Four college students affirm, narrow call through ELI Project

By: Christa Meland

Four college students spent their summer preaching, leading, and learning at Minnesota United Methodist host congregations through The ELI Project internship. All four said they are more confident in their potential for ministry work in the future, with three intending to pursue vocational ministry.

The internship “went far beyond just allowing me to explore a call to ministry and allowed me to live the call for nine weeks,” said Anthony Windau, who interned at Centennial UMC’s St. Anthony Park campus in St. Paul.

Highlights for Windau were preaching two sermons; providing pastoral care through hospital visits; and organizing and hosting an ecumenical Taizé prayer service that had strong attendance.

“The experience with Pastor Whitney Sheridan was fantastic,” said Windau. “I could not have asked for a better mentor. She gracefully dealt with my lack of knowledge on the UMC and taught instead of lectured. She also was very real with how ordained ministry happens and ensured that I felt like a real part of the ministry at Centennial.”

After gathering for orientation at Annual Conference in St. Cloud from May 29-June 1, each intern spent two months at his or her host church and gained experience in a wide variety of ministerial contexts.

Windau is a member of an ELCA church and plans to pursue ministry as an ELCA pastor, but he said he would consider The United Methodist Church after his positive internship experience.

Each intern was asked at the end of the internship how likely they are to pursue vocational ministry. Here's what they reported.


The internship also helped Allison Schwarz, a member of Le Sueur UMC, affirm her call to be a pastor.

“I experienced almost every aspect of ministry,” said Schwarz, who interned at Christ UMC in Rochester. “I was able to be connected to other interns experiencing similar things and to other United Methodist clergy who have experienced calling.”

Highlights of the summer for her were preaching, and leading at STORM Camp, which gives youth an opportunity to spend a week completing service projects. Schwarz had weekly check-ins with her mentor pastor and also attended staff and other ministry meetings. She participated in conversations about racial reconciliation and starting small groups.

Joshua Simms, who interned at Hamline UMC in St. Paul, said The ELI Project was “an amazing, eye-opening journey.”

“This summer has helped me see the behind-the-scenes of ministry,” he said. “Putting my gifts into action and ‘testing the waters’ of a career in ministry makes me want to fully dive in.”

Highlights for him were cooking with kids at Vacation Bible School; a youth mission trip to Chicago; and learning about Hamline’s environmental stewardship efforts—which include solar panels, compost bins, and a rain garden. He said he especially enjoyed “seeing how a church can care for God’s creation” and noted that “Hamline Church’s radical hospitality is contagious.”

Jordyn Yourczek, who spent the summer interning at her home church, The Grove in Woodbury, said she appreciates having had the opportunity to see firsthand the positive and the difficult aspects of leading a church. While she doesn’t plan to become a pastor, she does believe the internship helped her narrow her call.

“I still feel called to work as a physical therapist for now but I could see God moving my life into children’s or student ministry in the future,” she said.

The ELI Project, now in its fourth year, aligns with the Minnesota Conference’s desire to create a culture of call that actively encourages young adults to explore how God is calling them to build the kingdom. Applications for 2019 will open later this year.

Which young people are you raising up as leaders in your church? Your help is needed to identify interns for next summer, so think and pray about who has gifts for ministry, and encourage them to consider this fantastic opportunity!

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Experiencing the kingdom of God through The ELI Project

By: Grace Corbin

Grace Corbin is one of seven young adults who spent the summer interning with The ELI Project, a Minnesota Conference program designed to help college students explore a call to vocational ministry. During June and July, she was at the Northeast United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. Here, she reflects on what she's experienced and learned.

Beginning even at the youngest of ages, teachers, mentors, family members, and others will ask you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For a long time, I was convinced I would have a career in music and business. Once I became older, however, I realized that business is a little too boring (for me), and if I were to play music 24/7, I might hate it. In this time of discernment, I attended the National Youth Gathering of the ELCA in New Orleans (yes, I am Lutheran). There, I found life and joy. I had grown up in the church but never considered a career in ministry, and there it presented itself. The wonderful youth director at my church told me about a degree in youth and family ministry at Augsburg College, and it was the exact right fit. So here I am, four years later, a Lutheran with a degree in youth and family ministry who just finished a summer internship with The United Methodist Church.
 
I wasn’t totally sure what to expect this summer. I have known for several years that ordained ministry was most likely in my future, but I was hesitant to have my own parish. I always thought I would do specialized ministry or work with a non-profit focused on a certain social justice issue. After this summer, however, I am considering what it might look like to be a pastor in a “traditional” setting.
 
The community at Northeast United Methodist Church (NEUMC) is what changed my mind about “traditional” ministry. NEUMC is a beautiful, tight-knit community in Northeast Minneapolis that knows how to open its arms to others. Members took me enthusiastically into their arms and showed me what it is like to have a giant community that cares for and about you. I’ve been part of those types of communities before, but to think that this internship only lasted for two months and people already cared so deeply for me after such a short time demonstrates the love that is alive in that place.
               
There were many times at NEUMC when it was clear that people could be vulnerable and their full selves without being judged, and many times in worship, I could feel barriers breaking.  

Intern Grace Corbin (left) with her clergy mentor, Rev. Sarah Lawton (right)


One thing I have been thinking a lot about this summer, however, is what it means and looks like to bring good news to people outside of the church. NEUMC has a strong community inside its walls, and sometimes I wonder what it would look like for them to go out of the four walls of their beautiful church and spread God’s love. The most formative experience of the summer was working with and helping residents of Lowry Grove, which is about three blocks from the church and until very recently was a mobile home park for low-income individuals and families. But about a year ago, a property management company bought the land, and this summer, Lowry Grove residents had to vacate their homes. The week before the eviction, some members of NEUMC and I spent time at Lowry Grove helping people pack up their homes and find places to move temporarily or permanently. I had the privilege to get to know some of the residents and the faithful volunteers working with them—and I was reminded where people in the church are called to be.

A few weeks later, I gave a sermon on the parable of the sower. I talked about the kingdom of God. And I thought about the former Lowry Grove residents and my week spent working with people from all walks of life. Then I recalled an event that had taken place earlier in the week. In the light of what had taken place at Lowry Grove and the officer-involved shooting of Philando Castile a year earlier, an organization called Asamblea de Derechos Civiles organized a “Power and Racism” march from Lowry Grove to the St. Anthony City Hall. When we arrived at City Hall, all 50 or so of us walked in the council chambers, where the St. Anthony Council was having an open meeting. People from the march had come, upset with the mayor and council—and they were permitted to speak about their concerns. Mostly people went up and voiced frustration about what had happened with Lowry Grove, and others spoke about police violence, and specifically the shooting of Philando Castile. Eventually, a Mennonite pastor went to the podium. He looked at the board and the mayor and said, “Mr. Mayor, I want to talk to you about heaven.” He went on to ask each council member if he or she was a person of faith. Some responded and some refused to comply. Once he heard an answer from each of them, he stated, “This is heaven,” and gestured at the whole room—some standing, some sitting, many tired and smelly from walking in the summer heat. He said, “This is the time of judgment. What are you going to do?”

This summer, I was reminded of God’s vibrant presence on earth. God’s kingdom is here and now. This internship with The ELI Project reminded me of the important role we, as Christians, have to bring the kingdom of God to earth. God is here and God brings justice, love, hope, and peace. We are to live into that vocation.

Providing love, hope, and care for neighbors through The ELI Project

By: Erin Blackford

Erin Blackford is one of seven young adults spending the summer interning with The ELI Project, a Minnesota Conference program designed to help college students explore a call to vocational ministry. She has spent June and July at the United Methodist Church of Anoka. Here, she reflects on what she's experienced and learned.
 
My palms were sweaty, my knees weak, my arms heavy; this perfectly described the physical state of my body as I approached the pulpit to give my first sermon ever. As I walked to the front of the room, I crossed my fingers, said a quick prayer for confidence and courage, and proceeded to plunk my sermon notes down onto the podium. As I looked up and stared into the eyes of the waiting congregation, I found myself starting to smile due to a combination of nerves and adrenaline. Having been an athlete all my life, and a college softball player to boot, I can only liken the experience to approaching the plate with bases loaded and two outs. The walk to the pulpit to deliver my first sermon was truly a heart-racing, fear-inducing, stomach-rolling, thrilling and exciting, amazing experience.
 
This summer, I applied for and was selected to participate in a wonderful internship program called The ELI Project. The goal is to directly immerse young adults within the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church by assigning them to different churches and providing hands-on experience.
 
I was assigned to serve at the United Methodist Church of Anoka (UMCA). This amazing church welcomed me with open arms. The average congregant is perhaps between the ages of 60 and 70, with a few younger families scattered amongst the crowds of older individuals and couples. Despite the generational gap, members of the congregation graciously allowed me to come into their lives.
 
During the typical work week, I filled my time by researching different outreach opportunities for the church, reading the bible in order to further my own knowledge, writing thank you cards and notes of encouragement for members of the congregation, and visiting hospitals and rehab clinics for pastoral care requests. I did a ton of writing and planning. I wrote opening prayers, prayers of dedication, calls to worship, context for scripture readings, and so much more. My writing became instrumental to my role as an intern. My prayers and calls to worship were used during services to spread the word of God and provide a message of love and kindness. I could have never anticipated the impact my writing would have on the hundred or so members of UMCA. This internship allowed me to use my passion for writing and prayer to better the lives of my neighbors, to spread my love for God and Jesus Christ throughout my community.

I was also given the opportunity to plan an entire service. To craft my own worship schedule was both thrilling and daunting. I got to decide every single detail of my service, down to what hymns we were going to sing and what scripture I wanted to preach on. Thank goodness I was assigned the most amazing mentor EVER, Laura Hannah, because without her I would’ve been lost on where to start. She helped me choose a passage from the Book of Esther to preach upon, and helped edit both my sermon and both of the prayers I wrote for the service. Thanks to her handy tips and tricks, I was able to create an order of worship that I am very proud of. Being given the opportunity to deliver a message, and especially a message that I strongly believe in and identify with, was rewarding beyond words. And while approaching the pulpit was nerve-wracking and thrilling all at once, I can say with confidence that the experience of delivering a sermon and allowing the congregation to get to know me better was easily a highlight of this internship.

In addition to writing and reading, I spent plenty of time exercising my creativity. During my second week on the job, UMCA hosted its annual week of Vacation Bible School. This year’s theme? Barnyard Bible Camp. Before you ask, yes, I did dress up as a farmer and speak with a twang all week. I was given free rein of the craft hut and granted the opportunity to spend a week teaching amazing children about the grace and love of God using paint, glue, and paper. What more could an education major ask for? Perhaps clearer instructions since we teachers love rubrics, but sometimes life throws instructions to the wind and allows wonderful opportunities for freedom and improvisation to occur. This internship required me to think fast on my feet and be flexible, which I think are important life skills that I needed a refresher for. I laughed more during that week of VBS than I have in years.

Perhaps the greatest gifts I received from completing this internship are the relationships I formed while serving. I have formed an awesome bond with my mentor Laura, the director of ministries for UMCA. Everyone who works for the church and everyone who volunteers and donates their time and resources loves the church and each other so much. I feel so blessed to have been placed with such wonderful people who I have grown to love as friends and mentors. I am confident that I have formed a friend for life in Laura.

Overall, this internship has been a blessing. I have had so many incredible experiences that I shall cherish for the rest of my life. The opportunity to provide love, hope, and care for my neighbors was life-changing and I am so thankful.

Learning, growing, and preaching through The ELI Project

By: Hannah Lundberg

Hannah Lundberg is one of seven young adults spending the summer interning with The ELI Project, a Minnesota Conference program designed to help college students explore a call to vocational ministry. She has spent June and July at Woodbury Peaceful Grove UMC. Here, she reflects on what she's experienced and learned, and how she's grown.

I came into the ELI Project feeling pretty confident that I would like to go into ministry, but in a lot of ways, this experience has validated some of my gifts and shown me new areas in which to grow and develop both my leadership skills and my faith.
 
There are a lot of elements of church work that you don’t see from just attending worship, and it was really exciting to spend the summer learning more about those (both the exciting and the monotonous) and to see how the pastors and staff I worked with would balance the day-to-day administrative tasks of running a church while also doing the deeper, spiritual work that people think of more immediately when thinking about pastoral work.
 
My host church, Woodbury Peaceful Grove UMC, is currently going through the MCCI (Missional Church Consultation Initiative) process, which in part means creating a lot of committees and groups to discuss how the church moves forward to even better ministry opportunities—“jump-starting a new life cycle of ministry fruitfulness,” as I’ve heard it described. I have gotten to help with a lot of the logistics of forming all those committees and getting congregants excited about the process moving forward, and I think it is one of the areas in which I have learned the most throughout my internship.
 
Coming from outside of The United Methodist Church, one of the highlights of the program has been learning more about the UMC and the Minnesota Conference through our orientation week trips to a variety of churches, the week we spent at Annual Conference, and interacting with all the structures of the larger church body that impact the specific local church I am working with.
 
I have gotten to meet and interact with a lot of different people who have been down the path of discernment that I am currently walking, and it has been so helpful to hear those stories and see how other people have discerned their call. Even better, I have built a lot of relationships with people working in different ministry areas throughout the Minnesota Conference. I now have lots of smart, awesome people in ministry I can call upon for advice as I move forward and have questions and difficult decisions to make in my own life and in whatever ministry I eventually do.

Probably the most exciting part of my summer was getting to preach and then talk to congregants afterwards who would give me feedback, encouragement, and advice. The first time I preached, I was at our church’s smaller campus in Cottage Grove, where all the services are lay-led; this made it a nice, low-pressure way to start off.

The second time I got to preach, it was at the larger Woodbury campus, and I got the big surprise of having a large youth group from a United Methodist Church in Ohio sitting in on the service! They were on their way out for a mission trip and had spent the night at our church, but I didn’t realize until a few minutes before the service started that they would be there for it. Afterwards, I talked to a lot of high school and college students who were really excited that a young person had given the message. It was a neat “God moment” that made a really fun morning of preaching even more meaningful.

All in all, my experience with The ELI Project has been truly wonderful, and I am so glad to have spent my summer this way. I have done a couple other internships related to ministry during other summers, and this was definitely the best and most engaging one yet. I was paired up with a really great church and with leaders who were excited to work with me and find ways for me to learn and help advance the ministry of the church, and the things I did felt meaningful. I have learned a lot and know I can take the lessons on to whatever other work I eventually will do.

ELI intern reflects on what she’s learned about ministry, ‘being church’

  Kare Louwagie (right) pictured with her mentor Katie Matson-Daley (left).

Kare Louwagie (right) pictured with her mentor Katie Matson-Daley (left).

Kari Louwagie is one of eight young adults participating in the ELI Project,a newly launched Minnesota Conference internship program for college students exploring a call to vocational ministry. Each intern is spending two months this summer within a host congregation, where he or she is engaging in various aspects of hands-on ministry. Louwagie is interning at Park Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. She attends Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, and her home church is Christ Lutheran in Cottonwood.

I have aspired to be a pastor since I was in high school. As I was searching for summer internships within the church this past spring, one of the college chaplains at Gustavus told me about The ELI Project. After she described it to me, I knew I had to apply.  

The ELI Project is exactly the kind of internship I was looking for. It helps young adults discern their call to ministry by giving them an opportunity to work in a church setting. What I appreciate most about this internship is that it has allowed me to experience several different areas of ministry. Through my internship at Park Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, I have been involved with youth ministry and congregational care, as well as event organizing.

I have been active in the church and have served in a variety of roles, but I had very little experience with youth ministry before I helped out with Vacation Bible School at Park Avenue. During our reflection time at the end of our second-to-last day, I asked my group of third- and fourth-grade girls to tell me about the story we had been discussing. Then, one of the quieter girls spoke up. Not only did she recount how Bartimaeus reached out to Jesus despite the people around him telling him not to, but she also talked about how the people around Bartimaeus should have empathized with him instead of judging him. She then talked about how Jesus doesn’t like it when people from “his crowd” distinguish between “us and them” because Jesus doesn’t do that. Her message was short and simple, but it was powerful. I haven’t spent a lot of time working with children, but I’m discovering that it’s amazing what you can learn from the faith of a child simply by asking a question and listening to what they have to say.

My clergy mentor pointed out to me that most people who grew up in the church and continue to go to church as young adults had five or more adults within the church that invested in them when they were young. Children are not just the future of the church; they are the church. As I continue to work in the ministry field, both through this internship and beyond, I want to be more intentional about including and listening to the children around me. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the people in my home congregation who loved, supported, and cared for me when I was young. Now that I’m older, it’s my turn to start investing in the children I encounter.

Working at Park Avenue has also allowed me to gain experience in congregational care, which is an aspect of ministry I feel particularly drawn to. One part of my calling to ministry that has been very clear is that I am meant to accompany others. For me, one of the most fulfilling things is being able to walk with, care for, and encourage others. I have become familiar with the resources that are available to the congregation and the ways in which the pastoral care team keep track of the needs of the congregation. I have also been able to do some home visits with the woman who is in charge of congregational care. I have learned a lot simply by spending time with her and paying attention to how she interacts with people.

Another aspect I appreciate about this internship is that the church I’m working at is different from the church I grew up in. My family attended church at a small Lutheran congregation in rural southwest Minnesota for most of my childhood. Prior to coming to Park Avenue, I had little knowledge of the United Methodist church and had never worshipped in an urban congregation.   

Something I appreciate about Park Avenue is that it is good at being church to its neighbors. Park Avenue is a vibrant, diverse congregation that serves the local community in a variety of ways. There is a second-hand store in the church basement and a free walk-in legal clinic every Thursday afternoon. The congregation seeks to get to know the people who live in the surrounding community by hosting a weekly inter-generational gathering during the month of July, called “Park in the Neighborhood.” When I told a friend of mine about all that Park Avenue does, she said, “They’re being church!” I feel very fortunate to have been placed in a congregation that goes beyond the walls of the church to help meet local needs.

One part of my internship (that I had not done as of this writing in early July) that I am very much looking forward to is the opportunity to be involved with worship planning. Another aspect of ministry that I’m drawn to is liturgy. Specifically, I like looking at what comprises a worship service and what makes worship meaningful for a particular congregation.

I am finding that there is never a shortage of learning to do or experiences to be had, and I love every minute of it.

Minnesota Annual Conference launches internship program for college students exploring call to ordained ministry

By Christa Meland

Less than 7 percent of United Methodist clergy serving in Minnesota are under the age of 40. Meanwhile, more than 50 percent of the state’s clergy are eligible to retire within the next five years.

These statistics are startling—and they illustrate the need to immediately and effectively cultivate a new generation of church leaders. That’s exactly what a new Minnesota Conference internship program hopes to do.

The Exploring Leadership Internship program, or “The ELI Project” for short, is for students exploring a call to ordained ministry. Through it, up to 10 college students will be invited to participate in a learning experience during summer 2015. After gathering for a week of orientation, which will include trips to seminaries and an opportunity to learn about the United Methodist Church, each intern will be placed at a host church or organization for eight weeks. Over that period, the host congregation will invite the intern to gain hands-on experience in a wide variety of ministerial contexts—and involve the intern in intentional reading, spiritual formation, and reflective discussions to help him or her hear and discern God’s call.

Interns will receive a $3,000 stipend, $2,000 of which will come from the conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry and $1,000 of which the host church is expected to provide.

Culture of call

The program aligns with the Minnesota Conference’s desire to create a culture of call that actively encourages all United Methodists, but particularly young adults, to explore how God is calling them to use their gifts to build the kingdom.

“We often talk to young people about what they want to be when they grow up and encourage them to think about careers such as teaching, being a doctor or lawyer, or a plumber or carpenter, but we don’t often invite them to think about being a pastor or leader in the church,” said Director of Ministries Cindy Gregorson. “And yet, if the church is the hope of the world, why would we not invite young people to consider this vocation as something significant and worthy of consideration?”

The name “The ELI Project” refers to the biblical story of Hannah, Eli, and Samuel. Hannah, desperate for a child, commits Samuel to the Lord well before he is conceived. Eli, witnessing Hannah in prayer, blesses her by saying, “And may the God of Israel give you what you’ve asked from him.” After Hannah’s son Samuel is born, she and Eli help him recognize God’s call more directly. Hannah places Samuel into positions of ministry with Eli so that as Samuel hears the voice of God, Eli is there to help him fully hear and respond to it.

The program is made possible thanks to a $60,000 grant that the Minnesota Conference received last year through the global United Methodist Church’s Young Clergy Initiative Fund, which aims to “increase the number of young clergy leaders among the jurisdictional conferences.” It aligns with the conference’s Journey Toward Vitality, a roadmap that presents a vision to increase vitality in our churches and outlines the strategic pathways that will get us there—one of which is developing missional leaders.

New project manager

Joelle Anderson was recently hired project manager for The ELI Project. In that part-time position, she will oversee the application and selection process and work with the interns and host congregations. She’s responsible for ensuring a positive internship experience for the students and helping the host sites to understand their role.

Anderson, who lives in Coon Rapids, grew up Baptist and graduated in spring 2014 with a master of divinity degree. She’s thrilled to be able to lead this new program for the Minnesota Conference.

“The task of The ELI Project is vital for the body of Christ right now,” she said. “Young people are exploring what it means to follow Christ and are creative in what traditions and practices they use. What excites me the most about The ELI Project is the ability to plug young talent into churches to see how one will sharpen and mold the other. Young adults have an incredible desire to experience and be in relationship with God. Their nuanced perspective and voice will challenge and inspire others in their circles. What the hosting churches will do is bring tangible ministry experience and wisdom to the students.”

When Anderson was an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, many people told her that she would make a good pastor, and she knew she enjoyed all aspects of church: the worship, the people, learning about Jesus, studying the Bible, and educating herself about the history of Christianity. But she didn’t know what vocational ministry might look like for her life and didn’t have an opportunity to try it out. A program like The ELI Project would have helped her immensely, she said.

“I think ‘discernment’ and ‘call’ and ‘vocational ministry’ can seem mysterious,” she said. “We hope that The ELI Project will provide some tangible footholds.”

Churches across the state will be a key part of the internship process. In addition to having the opportunity to host interns, all congregations within the conference are being asked identify college students who might be a good fit for the program and encourage them to consider the program.

Learn more

Visit The ELI Project website for more information or to apply to be an intern or a host church. You can also stay connected to The ELI Project through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

“Every generation is best reached by people in their own generation,” said Gregorson. “The average age of a United Methodist is 61.  If we are going to reach our children and their children with the good news of Jesus Christ, we need leaders in their 20s and 30s who are passionate about the gospel and the power of Christian community.”

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Conference receives $60K grant to develop young clergy

By Christa Meland

When Rev. Judy Zabel was in high school, she was given the opportunity to work alongside an adult mentor and teach Sunday school classes at her church. Later, she became the pianist who accompanied the church choir. These experiences provided valuable leadership skills and ultimately helped her discover her passion for ministry.

“They planted seeds that got me thinking about how God was calling me to use my gifts to build the kingdom,” said Zabel, superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference’s Twin Cities District.

That’s essentially the goal behind a formational retreat and summer internship that will be available to college students within the Minnesota Conference starting in 2015.

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry recently approved a $60,000 grant for the Minnesota Conference through the global United Methodist Church’s Young Clergy Initiative fund. This $7 million fund, created by the 2012 General Conference, aims to “increase the number of young clergy among the jurisdictional conferences.”

The Minnesota Conference program will be geared toward students who are exploring whether they are called to ordained ministry. It aligns with the conference’s Journey Toward Vitality, a roadmap that presents a vision to increase vitality in our churches and outlines the strategic pathways that will get us there—one of which is developing missional leaders.

The first component of the new program is a weeklong retreat at which participants will experience various forms of ministry, reflect on public church leadership, visit seminaries and learn about seminary education, and engage in formational spiritual activities.

After the retreat, each student will be placed in a healthy, vibrant church or ministry setting and given the opportunity to use their passions to lead over the course of a summer. Mentors will walk alongside them, answer their questions, and affirm their gifts. The goal is for 12 students to participate in the internship program in 2015.

The funding awarded to the Minnesota Conference was approved during the second round of Young Clergy Initiative grants. A total of 49 grants ranging from $5,000 to $100,000 were announced last week. The Minnesota Conference applied for $100,000, but the grant team was thrilled about the $60,000 awarded.

Rev. Rhodie Jacobson, pastor at Monticello UMC and co-chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, points out that many companies and industries offer practical experiences to help students get a taste for a profession they might be considering. Churches need to be doing this same thing in order to present ordained ministry as an option at the time when young people are choosing a career path.

“This new internship program can help people actually and specifically and tangibly…get their feet wet and do real ministry,” said Jacobson, a member of the team that designed the program and applied for the grant. “We are talking about a privileged labor—being a pastor. Internships are an exciting way to help people discern this unique call.”

Grant money will cover the cost of the internships (which are paid), the retreat, and staff to run the program—and the funding will last through the end of 2015. The program is somewhat of a pilot, and next year, conference leaders will assess what’s next.

Leaders at all churches within the conference will be asked to identify college students who might be a good fit for the program. Zabel said it’s critical for churches to make an intentional effort to identify the gifts of the young people in their congregations, affirm those gifts, provide an opportunity for those gifts to be used in a leadership role, and ask the question, “Do you think you might be called to ordained ministry?”

“We know that the harvest is great and the laborers are few,” said Zabel, a member of the team that designed the program and applied for the Young Clergy Initiative grant. She noted that a large percentage of Minnesota clergy are expected to retire within the next five years. “We need articulate, talented, thoughtful, open-minded individuals to lead our congregations.”

Zabel said those who become ordained earlier in their careers also have longer pastorates, which helps in terms of being able to grow churches over time and apply wisdom gained over years of experience.

Rev. Andy Keck, a deacon from the North Carolina Conference who is on loan to the Minnesota Conference, was part of the team that designed the program and was the primary writer of the Young Clergy Initiative grant application.

“We really want to develop a culture of call,” said Keck, who serves at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. “Part of the young clergy piece is that Minnesota and the church generally need people to navigate our church and culture…We need young adults to help us reach young adults.”

All United Methodists are called into ministry on behalf of Christ when they are baptized. But the type and setting for ministry is different for everyone.

The group that designed the new program for the conference pointed to the biblical story of Hannah, Eli, and Samuel when illustrating the importance of helping young people explore their call.

Hannah, desperate for a child, commits Samuel to the Lord well before he is conceived. Eli, witnessing Hannah in prayer, blesses her by saying, “And may the God of Israel give you what you’ve asked from him.” After Hannah’s son Samuel is born, she and Eli help him recognize God’s call more directly. Hannah places Samuel into positions of ministry with Eli so that as Samuel hears the voice of God, Eli is there to help him fully hear and respond to it.

“We need to help people hear clearly the voice of God,” said Jacobson.

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.