Sam Candler has been dean of The Cathedral of St. Philip, a Buckhead landmark, since 1998.
He received a bachelor’s degree, cum laude, from Occidental College in Los Angeles, and, in 1982, he graduated magna cum laude from Yale University Divinity School (and Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, its Episcopal component). Candler also has held the post of dean of Trinity Cathedral in Columbia, S.C.
Recently, Sylvia Small asked him questions about his life and ministry.
Q: What process do you think people go through when deciding on a church to attend?
A: We’re always trying to welcome new folks. Most of our visitors are between the ages of 20 and 35 years old. They tell us they love good preaching, good music and good fellowship.
It all depends on the kind of person, I guess. Some look for a great education program for their children. If they don’t have children, their emphasis may be on fellowship. At The Cathedral of St. Philip, we’re blessed with having lots of different types of people here.
Q: I’ve read that you wanted to be a jazz musician if you hadn’t entered the ministry. Do you still play?
A: I love playing the piano! On my bad days, I sometimes wonder why I didn’t go the piano route.
When I went to college in southern California, I intended to become a jazz piano player. Then I got a gradual call to be ordained in the Episcopal Church.
Playing the piano can be a type of prayer for me. It refocuses me and takes me to another place. I occasionally play for different groups. If it’s for a good cause, I’ll play piano.
I like music of all kinds. The Beatles are my all-time favorite group. I also play a lot of Oscar Peterson and Duke Ellington jazz.
Q: What role does music play in a church service?
A: I think music is another language of prayer. St. Augustine said, “He who sings, prays twice.” When you put words and sound together, you’ve got something going on with both your head and your spirit. Music is quite important in a service.
Q: Which of the many hats you wear at the cathedral is your major one?
A: My major one is inspiring and developing the cathedral parish community. It’s a large and diverse one. I love to preach, to teach and to oversee the exciting Christian community at The Cathedral of St. Philip. This means not only community in our church, but also community outside our church.
Q: Why does the cathedral sponsor the Peachtree Road Farmers Market?
A: The Farmers Market is one of our great ministries. It’s probably been going on for three or four years. We’re trying to replicate what a cathedral was in the Middle Ages. They were the center of activity back then. Not just spiritual activity, but economic and commercial activity as well. We always have a lot going on at The Cathedral of St. Philip. Saturday morning was our last open calendar spot.
Our Farmers Market is committed to locally grown produce and local artisans. We have certain conditions that the vendors must meet. It’s our way of caring for the earth and supporting the community. It’s a good meeting place for God’s humanity. You don’t have to be a member of the church, live in the neighborhood or even be religious.
Q: Tell me a little about World Pilgrims.
A: I was honored to be among its first groups some years ago. It’s a way for Christians, Jews and Muslims from Atlanta to go as a group on pilgrimages to holy sites around the world. Our first trip was to Turkey, where we ended up in Istanbul. We rode a bus around the country to visit each other’s holy sites. We developed respect for each other by praying together. I’ve been on the Jerusalem trip as well. The goal is to honor and respect different traditions and religions and to get to know our neighbors better.
Q: What do you like to do during your leisure time?
A: Leisure? I don’t know what that word means anymore.
I grew up on a farm in Coweta County. I like to walk in the woods or in another outdoor setting. I’m an amateur astronomer, so I like to be outside at night when there aren’t a lot of lights around. I also like birds, wildlife and reading.
Q: I understand you’re also a big baseball fan.
A: The Atlanta Braves are easily my favorite team. I was a young boy when they moved to Atlanta, and I’ve seen them through the best and worst years. Even though they won their division 14 times, it doesn’t make up for all those awful years when I was in the stands.
My first church was in Smyrna. I used to leave early and take my work out to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to see a game. Not only did I get a seat, I got a whole section to myself! No one was going to Braves games back in the mid-1980s. I’m a great fan of the team!
Q: How did the tradition of your blessing Peachtree Road Race runners start?
A: It started right after I got here. When the Peachtree Road Race was going to be on a Sunday, some people got upset because we were going to need to close down churches. I told the Peachtree Road Race folks that we were moving our service outside to bless the runners. It was fun, and the runners enjoyed it. We’ve done it ever since whether the race is on a Sunday or not.
Q: Anything else you would like people to know?
A: I love the church. I know a lot of people have questions about the church in our contemporary time. For me, the church is always changing. At its best, it’s a contemporary manifestation of Christian faith. I’m always interested in how a church remains true to its tradition in Orthodoxy, but also stays part of the contemporary culture. I enjoy that nexus.