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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

A preview of your first call?

by Katie Jerebek

Hope Lutheran Church in Fargo, N.D. is a very large congregation, averaging over 2200 worshipers each week. Hope is also the host for a unique brand of internship. Two interns, anchored at Hope, also serve rural/small town congregations and a nursing home. The interns spend 80% of their time in their "dispersed" settings, and 20% of their time at Hope. Pastor Mike Toomey of Hope is their supervisor. One of the interns, Scott Fielder, serves at St. John Lutheran Church and the Good Samaritan Center in Arthur; the other, Katie Jerabek, at Nordland Lutheran Church in Rutland and Havana Trinity Lutheran Church in Havana. Here is how Katie described her internship.

Being the intern pastor at Nordland and Havana Trinity Lutheran Church means that I am basically the only pastoral presence for these two congregations. I preach every week, leading two services on Sunday mornings (one at each point), and now I lead a combined Wednesday night service for Lent that alternates between the two. (The average combined Sunday attendance is probably in the 50-70 person range.) The parish also works with a third congregation in a neighboring town for confirmation class, and so I teach the eighth-graders each week. (The pastor at the third congregation teaches the seventh-graders, and we alternate with the ninth-graders, who meet once a month.)

I am also responsible for the pastoral care for both congregations and help lead a ladies' Bible study once a month at each congregation. We have a part-time secretary and a well-organized worship committee, so I don't have to create and copy bulletins or provide too much (but a little!) in the way of worship planning. Basically, anything that comes to mind when you think of what a pastor does is what I do.

Because this is a joint internship with Hope Lutheran, I also spend one day a week in Fargo, N.D. At Hope Lutheran, we do group and individual supervision, meet with church staff to learn about ministry in a larger church, hear from congregation members who are leaders in the business community, and discuss how to equip pastors to serve as effective leaders.

Supervision consists of cohort time each week where we do a combination of learning/debriefing about the past week. We also work through leadership and organization material (books, DVDs, etc.) that Mike has selected. After cohort time, Scott and I each meet with Mike for an individual supervisory conference. Mike is always available by phone/text/email to provide help and advice. Having Mike on the other end of the phone when I need him, and having him available to process the big things with me weekly, I feel like I have the freedom to learn, play and explore, but with good support.

The biggest frustration is feeling a little isolated. There are no other churches in either of the communities I serve, so I'm effectively the only town pastor. On Wednesdays I see the pastor who I share confirmation duties with, but it would be nice at times to have more colleagues around for support, encouragement and companionship.

This has been a great experience for me, because it has given me a very realistic picture of what the totality of ministry is like, especially in a solo pastorate. I've learned that I need other people around me; that I would work much better in a team setting, than on my own. Also, teaching confirmation has been the best part of every week—okay, most weeks! This has been a great way for me to realize that teaching needs to be a big part of my future ministry.

I do think this is an excellent model for internships, and I would recommend it highly to almost anyone. It serves the congregations well because they are not in a financial situation to call a full-time pastor, and without an intern would be functioning with basically pulpit supply every week. It also helps give the congregations a sense of identity as a teaching congregation, and allows them to see just what it means to support someone who is learning to be a pastor.

It's great for the intern because you really get a very broad exposure to what being a pastor is. You learn how to love and care for a congregation, you are responsible for "reading the audience," you learn the rhythm of preaching every week, you truly learn where your strengths are, you're responsible for leading a congregation through tough times, and celebrating with them in the good times, you help the Council navigate their responsibilities and plan what you're going to do for Advent and Lent. You learn how to recruit and empower lay leadership. You learn that you can't do everything. You marry and bury and baptize and confirm. You learn to do pastoral care "on the run," whether it's listening to someone whose marriage has been rocky but is suddenly falling apart RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE CAN YOU MEET ME AT CHURCH I NEED YOU IMMEDIATELY, or chatting with the person who decided to show up at your home at 9 a.m. completely unannounced to tell you about every single problem they're having in their life. It's a great internship because unlike other sites where you preach occasionally, teach sometimes, and basically shadow the pastors or other staff, this internship here is pretty much "all you." You're the one enforcing the policy on how many confirmation notes have to be done, not your supervisor. You're one saying, "No, we're not singing that hymn during Lent." You really, really learn your pastoral identity, the things that are important to you, what it means to love people that you don't really know, how and when to exercise pastoral authority, and what the congregation's expectations of their pastor are.

I'm really glad I'm doing my internship here. Odds are this is what my first call will be like, so at least I've learned what I'm getting myself into!

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