JenkinsDuring his 18 years at Candler, Associate Professor in the Practice of Practical Theology David Jenkins’ impact has reached far beyond the classroom. That’s because his academic and personal interests have primarily focused on serving neighbors, both near and far away.

When asked to consider his most meaningful experiences at Candler, Jenkins immediately turns to the many ways he has been active in teaching—and doing—hands-on ministry alongside his students, from revitalizing the Contextual Education curriculum and designing new degrees to expanding Candler’s international partnerships and modeling experiential learning in and out of class.

For nearly two decades, his work in the areas of theology and immigration, theology and disability, and, as his title states, “practical theology,” has shown seminarians how to engage effectively and compassionately with their communities, in ministry or otherwise. Avis Williams 78OX 98C 08T 18T (!) says that Jenkins is the “consummate educator: caring, conscientious, and driven. He is passionate about education and ministry and how that intersection might produce ministers concerned about and working in areas of justice for all people.”

It’s clear that Jenkins practices what he teaches. He has been deeply involved in the Atlanta disability community, inspired by his years serving and living with the L’Arche community in London in the 1980s. “Working with people with disabilities was no longer just an academic interest,” he said in a 2013 article. “These people became my friends. This was my community.”

Jenkins helped established L’Arche Atlanta, served as president of L’Arche USA, and chaired the organization’s first national capital campaign, as well as the L’Arche USA National Task Force on Spirituality and Religious Identity. He’s also brought this passion to various academic communities, organizing the first Nancy Eiesland Endowment Lecture on Theology and Disability Studies at Candler in 2015, delivering the 2016 Boston College Pyne Lectures on the practical theology of L’Arche founder Jean Vanier, and presenting at Emory’s Disability Studies Initiative Scholar Showcase. He has designed and taught courses on the church and disability, so that “students have discovered a gifted world of disabilities, new theologies of vulnerability, and authentic friendships with those who are differently abled.”

Jenkins is perhaps best known for his time as Candler’s director of Contextual Education (Con Ed) I and Clinical Pastoral Education from 2005 to 2014, working alongside then-director of Con Ed II and Teaching Parish P. Alice Rogers to revitalize the Con Ed curriculum, including the development of new sites centered around refugees and immigrants. The pair visited 15 theology schools to determine best practices, culminating in a national conference on Con Ed hosted at Candler, followed by their co-written publication Equipping the Saints: Best Practices in Contextual Education (Pilgrim Press, 2010). Jenkins also chaired the host committee for the 2015 International Association of Theological Field Educators conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Not only has Jenkins shaped opportunities for Candler students to pursue experiential learning outside the classroom, he’s also been integrally involved in creating new degrees and courses that connect back to his passion for community. He designed Candler’s MDiv/Master in Social Work dual degree with the University of Georgia, and the school’s dual MDiv/Master in Development Practices degree with Emory’s Laney Graduate School. Jenkins also constructed and taught a class in the Master of Religious Leadership degree program on “Social Analysis for Congregations and Communities,” as well as an online course in Candler’s hybrid Doctor of Ministry program on “Understanding Community.” 

Lyn Pace 02T 17T, chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University, has called Jenkins a mentor and friend throughout his MDiv and DMin journeys at Candler. Most recently, Jenkins served as Pace’s DMin faculty adviser; his “Understanding Community” course inspired Pace’s final project that connected Oxford College students with longtime residents of their college town, Oxford, Georgia. Pace says that Jenkins “expects a lot from his students. He expects you to read, do the work, and put your body into your local community to be in real relationship with people.” That last piece, Pace notes, “sounds a lot like what we’re called to do as Christians in the life of faith and ministry.”

Professor Emeritus of Church and Community Luther E. Smith Jr. says that Jenkins’ influence extends beyond Candler’s classrooms, because alumni like Pace credit his classes with introducing them to processes of community empowerment that spur creative transformation wherever and however they serve. “David’s rigorous standards for research and writing prepare students for the rigorous challenges of interpreting community realities. He insists that collaboration with others is essential for effective ministry, and his courses are designed for students to practice collaborative learning in the classroom.”

Recent MDiv graduate Ben Adams 18T echoes Smith’s recognition of what he calls the “practicality” of Jenkins’ teaching. Adams says that Jenkins’ course on short-term missions and international development reshaped how he views community development. “Not only was the class an excellent balance of theory and practice, but the structure embodied the course content, modeling the practices we studied. No class has better prepared me to navigate the church and its role in the life of a local community, and no mentor has inspired me more to do so.”

International study has always been important to Jenkins, who served as Candler's first director of international initiatives. Through this work, he developed relationships with schools in Africa, Asia, and Latin America for the first time in Candler’s history, increasing the school’s global partners from three to 21. Jenkins also expanded international summer ministry internship opportunities and, with funding from the Luce Foundation, helped Candler host a conference of U.S. schools of theology focused on the internationalization of theological education. He’s led students on travel seminars to Cuba, Honduras, Brazil, and Mexico, including five “Church on the Border” January-term courses co-led with Scholar-in-Residence Marie Marquardt, where students spend a week at the U.S./Mexico border to study the church’s response to immigration. 

“While holding students to the highest standards of academic rigor, David also engages with them pastorally in this challenging environment,” Marquardt says. “In our time at the border, I have witnessed him holding sobbing students in his arms, sitting quietly beside students in crisis, and gently offering words of support and encouragement. Like any good shepherd, he intuitively knows when to let them wander, and when to gather, lead, and nourish them.”

Second-year MDiv student Jad Taylor 20T took the Church on the Border class this past January and calls it one of his most transformative seminary encounters, even with two more years to go. “Dr. Jenkins opened my eyes to the alternative future the church can and should imagine with the world. He is more than a professor—he is a fellow sojourner working toward a more just and caring world.”

It’s clear that countless students over the years have also found in Jenkins a “fellow sojourner.” He won the Faculty Person on the Year Award for the 2004-2005 school year, voted on by students, and has dedicated time and energy to advising student organizations including Sacred Worth and the Social Concerns Network. He chaired Candler’s Worship and Spiritual Formation Committee, as well as its Sustainability and Climate Action Plan Committee. And he’s donated more than 1,000 books to Pitts Theology Library.

Lyn Pace points to one thread running through Jenkins’ many roles. “The constant in all of these settings is the way in which he lives out his calling: that being in relationship with people in the community in which you find yourself is of utmost importance. It’s dire, because it’s what the gospel is calling us to do. Because of David’s ministry and deep love of church and community, my life—and probably yours, too—has been made all the better.”

Top photo: Jenkins (back row, third from right) and members of the 2018 Church on the Border class.