By: Christa Meland
As a queer and trans person, Rye Galbreath knows what it’s like to feel alienated from the church. They spent long periods of their adolescence wrestling with a perceived conflict between their faith and identity. In ninth grade, Galbreath recalls begging God for some sign that they weren’t broken—and a move to Los Angeles finally allowed them to start embracing who they are.
“I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that God’s love is the sole reason I am here today,” they said.
Galbreath, who attends the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, found the university’s Wesley Foundation campus ministry almost entirely by accident, and the experience led them to start considering vocational ministry.
Galbreath is one of three college students who are spending June and July participating in a hands-on learning experience through the Minnesota Conference’s Exploring Leadership Internship (ELI) Project. Each intern has been assigned to a host church and paired with a clergy mentor at that church. The ELI Project, now in its seventh year, aligns with the conference’s desire to create a culture of call that actively encourages young adults to explore how God is calling them to build the kingdom.
Galbreath hopes that their internship will help them discern their future in ministry.
“I hope to do work with queer youth in the church, particularly those who have been hurt by the church,” said Galbreath, who will intern with New City Church in Minneapolis and be mentored by Rev. Tyler Sit. “Even to this day, queer youth are forced into the closet, to hide who they are under the pain of verbal, emotional, and often physical abuse. Those who do brave the coming out process are often exposed to toxic rhetoric about their eternity, and many are even left on the streets. I hope to help try and rectify some of this damage on a personal level, letting these youth know that they are still loved by God and others, while also helping to meet their physical and emotional needs.”
After gathering for a virtual orientation earlier this month, each intern is spending two months at their host church and gaining experience in a wide variety of ministerial contexts. All 2021 interns will have the opportunity to preach and/or lead a Bible study or devotional, plan worship, be involved in a social justice or community outreach ministry, observe leadership development/discipleship ministry, and provide pastoral care. The interns will also meet with each other on a regular basis to process their experiences and hear from a variety of leaders in the Minnesota Conference.
“My biggest hope for these ELI interns is that they experience a summer of deep listening to the unique call that is on each of their lives and they have the opportunity to experiment and ‘try on’ ministry in their different contexts, all surrounded by grace-filled clergy and congregational leaders,” said Jody Thone, director of leadership development, who oversees The ELI Project.
Alaina Boettcher is another 2021 intern. A member of Wyoming UMC, she attends Minnesota State University, Mankato. She spent several years at the conference’s STORM Camp, completing service projects and worshiping each morning and evening. For her, the experience was transformational and reaffirmed her faith after some difficult teen years when she struggled with depression.
She wants to be a high school Spanish teacher and hopes the ELI internship—which she will complete at Wyoming UMC with Rev. Holly Aastuen as her mentor—will deepen her faith and help her learn how to relate to different people.
Meanwhile, Emily Hilderbrand—who attends Hamline University in St. Paul and interned last year—will return this year as a 2.0 intern and work with Rev. Nate Melcher, who serves Richfield UMC, as her clergy mentor. 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.
For Hilderbrand, last summer’s internship solidified her call to ordained ministry—and she looks forward to deepening her faith and further discerning her call this summer.
“I am not looking to convert people to Christianity,” she said. “Rather , I feel that I am called to create a space where people can feel supported, loved, and valued …I firmly believe that as Christians, we have a divine calling to be loud advocates for justice in the world .”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church