Eastern Mennonite University students Justin Odom (left), Luke Hertzler, Anna Cahill, Victoria Barnes, Mia Swartley and Fred Flores (not pictured) are completing ministry internships this summer. Swartley said the experience has taught her that “there is a lot more to church ministry than I realized.” (Photo by Macson McGuigan)

Ministry interns learn from ‘amazing’ experiences – and the church leaders they shadow

“Even though I am only an intern, the congregation looks at me as a part of the pastoral team … they want me, as well, to not just be able to speak about being Christ-centered, but also live Christ-centered. It is eye-opening to see the pastoral role up close and in real time.”

Justin Odom

Six Eastern Mennonite University students are exploring church ministry this summer through internship placements that are offering them “amazing” experiences.

Seniors Luke Hertzler, Justin Odom and Mia Swartley are participating in the Ministry Inquiry Program (MIP), a partnership with Mennonite Church USA, completing tasks from across the spectrum of ministerial responsibilities and learning from the church leaders they are shadowing.

More than 300 EMU students have participated in MIP, 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.

Students interested in ministry within other denominations are also supported, said Schrock-Hurst. This summer, senior Victoria Barnes, junior Anna Cahill and 2019 graduate Fred Flores are also interning at Divine Unity Community Church (DUCC) in Harrisonburg, Virginia. 

Seeing ministry ‘up close and in real time’

In his MIP placement at Ripple Mennonite Church in Allentown and Whitehall Mennonite Church in Whitehall, Pennsylvania, Hertzler has tried many things: 

Luke Hertzler speaks at Whitehall Mennonite Church during a Sunday morning sermon about healing water on John 5 and 9 and Ezekiel 47. (Courtesy photo)

“I’ve preached, led Sunday school, led music, been to meetings, hung out with the youth, worked at the community center, worked in the garden, provided pastoral care, and done many other tasks,” he said. “But the task that I’ve claimed as my number one goal is to observe. I’ve learned so much from the pastors, just by watching them and their encounters with others.”

A Bible, religion and theology major from Harrisonburg, Virginia, Hertzler said that being attentive means finding wisdom: “I learned compassion and thoughtfulness from the little boy who offered me part of his supper when I hadn’t received mine yet. I learned silence and stillness from the older gentleman sitting on the bench. I learned courage and passion from the fiery mother who shared with me stories of miracles in her life that could have only been from God.”

Odom, a Biblical studies major with music performance and political studies minors from Williamsburg, Virginia, said that interning at Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg has “challenged me spiritually.” He has helped with administrative duties, attended business meetings, accompanied pastors on visitations, completed assigned readings and more.

“Even though I am only an intern, the congregation looks at me as apart of the pastoral team,” he said. “I can see that they want me, as well, to not just be able to speak about being Christ-centered, but also live Christ-centered. It is eye-opening to see the pastoral role up close and in real time.”

And Swartley, at Witmer Heights Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has helped with many aspects of church ministry, an experience that has taught her that “there is a lot more to church ministry than I realized.”

“Since I am with a Mennonite Church I have also been learning about our history and how that affects us today,” the social work major from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said. “Overall this experience is amazing and I am thankful that I decided to follow that nudge I felt back in March to sign up for this program.”

Victoria Barnes (left) and Fred Flores participated in a DUCC outreach in a neighborhood community. (Courtesy photo)

Additional summer ministry internships

The three additional students completing summer ministry internships are also diving in. 

Barnes reflected on a day that her fellow interns and church staff from DUCC traveled for a service at another church, an experience that “was a stretch in faith and in my own abilities,” she said. “I am so grateful to have had that, to rely on God’s provision of strength, and to be obedient in what I was tasked with by my leaders as a way to glorify God.”

From Wiesbaden, Germany, Barnes is majoring in organizational leadership and minoring in environmental sustainability and psychology. She plans to work in full-time ministry with a focus on hospitality and relationship building. 

Her internship has exposed her to more than just the behind-the-scenes aspects of church work such as delegating responsibilities and balancing a schedule. 

“It’s been so wonderful to learn from my supervisors about making sure that your life is consistent regardless of what environment you’re in,” she said. “I’ve been able to understand their passions behind what they do, and what God has placed on their hearts.”

Flores, who majored in international business and is from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, is also at DUCC, where he leads a men’s small group, coordinates a large group fellowship of college students, and oversees finances of Valley Every Nation, DUCC’s college ministry chapter of Every Nation Ministries.

“I am getting to know more about who God is, which also is guiding me to know who I am in Him,” he said. “I have surrendered my life to Him, having faith He will provide my necessities. Maturing spiritually in the Word has challenged me to realize that it is the source of truth and light in a world that needs Jesus.”

Living in community is important, he said: “We are not meant to do this by ourselves.”

Such partnership means accepting differences, said Cahill, a psychology and writing studies double major from Staunton, Virginia. 

“My experience with many different leaders has allowed me to understand how valuable differences are within the operations of the church,” she said. “I grew up in a different church, so there are some new or different aspects of Christianity at Divine Unity that I still need to learn more about. This challenge has given me the opportunity to grow more open minded and interested in the differences that divide denominations.”

MIP Endowed Scholarship Fund

The Showalter Ministry Inquiry Program Endowed Scholarship Fund was created 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.