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.