Everyday Prophets

in keeping with the centennial theme of "story and prophecy," here are a few stories about the everyday prophets among us and the incredibly varied witness they offer.

By Claire Asbury Lennox

In a sense, you could say that all Candler graduates are prophets. After all, as a seminary, we're in the business of training our students to discern where God is working and to join that work with hearts, minds, hands, and voices. So in keeping with the centennial theme of "story and prophecy," here are a few stories about the everyday prophets among us and the incredibly varied witness they offer.

Christina Repoley 11T

Inward Spirit, Outward Service

In 2014, Christina Repoley 11T gave the commencement address at her alma mater, Guilford College. This honor might suggest that Repoley is retired after decades of experience in a field where she excelled. In reality, only the last part of that statement is true. At 34, Repoley is far from retired, with hardly a decade of experience under her belt. Yet there is no doubt that she excels in what is not simply her field, but her calling.

When she graduated from Guilford in 2002, she hoped to work with a Quaker service organization, but her search came up empty. Gone were the Quaker work camps of the early 20th century, where young adults took part in domestic and international service programs. "Older Quakers who have lived their lives committed to peace and justice point back to an experience of Quaker service as young adults," Repoley says. "There weren’t those opportunities for my generation." But instead of looking elsewhere, Repoley had a vision. 

Her vision was to build a network of intentional communities where young adults, Quaker and otherwise, could worship with local Quaker congregations and serve with local nonprofits for a year. Repoley refers to this pairing as the integration of the inward and the outward, two elements essential to Quakerism. She was inspired by late 19th century Quaker Rufus Jones, who coined the term prophetic service. "Prophetic service means being engaged in the world in a way that comes out of your spiritual grounding," Repoley says. "Engaging in service from a place of understanding that we're all broken and seeking wholeness."

After a decade of conversation and consultation with Quakers from around the country, Repoley launched Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) in 2012 with seven young adult fellows living and serving in Atlanta. QVS houses in Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon, opened in 2013, and this August, another will open in Boston. By its fourth anniversary, QVS will have 28 fellows and close to 50 alumni, many of whom are still actively engaged with the communities and congregations where they served.

Much of Repoley's preparation for what would become QVS blossomed at Candler. She wrote her MDiv thesis on the history of Quaker service, and credits professors Luther Smith and Ellen Ott Marshall as being integral to her work. Candler also nurtured Repoley's need for the integration of inward and outward in her own life. At 28, she was already beginning to feel burned out by activism. "If social justice work was going to be something I could do sustainably for the rest of my life, I needed a deeper theological and spiritual grounding," she says. "To speak a challenging word to society, you have to do it in an invitational, hopeful way, rather than coming from a place of anger and frustration. When we come from a grounding in relationship with God and with each other, we're able to live more prophetically and more boldly."

Bob Beckwith 88T

Molding the Next Generation

It’s not just Old Testament prophets who hear the voice of God in dreams. Bob Beckwith’s 88T fruitful ministry at the University of Georgia Wesley Foundation owes its start and the success of its hallmark discipleship program to the prophetic power of dreams.

Nearly twenty years ago, Beckwith, an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, felt a nudge toward college ministry. “I had a very clear and unusual dream one night, through which I believed God was calling me to equip this emerging generation. But I had no idea where or how I was going to do that.” Within a year, a UGA Wesley board member told him that the position of director was open and urged him to apply. In that moment, Beckwith knew God’s answer.

He took the post in 1999 and hasn’t left, facilitating the growth and vibrancy of a campus ministry committed to nurturing students. While many students detach from organized religion and intentional spiritual formation during their college years, UGA Wesley adds a hopeful footnote to that story: During UGA’s 2014-2015 academic year, about 1,100 students and staff regularly attended Wesley’s two weekly worship services. 

“This generation is one of great significance,” Beckwith says. “The future of the church is in their hands, and yet, they are the most spiritually uninformed generation our nation has ever produced. But when they do encounter God, they often grow and come alive in ways that my generation struggles to understand.”

Beckwith works alongside UGA Wesley’s four long-term lead directors, 10 associate directors, and 67 full-time ministry interns. Chris Fisher 15T, who served as a full-time intern before he came to Candler, says Beckwith possesses the mix of sturdiness and flexibility, humility and joy required to work with young adults whose faith journeys are still evolving. “Bob bridges the stability of the Bible with the challenge and movement of the inspiration of the Spirit. His voice is one saying, ‘Test the Spirit against the Word, then jump all in.’” 

A pillar of Beckwith’s tenure has been the development of the Lead/Grow discipleship program. Again, he was guided by a dream. “One night I dreamed that I was about to speak and needed a Bible, so I borrowed one from a student. The pages were full of holes, like Swiss cheese. I borrowed another student’s Bible and its pages were falling out. A third had pages that were smeared and blotted. I believe the Lord was telling me that in spite of their passion, our students were young and needed to be invested in.”

In Lead/Grow, “Grow” students are mentored, or discipled, by an older “Lead” student or Wesley intern. This year, 600 students participated, meeting weekly in pairs to connect. “We try to create an atmosphere where students talk transparently about life issues in a context of grace, biblical truth, and prayer. When that happens, freedom and growth usually follow,” Beckwith says.

“Seeing students become passionate to know and follow Jesus, experience His love, healing, and freedom, and step into the significant purposes God has for them—that’s what still motivates and excites me after all these years.”

- See more at: http://candler.emory.edu/news/connection/summer-2015/feature-stories/everyday-prophets.html#sthash.4owFSAXT.dpuf 

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Michelle Valigursky