Eight students, host churches selected for ELI Project summer internship program

April 29, 2015

By: Christa Meland

Lorin Leake has been discerning a call to ministry for as long as she can remember. But she’s always been uncomfortable answering that call because it’s so open-ended. She’s considered college chaplaincy, pastoral care, mental health counseling, and social service work, but she’s unsure which role best aligns with her gifts.

She hopes to receive some clarity this summer through the Exploring Leadership Internship (ELI) Project, a new Minnesota Conference initiative through which Leake and seven other college students also exploring a call to vocational ministry will participate in a hands-on learning experience at a host church.

“This internship will give me the opportunity to narrow the focus of this call and give me the confidence and direction to choose a seminary and make the most of my time in that seminary,” said Leake, who attends Macalester College in St. Paul and will intern at Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis. “A personal goal for this internship is to see an example of a church leadership team that creates an accepting and loving sense of community extending beyond the church. What I’m hoping to learn about myself is that there is a way to be entirely, wholly me and be an ordained minister.”

The ELI Project aligns with the conference’s desire to create a culture of call that actively encourages United Methodists, and particularly young adults, to explore how God is calling them to build the kingdom.

The inaugural year of the ELI Project was made possible thanks to a $60,000 grant that the Minnesota Conference received last year through the global United Methodist Church’s Young Clergy Initiative. Earlier this year, college students and local churches were invited to apply to participate in the ELI Project pilot this summer. A nine-person team of clergy and laity developed the program and selected interns and host churches from the pool of applicants.

After gathering for a week of orientation in late May, which will include trips to seminaries and an opportunity to learn about the United Methodist Church, each intern will spend eight weeks at a host church, where he or she will gain hands-on experience in a wide variety of ministerial contexts.

The internship ‘means everything’

For Lee Miller, who will spend his summer at Uptown Church—a new faith community in Minneapolis—the internship is an opportunity to supplement his religious studies at Hamline University with practical experience.

The internship “means everything,” he said, adding that he’s looking forward to learning how to build a church from the ground up.

“Working with the new start at Uptown, I will be able to work hand-in-hand with a congregation that is looking to sustain itself long-term and see how that affects the decisions of the pastor,” said Miller. “I am hoping to gain real-life experience of what being a pastor means outside of just a source of religious knowledge.”

Meanwhile, host sites see the internship as a way to help develop the next generation of leaders while also nurturing a culture of call within their own congregations.

“We meet with our students every year and we talk with them about the opportunity to serve God and bless our neighbors through full-time Christian ministry,” said Rev. Dan Wetterstrom, who serves Woodbury Peaceful Grove UMC, which will host intern Ronnie Stimson this summer. “Our intern is an incarnational example of a college student who sees God at work in their life and is exploring that. It’s going to be great for our students to have an opportunity to see and hear from Ronnie because it will make it more real for them.”

Wetterstrom said Stimson is particularly interested in youth ministry and will have an opportunity to help lead several student outreach projects—including a “Summer Stretch” program through which the church’s middle-schoolers spend Wednesdays doing service projects in the community. Additionally, Woodbury Peaceful Grove has been exploring ways to tap into the energy and passion that parents and students have around sports—and leverage it to help people think about their faith; Stimson will be invited to be part of that team as well.

“We have a great learning environment,” Wetterstrom said. “There are so many ways that someone who’s interested in exploring ministry can have exposure through pastoral care, compassion and justice ministries, small groups, worship, preaching, and other areas.”

The need for young leaders

Currently, 12.6 percent of United Methodist clergy serving in Minnesota are under the age of 40—and 65.5 percent of the state’s clergy will be eligible to retire within the next five years.

Rev. Judy Zabel, superintendent for the Twin Cities District and the leader of the ELI Project team, said we need to be asking ourselves: “Who will be your pastor in 10 years?”

The ELI Project is a tangible way we’re developing the next generation of leaders—and encouraging churches to facilitate meaningful conversations and teach around call, she added.

“We have a great group of interns,” Zabel said. “They’re smart, they’re enthusiastic, they’re open to the Holy Spirit. Who knows—one of them might be your pastor someday.”

Interns and host churches

The 2015 ELI Project interns—along with their host churches, their home churches, and their schools—are:

John Barclay III
Interning: Brunswick UMC (Crystal)
Home church: Coon Rapids UMC
School: Rochester Community and Technical College

David Hodd
Interning: STORM Faith Community (multi-site)
Home church: STORM Faith Community
School: North Central University

Lorin Leake
Interning: Hennepin Avenue UMC (Minneapolis)
Home church: Calvary UMC (Nashville, TN)
School: Macalester College

Kari Louwagie
Interning: Park Avenue UMC (Minneapolis)
Home church: Christ Lutheran Church (Cottonwood)
School: Gustavus Adolphus College

Lee J. Miller
Interning: Uptown Church with (Minneapolis)
Home church: Coon Rapids UMC
School: Hamline University

Dani Smith
Interning: Wesley UMC (Winona)
Home church: Lester Park UMC (Duluth)
School: Lake Superior College

Ronnie Stimson
Interning: Woodbury Peaceful Grove UMC
Home church: Mount Olivet Lutheran Church (Minneapolis)
School: Hamline University

Melissa Thompson
Interning: Anoka UMC
Home church: Gethsemane Baptist Temple (Starr, SC)
School: Hamline University

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

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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