Emory Report

January 25, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 17

Candler School students enjoy more participation in worship

Amid frenetic schedules, students and faculty at the School of Theology are partaking of a remarkable variety of spiritual life and worship gatherings, probably in more settings than ever at the school and involving more people than ever.

These Christian practices are happening through leadership, a desire for blending study and practice, and above all a felt need. "There's a hunger for knowledge of God, for growth in spirituality," said Jay Voorhees, student coordinator of spiritual life. Voorhees, a United Methodist from Nash-ville, has started several small groups including the lectionary study group for student pastors, which meets at 7 a.m. Tuesdays.

Morning prayer is held at 7:30 Tuesdays through Fridays. With its sung psalms and canticles, the sessions complement the factual, analytic side of education, said Collette Jones of Chattanooga, Tenn., a first-year student. "It helps in bringing the whole person to the study of theology," she said. "I've been pleased to find so many worship opportunities." She likes Candler's newest workshop opportunity, Friday communion, which was added at student request. Chapel services continue at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and attendance is up by as many as 50 people.

All of Candler's spiritual life activities have counterparts in the churches, which is part of the point, said the Rev. Barbara Day Miller, Marcy Assistant Dean of Worship. "Worship life is fundamental to the seminary and the most formative thing we do. That's bold to say, but it's the one practice that runs through everything--biblical, theological, practical. It all meets in one hour."

Day Miller ascribes the rise in worship attendance to two things. First, people "want something deep, enriching" in their spiritual lives. Second, she invites that depth by letting the Scripture guide the worship and then including many voices, instruments and visual art pieces in the responses.

"I would hope that through these practices, pastors would be formed in a variety of spiritual disciplines--contemplative prayer, searching Scriptures, sacramental participation--to name some Wesleyan themes. These become things they can draw on when they are in local churches, so they are better equipped to provide food to their congregations and continue to grow in their own spiritual discipline," Day Miller said.

Student pastors know they need to be equipped, but their split schedules hamper that process. The lectionary study group gives support during their part-week at school as well as practical help, said Steve Worth, who pastors in Phenix City, Ala., under Candler's Teaching Parish program. "It can mean getting the sermon started on Tuesday, not Saturday," Worth said. "I feel the Holy Spirit is there."

Uniting spiritual and practical is a goal for Voorhees, one of several student coordinators working with the Rev. Cynthia Meyer, assistant dean of student programming. Meyer and Day Miller both joined Candler's staff a year ago, and their presence has expanded the school's ability to sustain offerings that help students cope and grow.

Voorhees has continued, updated or introduced a number of options in addition to the lectionary group and the retreat:

  • Prayer list. Once a weekly list, it's now on computer. Anyone can subscribe by sending e-mail to <spiritual_ life@ learnlink.emory.edu>.
  • "Food for the Soul." Mealtime guided conversations about topics such as "Images of God" or prayer.
  • Covenant groups. Small groups that usually set their own agenda.
  • Visiting spiritual director. Occasional visits by certified directors so students have another resource to explore their interests and needs in spiritual growth.
  • Disciple Bible study. Same as in local churches.

Of course, people observe personal prayer and devotion times, said Voorhees, but a shared activity kept over time--a practice--offers complementary benefits such as new insights, a sense of belonging and greater ability to trust. "We need to develop the practices of ministry that we will carry forward," he said. "Our preparation is practice for what we are going to do."

--Dan Howell

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