By: Karla Hovde
Seven college students have completed their 10-week summer internship with The ELI Project—five as first-time interns and two as part of the first round of second-time interns, in an expansion of the program called ELI 2.0. All of them found the experience valuable, and more than half now plan to pursue vocational ministry.
The first-time ELI interns spent the past two months taking a deep dive within a single host congregation and gained experience planning worship, preaching or leading a Bible study, and providing pastoral care. The ELI 2.0 interns explored ministry from a conference-wide perspective, visited a wide variety of churches, and mentored the first-time interns. All seven interns had clergy mentors to guide them.
The ELI Project is a major way in which the Minnesota Annual Conference is committing to raising up the next generation of passionate, Spirit-filled leaders. Now that the ELI Project is in its fifth year, some of its first interns are becoming pastors in the Minnesota Conference.
Joe Meinholz, one of the ELI 2.0 interns, found himself thinking in a whole new way this summer, having previously gone from serving a single local church to taking a broader view of how the whole conference works.
“That was a challenging learning curve,” he said. He worked with Jody Thone, the conference’s director of leadership development and The ELI Project coordinator, to understand how to think “not in terms of relationships with people at every church but affecting the systems that can help foster those relationships.”
Meinholz’s primary goal this second summer was to get a bigger sense of The United Methodist Church and an understanding of different church cultures within the conference, especially in rural areas. He learned that churches worship in a wide variety of ways, and that all are important because they bring people into relationship with God and each other.
In addition, Meinholz worked with the Dakotas-Minnesota Area Camping Ministries on a project aimed at developing a culture of call in camping. He also spent significant time working with Minnesota Hopeful EarthKeepers developing curriculum, practicing community organizing, and building relationships with people across the conference who are passionate about caring for creation.
Christina Johnson, a first-time intern, spent the summer at White Bear Lake UMC, trying many facets of vocational ministry. She did everything from working with children and youth to attending meetings and home visits with Rev. Bill Eaves to meeting with people at a senior care facility.
“I’ve been blown away by the generosity of everyone I’ve met,” she said. “They’ve been willing to share their time and wisdom with me in my discernment process.”
Through her internship, she has become confident that not only is pastoral ministry something she is called to do, but that she possesses the gifts and skills necessary to lead a church. “Before, pastoral ministry was scary and made me nervous, and I didn’t want to admit that that is what I was being called to,” she said.
Discerning their call
At least four of this year’s interns are confident that they want to pursue a career in ministry in one form or another.
Allison Schwarz, an ELI 2.0 intern, has known for some time that she wants to pursue vocational ministry—she declared her candidacy in the Minnesota Annual Conference as a college sophomore—so she looked as this second summer of The ELI Project as a way to live out her calling now, even though she’s not yet ordained or serving a church.
However, this summer, she came to see her calling more holistically. “I understand more about where I want to be and that I’m still God’s child, doing God’s work every day regardless of where I am or what title I hold,” she said. She enjoys talking to people about their calling. “I think that’s a big asset to this program, that Jody is so good at teaching call. And now that I’ve had two summers with her, it has really sunk in.”
For Meinholz, this summer confirmed that being in local church ministry is life-giving for him, and it showed him that his call could take him on a number of different paths in the next few years.
Advice for future prospective interns
Schwarz advises other college students that “if you’re even slightly considering ministry, this is a great program to learn about who you are and where you are called to,” adding: “You can try out things in a grace-filled setting.” She has found that churches that host interns welcome them and make them feel like part of the family. Even if a young person doesn’t ultimately feel called to be a pastor, The ELI Project allows them to experiment with different aspects of ministry and see where their gifts are aligned.
Johnson, too, said host churches provide an incredible learning environment. “They want to pour into you as a young person, and help you grow in your relationship with God and discern your call to ministry,” she said. “There was never a time I felt like I didn’t belong or my ideas weren’t valued. I always felt welcomed.”
Meinholz is confident he made the right choice by spending a second summer as an intern. “There’s great mentorship available here that I have not experienced anywhere else,” he said.
Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
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