Eastern Mennonite University students Liz Marin (left), Anna Ressler, Lydia Haggard and Abigail Shelly are in the Ministry Inquiry Program, a partnership of Mennonite colleges, Mennonite Church USA and local congregations. Upon completion, students receive scholarship money. (Photo by Macson McGuigan)

Inquiry program offers a ‘well-rounded way’ to explore ministry

Eastern Mennonite University junior Abigail Shelly’s arrival at her home for the summer in Philadelphia was, she said, “a proper foreshadowing” of the love and welcoming spirit she’d experience in the coming months. Just minutes before, the pastor who had picked her up at the airport had told her, “Oh yeah, there will be a few people here to welcome you.”

There were – about 15 youth and young adults, Shelly said.

Shelly, a junior education major from Collinsville and member of Jubilee Mennonite Church in Meridian, Mississippi, had come to the city for a placement with Philadelphia Praise Center through EMU’s Ministry Inquiry Program (MIP).

More than 300 EMU students have participated in the program, a partnership of the student’s respective Mennonite college, home and host congregations and conferences, and Mennonite Church USA. Students receive a $500 stipend for living expenses from the host congregation, and, at the end of the program, a scholarship of up to $2,000 toward tuition costs at a Mennonite college or seminary for the next academic year, said Carmen Schrock-Hurst, MIP director and instructor of Bible and religion at EMU.

Along with Shelly, 2018 MIP participants include Liz Marin and Anna Ressler, with Lydia Haggard participating in a similar arrangement.

Abigail Shelly: Philadelphia Praise Center

Abigail Shelly presents at a summer peace camp at Philadelphia Praise Center.

Shelly’s placement “has provided a realistic look as to what a life of ministry could be like,” she said. “I am learning that it is joyous but exhausting work that seems to be a lifestyle rather than a nine-to-five job.”

Read more about Abigail’s experience in The Mennonite.

She’d hoped to learn from a Christian community “whose lives looked very different from my own,” and had heard about the Indonesian community’s involvement at the church. Hearing the stories of families who are trying “to hold on to their culture they left behind but also find their way in this new world has given me a new perspective on the power of a church community as each person navigates their personal journey,” Shelly said.

The church’s three-week summer peace camp for kids proved to be a fun challenge – and a highlight. Although at times the camp felt chaotic and turned her prayer life “into a lot of desperate prayers of ‘Dear God, please let today go well,’” it was, Shelly said, “exciting to see the power in the message of peace to a lot of eager kids!”

Liz Marin: Highland Retreat

Liz Marin teaches improv during a camp at Highland Retreat, a Mennonite camp in Bergton, Virginia.

Marin is a junior theater education major from Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she is a member of New Song Anabaptist Fellowship. As a counselor team leader at Highland Retreat, a Mennonite camp in Bergton, she “ministers to the counselors.” That includes helping them “learn the value of asking for help” – a skill she said she is still developing for herself.

Marin has also committed to learning each new camper’s name in order to connect with them as a “Christ-like model of love, attitude and fellowship.” In addition to leading worship, helping with fireside input, visiting with counselors or campers, and helping them when behavior concerns or homesickness surfaces, she teaches drama and humanitarian art to interested campers.

Church work is not unfamiliar to her – her parents are ministers – but Marin said she knew the MIP experience “would stretch me as a Christian” and develop her “reflection, organization, time management and administrative skills.”

Anna Ressler: First Mennonite Church of Canton

Anna Ressler (center) leads music at Lighthouse Ministries’ Summer Enrichment Camp in Canton, Ohio.

Since her senior year of high school, Ressler has had an “undeveloped idea” that for a long time she dismissed: that pastoral ministry might be a vocational option. However, an interest inside her and the “words of others regarding gifts they saw in me that I didn’t always see for myself” prompted her to apply to MIP.

Now the junior psychology major from Apple Creek, Ohio, is serving about 30 minutes away from her home church, Sonnenberg Mennonite Church in Kidron. In addition to attending church commission meetings and taking on office and other tasks at First Mennonite Church of Canton, she helps in a variety of ways with Sunday morning services, has preached several sermons, and leads music for Lighthouse Ministries’ summer camp.

Twice each month Ressler gathers with church members and neighbors for a community potluck. “Those hours of food, conversation and dominos create a closeness of community and can be a remarkably spiritual experience,” she said.

Lydia Haggard: Ocean City Beach Project

As part of the Ocean City (New Jersey) Beach Project, Lydia Haggard volunteers twice a week at a local thrift store, as a way to be involved in the broader community.

For Haggard, the Ocean City (New Jersey) Beach Project has been a “space of growing and learning.”

A junior biblical studies major from Norristown, Pennsylvania, and a member of Norristown New Life church, Haggard is serving with the Coalition for Christian Outreach program this summer. (Although this is not formally an MIP placement, EMU is providing similar funding.)

The program and all the doing it entails – living in intentional community with 22 other students and five staff, studying leadership development and spiritual formation, leading worship and Bible studies, volunteering at a local thrift shop – has also instilled in her the taking of a Sabbath every week.

“It has been such a blessing to simply ‘be’ present in the moment, taking a step back from the desire to always be on the go and doing something the world says is ‘productive,’” she said. “I have felt freedom and peace and renewal in being intentional about resting on Sundays and it is a practice I plan to continue back at school.”

She has also learned that evangelism is not just being “direct, bold and outgoing” with words, but includes “gentle and empathetic” people who emphasize relationships and care for others’ needs.

“I feel freedom in knowing that God uses my personality for God’s glory and to spread God’s message of hope,” she said. “I no longer feel the need to pretend to be someone I am not. Praise the Lord for creating each one of us unique in God’s image!”

MIP Endowed Scholarship Fund

The Showalter Ministry Inquiry Program Endowed Scholarship Fund was created this year by EMU alumni Stuart and Shirley Showalter to help strengthen the program.

The Showalters have served as professors and administrators at Goshen College and EMU for almost four decades and appreciate the value of experiential education. They have encouraged many students to participate in MIP and similar programs over the years; many of these program alumni are now serving in the ministry and with other church-related agencies.

“MIP provides excellent opportunities for college students to test the fit between their talents and a call to a possible vocation in pastoral ministry,” Stuart Showalter said. “We endorse first-hand experience with a congregation as a way for students to learn more about their leadership gifts while also contributing to the congregations they serve.”

Click here to support MIP with a contribution to the Showalter Ministry Inquiry Program Endowed Scholarship Fund.

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