By: Christa Meland
“I want to serve you but I don’t know how. Guide me to where you want me.”
That prayer, which Kelby Werner lifted up five years ago when he felt a nudge from God, led him on a path to attending seminary and becoming a certified candidate for ministry in the Minnesota Conference—and a key part of his discernment was an ELI Project internship in 2020.
“As the church was grappling with the new reality brought about by COVID-19, I was able to observe and engage in new ways of doing ministry both online and socially distanced,” said Werner, who previously interned at First UMC (the Coppertop) in Duluth and is now attending Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. “My experience in the ELI program made a significant impact on my life.”
The Exploring Leadership Internship (ELI) Project, now in its eighth year, provides a hands-on learning experience for college students interested in vocational ministry. It is one way in which the Minnesota Conference seeks to create a culture of call that actively encourages young people to explore how God is calling them to use their gifts. It’s also a way in which the conference is raising up the next generation of bold, Spirit-filled leaders; some former ELI interns are now United Methodist pastors in Minnesota.
This summer, Werner will return as an ELI 2.0 intern. The returning intern “2.0” role includes a customized placement that dives even deeper into the type of ministry that ELI interns are passionate about. ELI 2.0 interns also gain a conference-wide perspective of ministry, visit a variety of churches, and help mentor the first-time interns. He’ll be paired with clergy mentor, Rev. Bill Eaves, and assist in getting the conference’s MNsource online platform up and running.
“I want to explore the diversity found within the Minnesota Annual Conference, meet more of the people who make ministry possible, and help guide any prospective ELI interns figure out where God is calling them,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tapiwa Audrey Manyonga will be a first-time ELI intern serving at Albert Lea UMC. She is from Zimbabwe and pursuing a master of divinity at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Manyonga is a former United Methodist Global Mission Fellow who served in the Philippines, working with youth in the community and leading weekly worship.
In Albert Lea, she is particularly looking forward to learning about how to build relationships within the community, provide pastoral care, and effectively lead worship—and she is excited to discover more about her gifts for ministry.
“My vision is to see communities with people who love, support, and do not stigmatize or discriminate [against] others because of what did not work in their lives,” she said. “I really love preaching, engaging with the community, and learning from others.”
Rev. John Mitchem, pastor at Albert Lea UMC, will be Manyonga’s clergy mentor. He has long hoped to host an ELI intern and is thrilled that it’s finally happening.
“I believe we are called as a congregation to invest in the next generation of pastors, and The ELI Project enables us to do that,” he said.
This internship will be a cross-cultural placement, which also excites him. As his congregation continues to have conversations about racism and examine the different ways in which they both view and have experienced the world, he believes it is critically important for members to hear a variety of voices—and this will help give them an opportunity to do just that.
Mitchem will invite Manyonga to help plan a couple of community outreach events, lead a Bible study, assist with funerals and baptisms, attend leadership meetings, and explore other facets of ministry that most interest her.
Werner and Manyonga will meet with each other on a regular basis, and their internships will span two months.
“My hope for these ELI interns is that they experience a summer of deep listening to the unique call that is on their lives and they have the opportunity to experiment and ‘try on’ ministry while surrounded by grace-filled clergy and congregational leaders,” said Jody Thone, director of leadership development, who oversees The ELI Project.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church