The Blessing Priest

For about 20 years, Rev. Sam Candler has blessed the AJC Peachtree Road Race. He could be the most beloved icon of the event.

For about 20 years, the Rev. Sam Candler has blessed the AJC Peachtree Road Race. He could be the most beloved icon of the event.

He won’t have a voice by the end of the day.

His arms and legs will start to throb with pain. Switching arms and positions won’t help much. His fingertips will begin to feel like rugged leather.

But it’s only once a year that the Rev. Sam Candler gets to bless 60,000 people. And he is excited.

He wears an unusual outfit for a priest on this humid July morning in Georgia — khaki shorts combined with his traditional clergy shirt.

He balances a silver dish filled with water as he crawls into a car. He is careful not to spill it. Candler is headed to the start line to bless the AJC Peachtree Road Race.

He then returns to the Cathedral of St. Philip, a spot where he will remain for four more hours to individually bless the runners. It is a spot that has been nicknamed "Jesus Junction."

He blesses the runners by sprinkling holy water on all who pass by. He has gained local celebrity status in Atlanta after blessing the AJC Peachtree Road Race for about 20 years.  It’s a tradition that he plans to continue. “Hey, Sam!” runners call as they jog by.

He keeps his conversations short in order to bless as many people as he can. “Blessings to you and you and you!”

People respond with their own popular phrases. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned!” a dad wearing American flag shorts yells. A variation is heard from a middle-aged woman wearing a tutu, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned!”

Candler doesn’t know what people think of him, but he does know people get a kick out of seeing a priest bless people on the side of the race.

“It burns!” Someone laughs as the holy water hits them. Runners come up to him to say, “I’m an atheist, can I be blessed?”

He responds with a smile, “Of course you can. Everyone can be blessed here on the Fourth of July.”

With all the disconcerting things going on in the world, he wants to touch humanity, regardless of background. He wants to be known as a blessing priest.

When Candler blesses with holy water, he believes that water is a sign that God refreshes us, and the connection to God is in the droplets of water that bind people together.

When he has that bond with people, he feels he is blessing the entire city on that day.

» RELATED: The role of churches along the AJC Peachtree Road Race course

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