ELI Project welcomes six interns, expands in scope

Former ELI intern Joe Meinholz will return this summer for an "ELI 2.0" experience that allows him to see ministry in new ways. Photo by Linda's Photography

By: Christa Meland

Allison Schwarz is a lifelong United Methodist who grew up in Le Sueur UMC. She was mentored by her pastors, and on a mission trip to South Dakota just before seventh grade, she garnered the nickname “Pastor Allison,” which planted a seed that perhaps she was called to vocational ministry.

Her experience as an ELI Project intern last summer affirmed her call to ministry, and now she’s fully confident that she’s called to become a pastor in The United Methodist Church. She’s finishing her sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire, but she’s already declared her candidacy in the Minnesota Annual Conference, which is committed to raising up the next generation of passionate, Spirit-filled leaders.

“I have had many experiences that feel like God saying, ‘Allison, you are going the right way,’” said Schwarz, who interned at Christ UMC in Rochester last summer. “The ELI Project was the first major experience that allowed me to hear God’s voice.”

This summer, Schwarz will return to the ELI Project for “ELI 2.0,” an expansion of the conference’s five-year-old college internship program that is specifically designed for returning interns to explore ministry in a new way. Whereas regular ELI interns spend two months taking a deep dive within a single host congregation and gain experience planning worship, preaching or leading a Bible study, and providing pastoral care, ELI 2.0 interns will gain a wider perspective of ministry and take on an enhanced leadership role.

As ELI 2.0 interns, Schwarz and returning intern Joe Meinholz will mentor four new ELI interns—which includes leading weekly reflection time and helping to plan both an orientation and wrap-up retreat. Additionally, they will attend worship at six to eight different churches, participate in a social justice or community engagement project of their choosing (both hope to become involved with the conference’s Hopeful Earthkeepers), and have regular contact with both a clergy mentor and Jody Thone, the conference’s director of leadership development and ELI Project coordinator.

“My hope is that we are bringing excellent young clergy into our system and building an ecosystem of call,” said Thone, who points out that one former ELI intern—David Hodd—is now pastoring a church in the conference. “There aren’t very many experiences out there that give young people an opportunity to explore their call in a hands-on way. When a young person is interested in ordained ministry, we want to walk with them. This ELI 2.0 experience gives them the next step to saying ‘yes’ to being a clergyperson in the Minnesota Annual Conference.'“

The 2018 ELI interns; Allison Schwarz is far right. Photo by David Haines

The 2018 ELI interns; Allison Schwarz is far right. Photo by David Haines


Meinholz, who is about to graduate from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, interned at Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis in 2017 and is now part of the worship team at New City Church in Minneapolis. He is especially interested in exploring the Minnesota Conference across urban-rural and traditional-progressive lines, learning about how clergy can shape worship in meaningful ways while still adhering to more prescribed rituals, and discerning where he most comes alive in ministry.

Prior to his ELI internship, Meinholz had mostly experienced non-denominational church settings. But he was intrigued by the Wesleyan way of life and now also plans to become a pastor.

“I think I am drawn to the UMC because there is a deep belief that the Holy Spirit is working in us and ahead of us, and there is excitement to join that work and make disciples of Jesus Christ,” he said.

This year’s ELI internship—which provides a $3,000 stipend ($3,500 for ELI 2.0 interns)—will kick off with a group orientation from May 28-31, followed by a 10-week internship through Aug. 4, and a wrap-up retreat Aug. 6-7.

Julia Clark, who attends The Grove UMC in Woodbury, is a first-time ELI intern who said she looks forward to learning “how to build a life with Jesus as my foundation and my focus regardless of my vocation.” A student at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, she is pursuing physical therapy but has always felt a tug toward ministry.

“I am grateful in the end it does not matter what I think will be best, but rather, what God knows is best will be the path I end up following,” she said. “No matter what occupation or occupations I have after college, I know I will be working to discern how to serve, follow, and love Jesus each day.”

Interns and host churches

The 2019 ELI Project interns are:

2.0 (returning) interns

Joe Meinholz
Clergy mentors: Revs. Amelia and Andrew Buschena, Common Ground UMC (Cambridge)
School: University of Minnesota—Twin Cities (graduating May 2019)
Home church: New City Church (Minneapolis)

Allison Schwarz
Clergy mentor: Rev. Shawna Horn, Fairmount UMC (St. Paul)
School: University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire
Home church: Le Sueur UMC

First-time interns

Julia Clark
Interning: Epworth UMC (Minneapolis) with Rev. Steven Reiser
School: St. Catherine University (St. Paul)
Home church: The Grove (Woodbury)

Lily Dunk
Interning: Centennial UMC—St. Anthony Park (St. Paul) with Rev. Whitney Sheridan
School: University of Wisconsin—Twin Cities
Home church: Wesley Foundation, University of Minnesota—Twin Cities

Christina Johnson
Interning: White Bear Lake UMC with Rev. Bill Eaves
School: Bethel University (St. Paul)
Home church: St. Andrew Lutheran Church (Wausau, Wisconsin)

Lea Nygaard
Interning: Community UMC (Monticello) with Rev. Carrie Binnie
School: North Central University (Minneapolis)
Home church: Community UMC (Monticello) and Riverside Church (Big Lake)

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