Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

A Top Ten list for interns

By Amanda Highben

Amanda Highben recently completed her internship at University Lutheran Church in East Lansing, Michigan, with Pastor Fred Fritz as her supervisor. She graciously shared these observations.

When my husband Zeb and I still lived in Minnesota, I was often able to stay up late enough to catch the Top Ten List on the Late Show with David Letterman because it started at 10:30. But once we moved to Michigan I usually missed the Top Ten, as the Late Show doesn’t start until 11:30 in the Eastern Time Zone. Nevertheless, when my supervising pastor asked me to write one last article for our church newsletter, I thought a Top Ten list of the things I learned on internship would be a fun way to summarize my experience and say farewell. Number one on this list is perhaps the most important, but the others are listed in no particular order.

10.  Don’t be afraid to chant in worship: From the outset of my internship, my supervising pastor, Fred Fritz, fairly identified chanting as one of my “growing edges.” Because University Lutheran is a congregation with a strong musical and liturgical tradition, I knew I had to overcome my fears. Thanks to the choir director’s skilled teaching and organist’s adaptability, I improved a great deal; chanting is even a little less scary than it once was.

9.  Red wine stains on a white alb aren’t permanent: I owe this knowledge to our church’s wise altar guild chair, who instructed me to pour boiling water on the stain. It works like magic! (Given that I somehow managed to have at least one wine spot on my alb each time I served Communion, this tip was invaluable.)

8.  Providing pastoral care to the homebound and hospitalized is a sacred privilege:  I know I speak on behalf of my colleagues when I say this is one of our most essential duties as pastors.  To share in another’s pain, to offer hope, to join together in prayer with those in need—these are vital undertakings for pastors and, indeed, for the priesthood of all believers.

7.  Learn how to quilt: I confess this may not happen in the near future (given that I can barely sew a button), but it was a joy to watch our Prayers and Squares Team in action as they fulfilled their call as disciples to give tangible expression to Christ’s love.

6.  Value and affirm your colleagues: Again, I know I speak on behalf of pastors everywhere when I say that we couldn’t serve without the help and skills of our staff colleagues. We are all in this together, and I was so blessed to be just one member of a gifted staff, all of whom taught me a great deal.

5.  If possible, bring your dog to work: I like to tell people that I’m the legal guardian of Pastor Fred’s dog, Frodo. It wasn’t uncommon to find me taking him for a walk around the church’s neighborhood.  (Don’t worry, Pastor Fred never assigned me this task.) Gentle dogs like Frodo welcome visitors to the office while providing their owners with affection and stress-relief. They are truly gifts from our Creator.

4.  Build relationships with colleagues in other faith traditions:  Because University Lutheran is situated in a diverse and vibrant context, I learned from and befriended a variety of Christian, Islamic and Jewish colleagues. As a result, I’ve become passionate about interfaith service and cooperation.

3.  Pastors are called to listen: I love this quote about listening from Eugene Peterson: “You enter into the soul, the spirit of somebody else, by listening to them, not by telling them something.” Filled as my church was with wise, compassionate people who serve as active leaders and volunteers in their communities, an intern in this unique setting learns through listening to members’ stories, insights and counsel.

2.  Pastors aren’t perfect: I know I made mistakes while on internship and fell short at times of others’ and my own expectations. But pastoral identity isn’t one of perfection. Rather, it’s about asking for forgiveness and witnessing to our shared belief that God’s mercies are new every morning.

1.  Say thank you: Thank you to my supervisor pastor for serving as my teacher and advocate. Thank you to the associate pastors for their supportive collaboration. Thank you to the church’s programmatic and support staff for their partnership in the Gospel. Thank you to our young people—the youth, college and graduate students and young professionals—who shared their lives with me. And thank you to the vibrant community of faith that is University Lutheran, for affirming my call and for reflecting Christ’s bright light to God’s world.

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