Story Magazine

Third Quarter, 2008

Internship Supervisor Mark Johnson Retires; Former Interns Reflect with Gratitude

by Meta Herrick, '08, M.Div.

Internship can play a significant role in the life and call of an M.Div. student. Academics and classroom learning are consistently paired with contextual learning throughout the degree program, but internship is a unique opportunity for students to leave campus for a congregational setting that asks them to consider ministry in new ways. Questions and discernment concerning the professional and personal are explored more fully and students return for senior year transformed.

Several congregations around the country have long-standing intern programs, bringing a student into their church and community year after year. These programs thrive because parishioners embrace the opportunity to teach and be taught while getting to know each individual intern over the course of a year. Students seek out these programs because they provide an important relationship with an experienced supervisor.

Mark Johnson, '72, recently retired pastor and intern supervisor at First Lutheran Church in Mount Vernon, Wash., is remembered as a mentor and strong example of a parish pastor and theologian by many former interns.  Three of these former interns were able to share their memories of internship and how it helped shape their vocations. 

Rolf Jacobson is an associate professor of Old Testament and Karoline Lewis is an associate professor of Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary. Kristen Jacobson is associate pastor at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

What is your fondest memory of internship with Mark?

Kristen Jacobson:
He's authentic. He kept up with everything else he had going on while teaching me. If I was struggling, he always had time for me.

Rolf Jacobson:
He tailored the learning experiences to both the strengths and the weaknesses of the intern. I was having trouble with the confirmation class at the beginning of the year and he arranged an opportunity for me to meet with and  learn from local junior high teachers. He helped me focus on that so it could become an area of excellence.

Karoline Lewis:
For the first month of internship, we spent most afternoons visiting parishioners in their homes.  We spent time with those who were sick and shut in, but he also took me to see [healthy] members he wanted me to know, integrating me immediately and making me part of the community.  This helped me connect names and faces more quickly on Sunday mornings.  Pastoral care was an insecurity of mine and he addressed this immediately by teaching me that pastoral care is part of everything I've learned and will do as a pastor.

Did the long-standing intern program at First Lutheran intimidate you? Was it hard to make mistakes?

KL: I never felt competition with Mark's former interns because he knew my strengths and weaknesses and gave me opportunities to discover my own pastoral identity. He created moments to throw you into your weaknesses, working with you to fashion a well-rounded pastor.

What did you admire about Mark's leadership while you were an intern?

RJ: Mark was the model for parish pastor as theologian, working with the Greek text all week, reading and always learning.

KJ: He rode through the hot issues alongside you and was a genius when it came to diplomacy. I didn't recognize how great he was at teaching me then, but later I would look back and think, "Oh yeah. Mark taught me that."

RJ: Yes. I didn't realize that vocational formation was happening until I came back for senior year.

KJ: I learned a lot about my internship once I came back to seminary and was surrounded by my classmates again.  He let me preach half the time. When I came back for senior year, I found that this was rare and that most supervisors don't do that.  He trusted me enough to let me try and taught me by telling the truth.

KL: Seminary was teaching me to preach and lead Bible studies, but internship took these different parts of ministry and showed me that everything is integrated.

How did internship shape and form you for your call to ministry?

KL: Theology is not only in your head, but it is incarnational. It is the embodiment of Christ.

RJ: Internship was an important year for me. It was the most important year of my education.

KL: Without internship, I don't know if I would have gone into the parish. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school and I wanted to teach, but internship changed my scope, giving me a new understanding of pastoral care and my identity. I remember thinking, "Yeah, I do want to do this. I do have a calling to this." It was affirming.

What makes a good internship? How are students best teaching and taught in relationship with their supervisor and congregation?

RJ: The congregation knew that they were teaching the intern. They didn't use me as cheap labor but held me up and supported me. They were my advocates.

KL: A well-rounded internship experience addresses the strengths and weaknesses of the intern, helping to show how each area of study and experience work together. Being given the opportunity to do all kinds of things creates a pastoral identity and Mark gave us room for that exploration. A supervisor and congregation can help the intern take time for reflection on the larger whole, not just for personal critique.  It's not all about us. Internship puts us into a relationship and experience that is bigger than ourselves.