Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Friday, May 25, 2012

Six Months In: or, how Internship both prepared me well and prepared me poorly for my first call

I'll start with the "bad news" so as not to end this post on a whiny, downer note. So here is some reflecting that I've been doing on ways I have felt prepared and unprepared for being a pastor in New Jersey. As a reminder for non-clergy folks, the internship year happens (most of the time) in the third of four years at seminary. A student becomes a "student-pastor" or vicar or intern at a church for a year under the supervision of a seasoned pastor. Most of the time this means moving to another location. Beau and I did our internship year in Owatonna, MN, a hour south of the Twin Cities. I'm not saying in any way was our internship bad. It was a great year and I learned a lot. But perhaps not enough for where I am now. 

I am sharing this list because I think that the realities that we have been facing here head-on on the East Coast are creeping to the rest of the country. This is also not a judgement, just a statement of reality as I am finding it.

Internship did NOT prepare me for:
1. Baptisms. Never did one. Going to do my first on June 10.

2. Weddings and pre-marital sessions. I know how they work in theory, but council a couple and officiate at a wedding is not an experience I've had yet. 

3. Shepherding a scattered flock. In Owatonna, everyone lives there, works there (some work in the cities) go to school there, have fun there. Go to the store, a movie, the park, a HS sporting event, and you will run into "your people." That's pretty common for Small Town America (but perhaps becoming less so as time goes on). Not so here. People drive from miles around, in all directions on Sunday morning. Not many of the people who are a part of St. Paul actually LIVE in the community that it is physically located - there is one person's house I could possibly walk to, but that's it. So while I am at the church during the week, I don't see "my" people most of the time unless the come TO ME (as in, attend meetings and gatherings at the church). We are yet another place that people commute to (see #4) - what does that mean? And what does it mean to be a presence in East Windsor/Hightstown NJ? 

4. Ministering to a tired people. Yes, life was busy, especially for families, all over. But out here, we are in OVERDRIVE. Afterschool activities seem off the charts here, and kids regularly miss confirmation and youth group to have a moment to breath and actually have time to do their homework. These kids are really busy. On the flip side, most people around here work in The City (NYC if you missed my last post), which means either a) a stressful 1 hour or more drive or b) at least an hour train commute. "My" people are leaving their homes early and getting home late. This particular reality hit home for me when I began to notice that nearly all of our meetings and gatherings during the week started at 7:30 PM. In my Mid-Western-Small-Town mindset, that was very late to be starting a council meeting. I even asked once why things started so "late." The answer was simple - it was so that people could actually have a moment to eat at home before coming. This makes for some late nights. But what amazes me, is that after a council meeting that goes until 9:30 or 10 PM, most of our council then has to get up and go to work the next morning. And yet, they still come. Major wow. To be completely honest, I don't know if I would be willing to do this as a lay person if I had a "normal" job I had to report to early in the morning. I am left wondering: how can we minister to people's needs and at the same time NOT add just one more thing/event/program to their already booked calender? 

5. How to be a "half-time" pastor. But I think I will save this for another post. 

Well, those were the biggies. Now on to the more positive side of things. 

Internship DID prepare me for:
1. Funerals. I did a few on internship, mostly for people in the community that didn't have a church home (this area belonged to the interns of Owatonna, it seemed). I haven't done one at St. Paul yet, and in this area I wouldn't want to rush things. 

2. Preaching. It was so nice to practice preaching in an actual CONTEXT and not to a room full of peers but geared to a pretend congregation. As I am learning more about St. Paul, preparing sermons has gotten a bit easier. 

3. Hospital visits. Thanks to internship and CPE, most of the stress is taken out of this one. However, I still have to learn my way around enough to be able to FIND the hospital... :) 

4. Working with other staff. Oh my, that was a biggie. Even though my internship church was really large, it taught me how to interact and work effectively with other people on staff - secretaries, custodians (sextans out here), or even other pastors. This helped me right off the bat when I was able to know from our first meeting that I would work well with my now-colleague at St. Paul. And so far, my gut has been right. 

5. Coming out of my "shell." Apparently, the sheer size of my internship church freaked me out at first, because my intern committee was always telling me to be more approachable (but seriously, who wouldn't be a little shy in a 4200 member congregation?). I think that my start here at St. Paul has been a strong one - my colleague is still not convinced that I truly am an introvert, no matter how many times I tell him. :) 

6. Experiencing an entire "Church Year." This may seem obvious, but at least for Princeton Seminary the "contextual ed" students (which counts the same as an internship "year" in some denominations) start in the fall and end with the academic year in the spring. I've heard that a few years when Easter is early the con ed student is "done" before Easter! They for sure miss most of the Easter season, Pentecost, and Ordinary time in the summer. 

There is probably more that could be said here, but I think that is enough for now. 

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