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.