These four students got to test their pastoral gifts and callings through the Ministry Inquiry Program of Mennonite Church USA in the summer of 2014 (from left): Hanna Heishman, Evan Knappenberger, Chris Parks and Nathanael Ressler. (Photo by Jon Styer)

Four students explore various forms of ministry in summer program

When 20-year-old Hanna Heishman arrived at her assigned church this summer in Philadelphia, she wondered if she would have anything to offer the congregation. “I was definitely intimidated,” she said. “Would I be accepted?”

Heishman, a junior majoring in peacebuilding and development at Eastern Mennonite University, was part of the Ministry Inquiry Program of Mennonite Church USA. She spent 11 weeks at West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship in a stately old church shared by three congregations and numerous ministries. She got a taste of what it would be like to be a pastor by participating in the day-to-day activities of church ministry.

Was Heishman still intimidated by the end of the summer? “No,” she said, “I was pleasantly surprised by how well we all got along.”

“Hanna brought new energy to our church office,” said Pastor Lorie Hershey. “She values self-awareness, listening and learning, and brought that into her tasks and responsibilities, such as facilitating a weekly women’s group.” Hershey, who is a 2005 graduate of EMU’s seminary, said she enjoyed her many in-depth conversations with Heishman.

Three other EMU students participated in the 2014 Ministry Inquiry Program:

Nathanael Ressler, a junior Bible and religion major from Mount Vernon, Illinois, was a pastoral intern at Silverwood Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana. “My father is a pastor, so I had some idea of what to expect,” he said. His duties included visitation, planning and leading worship, writing for the newsletter, attending meetings and even preaching. “But I found that the life of a pastor is filled with miscellaneous jobs as well,” said Ressler, a transfer student from two-year Hesston College in Kansas.

Chris Parks, a senior theater major from Philadelphia, was a pastoral intern at Hyattsville Mennonite Church in Maryland, just outside Washington D.C. He spent time with the youth in their various activities, led worship and singing, preached, worked at a soup kitchen and met individually with members. One day a week he volunteered at the International Guest House. “I learned that in order to truly follow God, I need to serve on my knees, live in God’s abundant gifts and grace, and ‘waste’ my life for the Kingdom,” he said.

Evan Knappenberger, a senior philosophy and theology major from Charlottesville, Virginia, had a different kind of experience. He interned with the peace education director of Mennonite Central Committee and the peace/justice coordinator of Mennonite Church USA. He helped build a “prayers for peace” resource, worked on a Sunday school curriculum, wrote web content, and interviewed military veterans who are members of Mennonite Church USA or involved in the Veterans for Peace organization.

“This summer project was interesting both from a veterans’ community point-of-view and from a Mennonite point-of-view,” said Knappenberger, an Iraq War veteran who is now a pacifist. “My long-term project is the founding of the field of veterans’ studies.”

The Ministry Inquiry Program is typically funded by Mennonite Church USA, the participating colleges, area conferences, the students’ home churches and the host congregations. Heishman, Ressler and Parks each received a $2,000 scholarship for application to their fall semester. Their host churches provided housing and a $500 allowance. Knappenberger’s internship was funded differently, through Mennonite Central Committee, the peace office of Mennonite Church USA, and EMU.

“Through this program, students experience first hand what ministry is, and they test their gifts and sense of call,” said Carmen Schrock-Hurst, the EMU coordinator of the program and instructor in the Bible and religion department.