By: Christa Meland
“Where do I become the servant of God that I was meant to be?”
That’s the question that Jon Mehlhaus hopes to explore as a 2017 ELI Project intern.
For a while now, Mehlhaus has had little doubt that working in the church would be the best way for him to serve God. But through spending time teaching in a medium-security prison and tutoring teenage boys in a juvenile detention facility, he’s encountered many people who feel isolated from God’s love. Perhaps God wants to use him as a prison chaplain or a college chaplain instead.
“To me, the internship is a chance for me to re-discover and re-evaluate my roots in the United Methodist tradition,” said Mehlhaus, a member of Eden Prairie UMC and a student at Grinnell College in Iowa. “By getting a chance to see where I fit in the organized structure of the church, I can better understand where my place truly is.”
Mehlhaus is one of seven college students who will spend two months this summer participating in a hands-on learning experience through the Exploring Leadership Internship (ELI) Project. Each intern will be assigned to a host church and paired with a clergy mentor at that church. The ELI Project, now in its third 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.
After gathering for orientation from May 30 to June 2, each intern will spend June and July at his or her host church and gain experience in a wide variety of ministerial contexts. All 2017 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
• Provide pastoral care
Joseph Meinholz, another 2017 intern, was a devout Christian in high school but later faltered in his faith and became an atheist. It was self-exploration, deep conversations, and asking a lot of questions that eventually led him back to God.
“Two years later, I am more excited about faith than ever,” he said. “Instead of convictions held in a closed fist, I am on a journey to follow Jesus with open hands and an open heart.”
Meinholz, a student at the University of Minnesota and a member of Jacob’s Well Church in Minneapolis, said his experience thus far has mostly been in churches with minimal structure.
“I am excited to learn the joys and challenges of working within a system that is well-established instead of working from the ground up,” he said. “For my personal growth, I hope to expand my ability to fit my personal vision into a larger vision for the church. Having minimal experience in the Methodist church, I aspire to enter this internship as a learner, letting the approach of the church where I am placed challenge my assumptions.”
Earlier this year, college students and local churches were invited to apply to participate in the ELI Project this summer. A team of clergy and laity selected interns and host churches from the pool of applicants. Interns will receive a $3,000 stipend, $2,000 of which will come from the conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry and $1,000 of which the host church is expected to provide.
Ruth Olson is studying math and physics at the University of Portland in Oregon. She’s passionate about those subjects—but she also feels called to walk alongside others through their joys and challenges and has felt a nudge toward pastoral ministry. At times, she says, it’s hard to reconcile the two worlds she lives in: science and faith. Through the internship, she hopes to grow in her own discipleship and rekindle the flame inside of her so that she’s even more on fire for Christ.
“I am confident that in this internship, I can uncover a bit more of myself and discover a bit more of where my heart is at,” said Olson, a member of River Hills UMC in Burnsville.
The first year of the ELI Project was made possible thanks to a $60,000 grant that the Minnesota Conference received in 2014 through the global United Methodist Church’s Young Clergy Initiative, which aims to increase the number of young clergy leaders. Members of the 2015 annual conference session voted to increase the 2016 conference budget in order to continue the program for another year.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church