The story of ministry internships in Western Pennsylvania is one that isn't often told. Yet a quick search of the Pastoral Records will show that our Conference has been engaged with interns since at least the 1960s. That’s an impressive realization: Ministry internships have been a part of our life together for at least 50 years.
Rev. C. Franklin Helt, a retired elder, got involved in the internship program in 1962, which he believes was the first year it was offered. "I was a shy, introverted individual and, over the next five years, I participated with Rev. Kenneth Rutter at the First United Methodist Church in Greensburg. I lived at the Y.M.C.A across the street from the church." Rev. Helt said he gained valuable insight through full participation in various ministry roles.
"Though still a little on the shy side, I was confident I could do ministry when I had my first church assignment at Madison/New Madison United Methodist Church from 1968-1973 and onward," he said.
Historical memory seems to indicate a high point in the internship program from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s. At that time college students looking for an experience with pastoral ministry in the local church were invited to apply. Students lived with a pastor for the summer and experienced pastoral ministry first hand, giving them a place to discern their own sense of call. Coordinated by folks like the Rev. Ray Beal and the Rev. Patricia Harbison, the program had measurable success. Many of the participants are currently active clergy.
These summer internships served as “a first step in exploring calling to pastoral ministry, giving exposure to the role of pastor” says the Rev. Amy Wagner, WPAUMC Director of Congregational Development and Revitalization, who served in 1998 under the Rev. Mick McGinnis at Trinity UMC in Erie.
The Rev. Tom Parkinson, now senior pastor of Dutilh UMC, agrees. “Those were the first pastoral care visits I ever experienced. It was also the first time that I got to witness the pastoral role beyond worship leadership and other public settings,” he said. Tom served under the guidance of the Rev. Tracy Cox at Ingomar UMC in 2006.
The Rev. Susan Moudry, WPAUMC Coordinator of Clergy Excellence, recognizes her 2003 internship at First UMC in DuBois with the Rev. Ray Beal as her “first real entry into the larger connectional structure of The UMC.
“I had experienced the local church, but had no real impression or understanding of our connection, she explained. “Being quite literally dropped into Annual Conference changed my perspective, and over the long haul it broadened my ability to understand what a call to ordained ministry could look like.”
Perhaps most importantly, internships have provided encouragement to those who’ve participated in understanding their sense of call. The Rev. Erik Hoeke, pastor of Avery UMC, interned in 2003. “I am in my ninth year of serving in pastoral ministry in Western PA, and I do not think that would be the case had I not participated in the summer ministry internship at Russell-Akeley Charge with Gary Donaldson,” he said. “ I would highly recommend it to anyone exploring full-time Christian ministry.”
Internships waxed and waned under various leaders, but in the last few years the Cabinet, encouraged by the Rev. Bill Blair and the Rev. Jim Pond, as well as the Board of Ministry (BOM) have made an effort to intentionally increase our support for interns once again.
These newly focused internships were offered to current seminary students the past few years. For example, Tori Moody, a student at Asbury Seminary, served as an intern with the Conference in 2015. For 2017, college juniors and seniors also will be offered the opportunity for an internship. t
"We have learned that internships are an excellent way for the Church to provide the space needed for young people to explore what it means to be called to ministry and the various forms that can take," said Moudry.
“Interns are students trying to discern and learn” and so internships are “an investment that requires time, to the end that young people exploring ministry might be aided in their discernment,” Parkinson pointed out.
The story of ministry internships in Western PA is long, but there is so much that can yet be written. Won’t you consider making that investment by hosting an intern or encouraging one you encounter?
If you are still trying to understand your own sense of call, is now the time to respond? Host site applications for summer 2017, as well as applications to serve as an intern can be found at http://www.wpaumc.org/CalltoMinistry
For more information, email Susan.Moudry@wpaumc.org.