candler’s support of those desiring to translate professional experience into pastoral ministry to be profound and timely.
The recipient in the rising middler category is Joy Ducree Gregory, who has loved listening to and growing from the different theological perspectives expressed in her classes, private conversations, and chapel experiences. While exploring the complexities of her theological beliefs, she’s also discovering a deeply supportive and meaningful community consisting of faculty and students which inspires her zeal for learning.
The recipient in the rising senior category is Daniel Polito, who has loved the amazing education and leadership opportunities that he has encountered during his time at Candler. He particularly appreciates the ways in which Candler and its community challenge him to integrate thought and practice inside the classroom, his youth ministry at North Decatur United Methodist Church, and his daily life.
Scott Taylor received the Russell E. Richey Award, presented to a student who has demonstrated excellence in Wesleyan studies. Over the past three years at Candler, Taylor has felt challenged and affirmed as he has discerned a specific call into parish ministry and is deeply grateful for the overwhelming support he has received from faculty, administration, and students. As he leaves Candler, he feels empowered and strengthened for a life in service to the Church and the Mission of God.
HONORS IN VOCATIONAL AND LITURGICAL EXCELLENCE
Nicholas Grainger received the Fellowship Seminarian Award, which is presented to the United Methodist senior who displays outstanding leadership in worship arts. Grainger has been a leader in both the Office of Worship and Teaching Parish communities. As a student pastor, he has been intentional about integrating his classroom experience with his congregational leadership.
The Hoyt Hickman Award of the Order of St. Luke is presented to the senior who has made a significant contribution to the worship and prayer life of the school through acts of liturgical leadership and pastoral care. This year’s recipient is Justala Faith Simpson. For the past few years, worship and the arts has been fertile grounds for Simpson’s expression of faith and ecumenical engagement. She contends that one’s worship and liturgical life is not just a place to find answers—rather to open oneself to the vastness of God’s creation and our place within it.
Sarah Bueter received the Frederick Buechner Award, established by the Frederick Buechner Center of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and given to the student who best exemplifies the imagination, creativity, and literary excellence in preaching that are hallmarks of Buechner’s own preaching and writing. Bueter considers Candler’s ecumenical spaces as meaningful in expanding her Catholic imagination even as it deepened a compassionate and more critical love for her own tradition that does not promote women to preach. She even remembers trying to bypass the preaching requirement her first year at Candler (not possible!), only to discover in class that peers recognized gifts in her before she herself was able to do so. It is meaningful that Candler taught her that, yes, Catholic women preach, and she preaches in creative actions accompanying people at the margins, but also in the gentle, unassuming accompaniment of the community in the day-to-day quotidian.
Dyke Crane received the John W. Rustin Award, presented to the student who, in the opinion of the preaching faculty, best exhibits the capacity for prophetic preaching. Crane considers his time at Candler life changing. He’s had the honor of studying with and learning from some of the top theological minds in the academic world over the past three years. He feels that his greatest accomplishment is discovering his prophetic voice through the lens of Liberation Theology.
Justin Song received the John Owen Smith Award, presented to the senior who is best able to communicate the gospel faithfully and imaginatively through preaching. Song has loved, learned, and found meaningful the art and science of language. His professors at Candler have helped him realize that the power to articulate one’s thoughts, materialize, and thus bring into existence what is ineffable into words is truly the most powerful ability known to humankind. He is forever grateful to his professors and colleagues at Candler for cultivating a passion for reading, writing, learning, and critical thinking. Their wisdom and love have shaped his understanding of justice and given him the tools to articulate his calling to prophetic solidarity with marginalized people.
HONORS IN TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP AND COMMUNITY SERVICE
Sangeon Kim received the Nolan B. Harmon Award, presented to a second-year student who has shown the most marked improvement during the first two years at Candler. Through Candler’s theological education, Kim has come to love God more passionately, to learn how to convey such love of God to the neighbors and the world, and to find out the reason why he should devote his life to such a vocational calling.
Brittain Lawrence received the James D. and Alice Slay Award, which is presented to a second-year student who exhibits promise for pastoral ministry through outstanding academic performance and achievement. Lawrence has dedicated herself to fostering the flourishing of the Candler community. Through her work with the Office of Student Life, she has practiced pastoral care at the community level by discerning the pulse of the community and responding with programming that addresses student needs. Also, as an academic writing tutor, she has deeply enjoyed working with fellow seminarians to develop their writing skills. In her role as the New Student Orientation Coordinator for Communications and Branding in 2022, she collaborated with the NSO team to engage, support, inform, and welcome students to Candler with radical hospitality.
The Ruth Sewell Flowers Award is given to a senior who has shown marked growth in ministerial qualifications during the three years at Candler. This year’s recipient is Queen Jonafá Tervalon, whose favorite quality about her Candler experience has been the relationships she has built during her time here. During the difficult times, her classmates’ encouragement and shared experiences have motivated her to persevere and also reinforced the power of communal prayer and uplift.
D’Marquis Allen received the Claude H. Thompson Award, presented to a student who demonstrates concern that the gospel of Christ comes to concrete expression in the lives of men and women through acts of justice and reconciliation. Allen has loved embracing his peers through the ups and downs of the seminary journey, affirming himself and others of their belonging in the Candler community. Like Professor Claude Thompson himself, he has found deep purpose in animating his theology through justice efforts and helping the Black church reimagine its role in an ever-changing world.
Rebekah Malpass received the G. Ray Jordan Award, presented to the senior who shows unusual promise for usefulness in ministry and demonstrates excellence in integrating academic study with constructive leadership and service. Malpass has discovered meaning in her seminary experience through her ability to apply the knowledge she’s learned in the classroom to her work in the community. The experiences, conversations, and reading that occur within the walls of Candler gave her a deeper understanding of her vocation, particularly around what it means (to draw on the work of Jennifer McBride) to be “the church for the world.”
Cerise Barton received the Candler Community Service Award, presented to the graduating student who has given outstanding service to the Candler community. Barton has identified Candler as the apex of her growth into meaningful authenticity, curiosity, and agency. She began her Candler journey in need of rebuilding herself while gathering the tools for the experiences ahead. She also discovered the community that allowed her to find new strengths, feel connected, and thrive. It’s an honor for her to receive this award as a reflection and a spirit of thanksgiving for pouring into the same community that has poured into her.
HONORS FOR ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE
The Boone M. Bowen Award is presented to the student who, in the opinion of the biblical studies faculty, has the best record in biblical Hebrew. This year there were two recipients: Connor Perry and Alexis Reed.
Perry’s experience at Candler has been defined by exploration and discovery. Candler has provided the incredible opportunity for him to explore other countries: he was awarded a study abroad opportunity to study in Munich for a year to explore Scripture, religion, faith, and meaning in new ways, and to discover and create himself as a very different person than he imagined he’d be when he entered.
Reed has loved learning biblical Hebrew, for she believes the ancient language illuminates the beauty, artistry, and complexities of the Hebrew Bible. Her passion for biblical Hebrew is only eclipsed by her love of the Hebrew Bible and championing the stories of women found in the biblical text. She is grateful for her time at Candler and especially for the Biblical Studies faculty who taught her the importance of teaching biblical studies in a way that is both informative and transformative.
Larry Varghese 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, and is presented to a student who has excelled in Old or New Testament courses. Varghese is honored for his exceptional performance in Old Testament courses. He is an ordained minister in the Mar Thoma church and loves biblical studies. He finds that the expertise of the faculty along with their pastoral sensibilities make the world of biblical studies intense and engaging. He immensely appreciates the opportunity to study under the best teachers and alongside a great community.
The Mary Katherine (Myki) Mobley Memorial Award is presented to an MTS student who demonstrates both academic excellence and significant social concern. Two students were honored this year: Marija Pritchard and Mari Shiukashvili.
Pritchard credits Candler for the opportunity to explore and research the relationship between religion and public health to better the health of communities with support from amazing faculty and staff.
Shiukashvili considers her Candler journey quite challenging yet the most rewarding experience of her life. She credits Emory’s remarkable faculty, staff, and students for her academic achievements as well as personal growth. She has been a compassionate leader and tireless advocate for students, dedicating much of her time and resources to building a strong community at Candler. She is excited to continue her ministry at the intersection of academia, faith-based management, and theology.
Two students were presented with the MTS Award for Academic Excellence, given to the MTS senior(s) who have achieved the highest academic excellence: Joshua Howard and Michael Yorke.
Howard identifies the most meaningful part of his time at Candler as the connections he’s made with faculty, staff and students. More specifically, the Candler faculty has taught him to value his experiences in relation to his scholarship. They have also made his research more impactful by connecting it to broader historical and social problems, such as racial, gender, and economic inequality.
Yorke has benefited immensely from the phenomenal faculty at Candler. They have taught him to read charitably, critically, and (perhaps most importantly) to read a lot. In this process, they’ve helped him to find his theological and historical voice by helping him to articulate better questions and resist simple answers.
The MDiv Award for Academic Excellence is presented to the MDiv senior who has achieved the highest academic excellence. This year’s recipient is Emily-Elizabeth Castelloe, who encourages innovative engagement and pushes the imagination of what the Church can be for the 21st century. During her time at Candler, she’s discovered that the academic opportunities most meaningful to her were those that allowed her to reflect on how church tradition shapes our spiritual realities. She has found joy in bringing the voices of the past in concert with emerging scholarship and lived experiences to envision a more compassionate future for the church. Her high level of academic achievement can be attributed to her endless curiosity, commitment to asking the tough questions, guidance by her professors, and the abounding grace of God.
FACULTY AND STAFF HONORS
Joel B. Kemp, assistant professor of Hebrew Bible, received the award for Outstanding Service to the Candler Community by a Faculty Member, conferred by the student body. Kemp was hailed for his positive attitude in the classroom, his attention to the needs of students and willingness to provide a listening ear, and his ability to engage and encourage students’ imagination in their work. Student nominators say that Kemp’s enthusiasm and support was critical throughout the challenging transitions of COVID-19, and particularly highlight his success teaching in new hybrid spaces brought about by the pandemic.
Assistant Dean of Students Allison Henderson-Brooks received the award for Outstanding Service to the Candler Community by a Staff Member, conferred by the student body. She was honored for leading with grace, wisdom, energy, innovation, inclusivity, intentionality, and a deep reverence for theological education. One student wrote, “She is the backbone of student support here at Candler. If people knew how many times students went to her office to deal with some of the most intense and painful parts of their lives, they would be amazed.”
Ryan Bonfiglio, assistant professor in the practice of Old Testament and director of The Candler Foundry, received the “On Eagle’s Wings” Award for Excellence in Teaching, conferred by the senior class in recognition of faithful and dedicated service. Bonfiglio was noted for showing deep care for his students, taking the time to learn what excites them in the classroom, and bringing energy to challenging theological topics. Wrote one student, “I am genuinely excited to come to his class every day. I recommend taking his class to everyone I meet, as he genuinely wants his students to learn and is always looking for ways to connect with the work we are doing.”
Congratulations to all of this year’s honorees!
Watch a recording of the ceremony here.
Preview photo: Cindy Brown 09T