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.