Finding time to sit with Khalia J. Williams, our new assistant dean of worship and music and assistant professor in the practice of worship, is no small task. Since beginning at Candler this summer, Dean Williams has been constantly moving, from settling into her office to working with partners throughout the Candler and greater Atlanta communities. Add in her dissertation work on womanist liturgical theology, her family, and church life as an associate minister at Providence Missionary Baptist Church? Whew!

As we sat in Cannon Chapel one balmy fall day, I asked her how she maintains balance in this phase of enriching, busy days. “I attempt to be intentional in my work-life balance,” she says. “I want to find health and balance with my family. For the past three years, we have taken short breaks that coincide with the academic year, since my husband and I have been in those environments for some time.” And Williams admits that having a one-year-old son, Thomas Christian, helps her maintain daily limits.

Williams is from Los Angeles, and also spent a couple of years in the Bay Area. She is finishing her PhD from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Holding dual ordinations in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and American Baptist Churches USA denominations, her research interests inform her PhD work, and her ministry here at Candler. Her research area is liturgical studies, and her dissertation focuses on constructing a womanist liturgical theology of embodiment. A dancer since the age of four, Williams does not understand her faith as separate, or outside of, her body. Dance performance theory, the study of dance performance and the ways it impacts the dancer and the audience, she told me, can help one glean substantive theological insights.

Stephanie Milton prepares the elements for Holy Communion. Photo by Pat GrahamBeing aware that she is my supervisor, I wanted to know how her dissertation focus informs her vision for worship here at Candler, and in Cannon Chapel in particular. “How can I convince the students with dance backgrounds to get involved in worship?” I plaintively wailed. Well, I asked beseechingly. She laughed sympathetically. “Dance in seminary is a time issue; your time as a student is heavily mortgaged, it’s inconceivable to do anything else other than study. We suffer a little bit, those of us who are fully immersed in the world of dance as a way of life, because it feels like you have to shut off the embodied part of you to think of the mind part.” Movement can have an impact on students’ health, she says, and one of her goals is to incorporate sacred movement as spiritual practice.

Dean Williams has already opened the doors of the sanctuary to new liturgical experiences and welcomed in members of our student body who are seeking to educate the broader community about what inclusive worship space might mean. We recently were blessed by the inaugural Church and Disability Conference in September, a result of the hard work of dedicated student leaders and support by Candler’s Office of Worship. This will be an exciting and challenging year for both our new assistant dean, and her student staff: enhancing weekly worship, while trying to hold space for our spiritual development and balance academic rigors and our lives as partners, siblings, children and/or parents. Perhaps the Candler student community can consider Dean Williams an example of intentionality, academic pursuit, balance, and spiritual grounding.

Top photo by Bowtie Photos, LLC.