News Release: Religion and Ethics, Teaching, University News

Jul. 13,  2009

Candler Program Shapes Pastoral Identities

From Emory Report

Of the many people Ann Lister worked with at MUST Ministries last year, there’s one client she won’t forget. The woman was 48, homeless, and a heroin addict. She told Lister, “This is the first time I’ve been clean since I was 12 years old.”

The significance of that statement stuck with Lister, a second-year student at Candler School of Theology who worked at MUST as part of Candler’s Contextual Education Program.

MUST is a faith-based organization in metro Atlanta that strives to meet people’s basic needs, including food, clothing and shelter.

Candler’s master of divinity students participate in the Contextual Education program (commonly called “Con Ed”) for two years as part of their degree requirements, giving students practical ministry experience and providing more than a hundred organizations with much-needed extra workers. During the first year of Con Ed, usually undertaken in the student’s first year at Candler, students spend four hours a week working in a social service or clinical setting. During the second year of the program, they work eight hours a week in a church setting.

Award-winning work
The program has been recognized as a key factor in Emory recently earning the prestigious Presidential Award for General Community Service, the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning and civic engagement.

Of the nearly 150,000 hours Emory’s undergraduate and graduate students spent in service during the academic year, almost 47,000 of them were completed by Candler’s Contextual Education students.

“In any given week, Candler deploys more than 250 students across the region to minister to people in congregations, hospitals, and in social service agencies,” says Dean Jan Love. “The size and quality of this service, and its role in providing a crucial source of engaged learning for students, were key factors in Emory University winning the Presidential Award.”

One of the criteria for the Presidential Award is that the institution must have at least one major or degree program that requires its students to complete community-engaged learning or service learning, explains Sam Marie Engle, who serves as senior associate director of Emory’s Office of University Community Partnerships and completed the University’s honor roll application.

“Candler's Contextual Education program not only is Emory's flagship engaged learning program, it is a national model for how to blend service with learning and to do it in a way that increases both academic rigor and student success,” she says. “The evaluators were particularly impressed by Con Ed’s thoughtful design.”

Veering from the traditional
The Con Ed program is intentionally designed to be different from traditional volunteer work, explains David O. Jenkins, director of the first year Con Ed program and an assistant professor at Candler. Whether the students are working with people who are in prison, assisting those with disabilities or serving in a congregation, Jenkins says, they are developing their pastoral identity.

“All of our students at whatever site are engaged in pastoral counseling and pastoral presence,” Jenkins says, adding they also learn from mentors on-site and participate in small groups with other students to discuss their experiences.

The program’s structure is different from service-learning programs at other seminaries, says Alice Rogers, director of the second-year Con Ed program and an assistant professor at Candler. She notes that she and Jenkins have visited 17 peer institutions across the United States in the past three years. They found that many seminaries require students to complete field education in social ministry settings or ecclesial settings, but not both.

“Such a diversity of experience not only provides a depth of practical experience, it also helps in a student’s vocational discernment,” Rogers says.

Another of the program’s strengths is that Candler’s faculty work to integrate it into the academic curriculum. “What makes Contextual Education a signature program in engaged learning is the dedication of Candler faculty to it,” Love says. “They bring Con Ed systematically into the classroom such that, unlike most internships, the program resonates throughout the school’s curriculum.”

What also resonates is the value of the program both to the students and to the sites where they work. Rogers says that many of the sites cannot afford to hire additional clergy or support staff, so Candler students make a tangible difference at the locations where they serve.

Ministry ‘with’ instead of ‘for’

That sentiment is echoed by the Rev. Andy Peabody ’92C-’98T, director of programs for MUST Ministries. Peabody says the seminary students allow MUST to thrive, not just survive.

“The Candler students expand the range of possible interaction with our guests,” Peabody says. “One of the things our guests hunger for is someone to talk to.”

Most Candler students who work at MUST — including Lister — work at the Elizabeth Inn, an emergency housing shelter. Students perform a variety of duties at the shelter, Peabody says, from welcoming and interviewing guests to helping them develop job skills and write resumes. They also lead Bible studies and assess client needs for food and clothing.

“It’s so radically dissimilar to most people’s experience of life,” Peabody says. “I think the students gain perspective on what it’s like to do ministry with rather than ministry for.”


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