Candler AdvantageWe hear it time and again from our alumni: Contextual Education is one of the most relevant, formative pieces of the Master of Divinity curriculum. According to our Candler graduates, there is no better training for ministry than applying classroom learning to practical situations—with a reflection group and faculty mentoring, to boot. When they graduated from Candler, these newly minted theologians had a real advantage.

Today, Candler continues to leverage that strength through the Candler Advantage Summer Internship in Congregational Leadership, now in its fourth year. Candler Advantage builds on two years of Contextual Education, taking third-year MDiv students outside the classroom and immersing them in parishes of their choosing so they can more fully develop their pastoral leadership skills.

The intense 10-week, full-time internship earns students two credit hours and immeasurable experience in parish ministry. Those who are selected receive an $8,000 grant that helps cover their expenses and salary. That combination of generous funding, targeted placement and total immersion in a church ministry setting is something Candler is eager to extend to more students. And along that line, Candler has experienced some recent advantages of its own.

Candler Advantage received a significant boost in December 2012 with the establishment of The Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor and Reverend Rusty Taylor Endowment for Pastoral Ministry. Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor 75T and Rev. Rusty Taylor 75T, who live in Knoxville, Tenn., are no strangers to supporting their alma mater. Bishop Taylor, who serves the Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church, also sits on Emory’s Board of Trustees, and the couple maintains close ties to Candler. 

"We made this gift to Candler because we know that the future of The United Methodist Church will depend upon young clergy who will lead the church into the 21st century and beyond," Bishop Taylor says. "We are committed to the mission of Candler in preparing these leaders."

The Taylor Endowment and other gifts given to Candler Advantage are put to good, creative uses that are finely tailored to students’ interests and career goals. For Ashley Kirk, that means helping build a program in college-age ministry.

“Young adults experience one of the most formative times of their faith while in college, but ministry to this group is relatively underdeveloped in the church,” says Kirk, who is serving with The Gathering UMC in St. Louis, a city that’s home to several colleges. “The work will enable me to determine the specific context of my call, whether in on-campus ministry or in college-age ministry in the parish.”

Kirk hails from Missouri and is one of several Candler Advantage students heading home for the summer to contribute to their local communities. Tyler Sit and Darin Arnston are two others. 

Sit grew up in the Twin Cities suburb of Eden Prairie. It was a comfortable upbringing but one that drew him toward working with populations who had considerably fewer advantages. An interest in church planting led Sit to two-year-old Brooklyn Mosaic UMC in the less affluent Brooklyn Park area, northeast of Minneapolis.

“Mosaic offers a glimpse of what my own church planting ministry will look like in its beginning stages,” Sit said. “The congregation of Mosaic, coupled with its food pantry ministry for homeless youth, is focused and fearless in listening to the concerns of the community, identifying assets and catalyzing social change in whatever faithful ways it can.”

A native of the San Diego area, Arnston is serving at First UMC in suburban Chula Vista. The church is just 10 miles from the Mexican border and is one of the area’s few churches to offer programming in both English and Spanish. That kind of cultural mix, so endemic to Southern California and increasingly common across the country, is one many ministers will need to address sooner more likely than later.

“There is a need for churches in United Methodist conferences to become more welcoming to immigrant and bilingual communities if we are to live up to our denominational claim of ‘Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors,’” Arnston says. “Firsthand experience in such a ministry setting will expose me to the type of sensitivity and intentionality required to facilitate language across borders.”

The opportunity to experience new cultures is certainly one of Candler Advantage’s benefits, and Carrie Harris is one of two students testing those limits, geographically speaking.

Harris is in Northern Ireland at the East Belfast Mission Congregation. The other, Sari Brown (shown in the above photo, far left, during a Bible reading group), is serving in Medellin, Colombia. In Belfast, Harris is learning about the concept of “shared space,” no easy theme in a city that for decades was torn asunder by bloody battles between Protestant and Catholic.

“The whole city is filled with murals, ranging from peaceful and celebrating Belfast to violent imagery,” Harris wrote in a June post on Candler’s Enthused! blog. One of those murals is pictured above. “You become conditioned to seeing them and walking straight past each day. The mentality that exists here is still separate and unequal. But the thing is, you can walk into town, go into Victoria Square and not know the difference from one person to another.”

Much closer to home, Joya Abrams is spending her summer just outside the Perimeter. Abrams, an engineer by training, is one of many Candler students who have chosen seminary as a path to a second career. She completed her Contextual Education II work at Cumberland UMC in Smyrna and returned there for Candler Advantage. As a parishioner, Abrams attended large African American United Methodist Churches. The smaller and racially diverse Cumberland offers new perspectives and challenges.

“I needed an experience that was different,” Abrams said. “My continued presence at Cumberland helps me grow in the arts of ministry—worship, leadership and administration, pastoral care, teaching and preaching.”

Abrams is one of seven Candler Advantage students serving in the Atlanta metro area. All 14 of the summer 2013 participants and their placements are listed below. 

  • Joya Abrams; Cumberland UMC; Smyrna, Ga.
  • Darin Arnston; First UMC, Chula Vista; Chula Vista, Calif.
  • Sari Brown; El Gozo de Dios Methodist Church; Medellin, Colombia
  • Holly Evenson; Central UMC; Mooresville, N.C.
  • Carrie Harris; Skainos Centre & East Belfast Mission; Belfast, Northern Ireland
  • Tyler Jackson; Oakhurst UMC; Decatur, Ga.
  • Jake Joseph; Seaside Community United Church of Christ; Torrance, Calif.
  • Ashley Kirk; The Gathering; St. Louis
  • Megan Lacy; Park Avenue Baptist Church, Atlanta
  • Davina Massey; College Park UMC; College Park, Ga.
  • Jennifer Roberts; Sacred Tapestry UMC; Marietta, Ga.
  • Tyler Sit; Brooklyn Mosaic UMC; Brooklyn Center, Minn.
  • Dora Thomas; St. Mark UMC; Atlanta
  • Harrison Thornhill; Druid Hills UMC; Atlanta

To make a gift to support scholarships for students preparing for ministry, please contact Mathew Pinson, assistant dean of development and alumni relations, at