Intern’s Message – To Be A Teaching Congregation

My internship year with Starr King Church ends on June 12, and my ten months with you come to a close. This has been a truly joyous time for me, getting to know many of you, serving as your minister. I have learned so much and have come into a fuller understanding of my own ministry in the process.

One of the questions that you and I have wrestled with together this year is what does it mean for you to be a teaching congregation. It is no easy or simple matter to welcome an intern minister into the life of the congregation. Suddenly there is another person with opinions and ideas to contribute. There is someone new in the pulpit who is not the called minister. Some of you have probably just recently begun to adjust to my presence, and now it’s time for me to go!

In the business world, the intern is usually the very lowest person in the organization, the one who makes photocopies and brings coffee. Wikipedia reports that “internships provide employers with cheap or free labor for (typically) low-level tasks.”

But parish internship is nothing like that. In fact, it is almost the opposite. Parish internships provide congregations with cheap labor (no getting around that) for some of the highest-level service you expect to receive in congregational life: ministry. I have provided pastoral care, preached and led worship, taught classes…all the things you expect from professional clergy.

My learning has been deepest with those of you who have treated me as professional clergy—letting me into your lives, welcoming my ministry—while holding the space for the reality that I’m not yet a fellowshipped and ordained minister. I’ve been allowed to stretch my wings and test the waters (and mix my metaphors) while knowing that I also have support and understanding should I stumble or even fall.

To me, this is what it means to be a teaching congregation: to welcome the stranger into full relationship while remembering that she is still finding her way. It is a challenge, to be sure. When I was looking for internships, I felt frustrated that more congregations did not offer them. But now I see clearly that not every congregation has the hospitality and flexibility required to be a teaching congregation.

And I am so grateful that Starr King Church had the courage this year to invite me in. Thank you so much for all you have given and shared. You will always hold a special place in my heart.

Bright blessings, Sharon