ELI Project seeks interns, host churches for 2021

January 13, 2021
Emily Hilderbrand is one of last summer's ELI Interns. All five 2020 interns are planning to pursue or seriously considering vocational ministry in The United Methodist Church.

By: Karla Hovde

Emily Hilderbrand is one of five college students who spent summer 2020 exploring vocational ministry through the Minnesota Conference’s Exploring Leadership Internship (ELI) Project.
“I got such a confidence boost from being an ELI,” said Hilderbrand. “I grew so much in my skills, but also in assurance that I was good at what I was doing. I felt really good about the ministry I was able to provide.”
The ELI Project is a major way in which the Minnesota Annual Conference raises up the next generation of passionate, Spirit-filled leaders. 2021 will be the seventh summer of the internship program.
College students are matched with a host church and clergy mentor for an in-depth ministry experience that includes planning worship, preaching or leading a Bible study, and providing pastoral care. Each interns receives $3,000 for the 10-week internship.
Applications for 2021 interns and host churches will be accepted through March 1.
What the summer holds
Regardless of how close to fully re-opening Minnesota communities and churches are this summer, 2021 ELI interns will have a meaningful experience, said Jody Thone, director of leadership development for the Minnesota Conference.

Last summer’s internship took place mostly virtually, and yet the interns indicated that the experience still helped them affirm God’s call on their lives.
Last summer’s internship was comprised of mostly virtual worship and relationship-building between the interns, their clergy mentors, and their host churches. Still, the interns gave high marks and indicated that the experience helped them affirm God’s call on their lives. All five 2020 interns are planning to pursue or seriously considering vocational ministry in The United Methodist Church.
All of the typical ELI intern experiences will be possible for this summer’s interns too, whether or not church life is fully in-person. Hilderbrand’s internship at Champlin UMC included leading parts of worship every week and giving two sermons. She attended committee meetings and accompanied her clergy mentor, Rev. Max Richter, to pastoral care visits each week—either virtually or in-person with safety precautions. Along the way, Richter helped Hilderbrand identify goals and provided feedback and support for everything from learning how to preach, to giving bereavement care, to managing major changes in church committees.
“I left with a really strong confidence that ministry was where I was supposed to go,” said Hilderbrand, adding that it was highly rewarding for her to be treated as a clergy colleague by Richter, her mentor. “It made me realize in my heart that this is what I want to be,” she said.
Pursuing personal interests
The 2021 ELI Project will offer a unique opportunity to interns who are interested in digital ministry. The Dakotas-Minnesota Area is launching a program to help churches start a digital campus. An intern who has interest in this groundbreaking realm of church ministry and outreach can be matched with a church that is ready to establish a robust digital ministry.
ELI interns can also be connected to a church that is doing work in another area of interest they may have, such as environmental justice, ministry with homeless people, care ministries, or housing security. There are United Methodist congregations and clergy who are at the forefront of these and other justice issues in Minnesota, and interns can gain firsthand experience in that field through this internship.
To college students considering applying, Hilderbrand said, “It is a great opportunity and a lot more immersive than an internship you might be able to do during the school year. It will definitely help you determine if ministry is the right thing for you.”
Past interns can also participate in “ELI 2.0” which includes a customized placement that dives even deeper into the type of ministry that they 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. ELI 2.0 interns receive a $3,500 stipend.
Get involved
Invite college students you know to apply to the ELI Project, and consider applying to be a host church.
The pandemic has reduced typical recruiting opportunities, so The ELI Project’s mission to raise up the next generation of leaders depends on every Minnesota United Methodist helping to recruit young people. Thone hopes to have six to eight interns this year.
If you know college-aged disciples who may be discerning a call to vocational ministry, invite them to apply for an internship.
The ELI Project also hinges on the partnership between local churches and the Minnesota Conference. Host churches and clergy mentors give these young adults the space, guidance, and support needed to discern their call. Congregations can apply to be host churches.
“Seeing how well our congregation responded to Emily's leadership solidified my goal to have Champlin [UMC] be a teaching church for future clergy,” said Richter. “Seeing the joy and strength of Emily's call becoming rooted even more deeply is incredibly rewarding as a mentor.”
Applications for interns and for host churches close March 1.
Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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