Justin.jpgI believe some of the most wonderful moments in life come when we can look back on a situation and, with fondness in our voice, describe it as “unexpected.” That is how I have found myself speaking of this summer as it draws to a close.

This summer I had the opportunity to work with the high school youth theology institute at my undergraduate school, Trevecca Nazarene University. This Nashville-based program, which goes under the name Six8 Fellowship, looks to Micah 6:8 as a guide and seeks to inspire students to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and neighbor.” It was an exciting chance to see up close how this program, cut from the same cloth as Candler’s Youth Theological Initiative, is impacting high school students all across the country. It was also a gift to be able to participate in this program through the resources of the Candler Advantage program, which allows seminary students like myself to have self-directed summer internship experiences without placing a financial burden on the churches or programs that host us.

Truth be told, I did not expect to fall in love with the work I was doing. I found myself at the end of the school year wishing to spend the summer in Nashville in hopes that I could search for more long-term opportunities that could solidify as I prepare to graduate in less than a year. I have a fantastic support network in Nashville because of Trevecca, and it only made sense for me to take an internship that would allow me to serve my alma mater in a meaningful way as I began thinking about those long-term opportunities. If you haven’t caught the drift of what I’m saying, I’m indicating in a perhaps too-nice way that working with Six8 wasn’t the primary reason I took the internship. (It never hurts to be honest, right? Actually, if you really pressed me this time a year ago, I would have told you that youth ministry was not even close to the top of my “hopes and dreams” list.)

What happened next, though, caught me off guard: the job that was at first “just an internship” became a passion. The Six8 Fellowship was a wonderful convergence of life experiences that I did not anticipate. On the one hand, I brought with me the experiences and stories of my undergraduate years in the religion department and my familiarity with the city of Nashville. On the other hand, I brought with me the practical-theological formation that I have received at Candler in diverse contexts throughout Atlanta and diverse classrooms on campus. (I might also add “years spent as band camp counselor” to this list of life experiences that played a factor in my summer!)

justin-schoolcraft-story2.jpgMore than just personal life experiences, though, I was blown away by the transformation I was witnessing in the lives of the teenagers in the program. The summer culminated in a weeklong intensive, which we spent talking about being good stewards of God’s creation. The students engaged the classroom learning and the work we did on Trevecca’s dynamic urban farm with passion and leadership prowess. They were brilliant, funny, and contagious with their energy. Before the week was over, I found myself inspired by them as I led activities rooted in the practice of testimony, as I administered morning jazzercise, and even as I preached on a garden rooftop in the middle of downtown Nashville our last night. Never had I ever expected for several strands of my life to come together in such a meaningful way.

I suppose that is the whole point of going to seminary at a place like Candler. Candler is a place that allows you to build on the diverse life experiences you carry into the door with you on day one. It’s not a place that asks you to put on a theologian hat at the expense of all the other hats you wear: business worker, physician, lawyer, camp counselor, teacher – whatever those hats may be for you. Candler is a place where life experiences weave together in the most curious ways, and you find yourself a better servant of the Kingdom of God in whatever role and story you may reside in at any given moment.  And if you’re lucky, you may find yourself on the other side of seminary wearing a combination of hats you never thought possible, considering your situation and saying, with fondness, “Wow – this is unexpected.”

Top photo: Justin preaches during the last night of Six8.

Interested in working with high schoolers to help them become public theologians? Check out Candler's Youth Theological Initiative.

Want to learn more about internship opportunities at Candler? Click here.