Student interns consider pastoral life



To some, the pastoral life may seem, well, pastoral. It looks like this: The contented reverend leaning back on a big oak tree in front of a bubbling stream drawing inspiration from nature and the heavens, jotting down a few thoughts to deliver to an enrapt congregation come Sunday morning.

But there’s more to it than that. There are church meetings, missions, the business of running a church, along with budgets and maintenance. There may be squabbles among the congregation or staff, positions that need filling, volunteers who need to be praised or budgets devised.

To give young potential ministers a glimpse of what it’s like, the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church has implemented a summer pastoral intern program to show young people leaning toward a life in the clergy just what they are getting into.

This past summer, 10 teens and young adults took part. “It was the highest attendance ever,” said Rev. Sara McKinley, director of the conference’s Office of Clergy Excellence and head of the popular program.

“One was right out of high school,” she said, “others are in undergraduate school and a couple were already in seminary with people coming from all parts of the country.”

The 10-week program typically begins with a day of orientation in May and a day of reflection in July.

Supervised by local church pastors throughout the conference, students share costs to participate in the 10-week internship. Shown from left to right: Kipp Nelson, Carmelle Beaugelin and Drew Kastner.

According to McKinley, each student pays $3,000 for the summer, which is split between the conference and the church where the young minister hopefuls are assigned. The church also offers housing opportunities, if needed.

“The interns are supervised by the local church pastor,” McKinley said. “Some internships focus on specific areas of ministry like youth or children's ministry or missions, but the hope is that each student will get a well-rounded experience of what it is to be a pastor.

“They are asked to preach on two occasions, to attend church meetings, to have opportunities to visit the sick and homebound, to participate in missions and to shadow the pastor,” she said. “Sometimes the mission trip is an overseas experience.”

The program concludes with a reflection day at the conference center in Lakeland, where interns take stock in what they have experienced and learned and try to discern what, if anything, might be next in their journey in ministry.

“Some conclude they definitely do not want to be a local church pastor,” McKinley said.

“Some have started the candidacy process for ordained or licensed ministry. Some conclude their ministry as a lay person is truly their calling and some find a passion for a particular type of ministry like youth ministry or missions.”

Both interns who worked at First United Methodist Church of Miami, one three years ago, the other this past summer, still are on track to become preachers, according to Rev. Audrey Warren, pastor of the church.

Warren praised the program saying it gives young people a look at what it’s like to be a pastor beyond writing and delivering sermons, further commenting that it exposes them to other roles within the church that may be better suited to them.

“The program adds value to the church and is beneficial to the young persons as well,” Warren said. “They see all the behind-the-scenes work. For example, pastors now assume a lot of the responsibilities for the facilities; undertake more oversight administratively. It’s a good glimpse of all that.

“They see what it means to organize a congregation and work with volunteers,” she said.

“Students can learn in a classroom all the nuts and bolts of preaching, the Bible inside and out and all the life’s lessons found there, but may not be aware of some of the practical parts of the ministry that just can’t be taught.

“There are things like what it means to lead a meeting or how to navigate personalities,” she said. “The program takes on all of these things. It’s a hands-on experience: site training and how to preach, teach and take on administrative and organizational tasks.”

She further emphasized that the role of the Methodist church pastor is changing. It’s moving steadily away from ministers who sit behind a desk inside a big church to a more fluid missionary ministry and that opens up a wide variety of vocations for new pastors.

“The future,” she said, “is exciting.”

Carmelle Beaugelin is a masters of divinity candidate at the Princeton Theological Seminary and is expected to graduate in 2018. She spent the summer as a ministry intern in Miami with Warren’s congregation.

For Beaugelin, the experience was more than learning how to preach and run a church.

“My mother died of cancer this summer,” she said, “and so my internship at First Church Miami provided me with both ministerial training and much needed community during the hardest time of my life.

“The most beneficial aspects of this particular program were the sessions in Lakeland before and after the internship,” she said. “Many internships include some form of debriefing or preparation involving a one-on-one meeting with a mentor or an expectation-reflection paper.

Pastor Audrey Warren of FUMC in Miami enjoys a moment of reflection with Nyya Toussaint from Haiti. This past summer's interns included recent high school graduates, undergraduate students and others already enrolled in seminaries.

“It was such a treat to hear from the other interns about their experiences,” she said. “I've been able to keep in touch with a few students…as we navigate candidacy together.”

The program was said to have solidified her desire to continue on a path to the pastoral life, including ministering to college students.

“The greatest lesson I learned at First Church was that if anyone can find one person to pour into and share their vision with,” she said, “that person will share that vision with someone else.”

Elizabeth Farr interned at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Tallahassee. She graduated this spring from Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in communications science and disorders and a second major in music. She is currently pursuing a graduate degree in speech pathology.

She had been involved with St. Paul’s when the internship opportunity came up.

“I was volunteering with youth ministries, and the youth minister contacted me about this internship position over the summer,” she said. “It was like God-timing, I think, because I had the whole summer free before my grad program began this fall. I didn’t have a job and needed to be working. I also wanted to put some of my skills to use.

“It was a perfect fit,” she said, “and I was in Tallahassee anyway. I saw this as an opportunity to go behind the scenes of what a ministry really is like, to really see what ministry, as a profession, looks like. Plus, I got to interact with different areas of the church.”

She said the experience fulfilled her hopes and goals both professionally and socially.

“Personally, I felt like the church offered a sense of community and family that was missing in my life,” she said. “By connecting with St. Paul’s and the church staff, I made some amazing connections and I really got to use my skills in a very meaningful way. It was very well organized. It was an excellent experience.”

It also showed her that maybe being a pastor wasn’t for her, but opened up new avenues in which her faith could be shared with others.

“I think this experience made me realize that speech pathology is a form of ministry,” she said. “I feel I’ve been called to be a therapist and serve people that way. But this experience also really encouraged me to be involved in whatever church community I’m in, and to take leadership positions within that community.

“It was a great thing,” she added. “The internship gives you the opportunity to figure out what your calling is. Ministry takes shape in all different forms, all shapes and sizes.”

--Keith Morelli is a freelance writer based in Tampa.


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