Ben is a third-year MDiv student from Vestavia Hills, Alabama. He is a part of Candler School of Theology's Teaching Parish program, serving as pastor at Pleasant Valley United Methodist Church.
Candler School of Theology is one of the 13 United Methodist seminaries supported by the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment of the United Methodist Church.
There's something extremely special about getting to immediately put into practice what we learn here at Candler. After all, the contextual education emphasis at Candler was one of the main reasons that I was drawn to the school. Through Candler's Teaching Parish program, I have been blessed with not just one, but two nurturing environments where I can learn and practice the ministry to which I feel called. In my time at Candler, I have learned just as much, if not more, an hour down the road at Pleasant Valley UMC in Monroe, Georgia, as I have in the hallowed halls of Candler's Rita Anne Rollins Building. There are some things you just can't learn or experience in the classroom.
Nothing in the classroom can prepare you for your first charge conference, or the eight-hour meeting needed to finalize end of year reports. The classroom can't prepare you to mediate arguments over carpet colors, bulletin layouts, which way to serve Communion, or when to have the chicken BBQ fundraiser. On a more serious note, in the classroom, you can't walk with a family through the process of death, grief, and learning how to do life again in their loved one's absence. In the classroom, you can't offer prayers of hope and healing beside a hospital bed or with the person suffering from addiction.
The parish is a classroom all its own and I am blessed to learn all that it has to offer. As most Candler students can attest, being a master's student isn't always easy. Being a pastor isn't always easy either. But being a student and a pastor can be downright hectic.
Being a student-pastor is like a lot of good theology….it embraces both the "now" and the "yet to come." For now, I'm in a season of preparation, learning, and even sometimes failing. Even in the midst of failures and learning, I and many other students at Candler are given the precious privilege of being lead-followers of Christ. What we do now not only serves the Kingdom of God in the present, but also prepares us for our future ministry, so that we might be even more equipped to join God's great work in the world.
In the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the peace and the chaos, my goal has become simple: Live, Love, and Learn—that's what Teaching Parish has meant to me. That is my prayer for each of us as we continue in another great year of ministry and learning together.
By Ben Wills, Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Atlanta, GA
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Ministerial Education Fund is at the heart of preparing people for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The 13 United Methodist seminaries help students to discover their calling through the challenging curriculum. The fund enables the church to increase financial support for recruiting and educating ordained and diaconal ministers and to equip annual conferences to meet increased demands. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment at 100 percent.