The internship that changed everything.

So I went on vacation and have had a blog post about that on hold for several days, just getting back in the groove and honestly enjoying not having anything that must get done at any particular time. That's what can happen on a vacation, especially a long one-- you realize you can do without anything that's not in this suitcase, this hotel room, this time zone, and that starts to feel normal, and you feel simplicity in a way you haven't felt in awhile. And then you come back to the house full of stuff, the fridge needs restocking, the bills need paying, the weeds need pulling, and oh yes, you need to go back to work. So many things crowd back into your brain at once that you want a vacation from your vacation.

Anyway, that's for another post, and the bottom line is that we're home again. Which is also good in its own way. And I've been thinking this week about an anniversary--how, seven years ago, my dad and I drove up to Richmond, Virginia, where I would be doing an internship at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church before my senior year of college. When I accepted the opportunity, I had never spent a summer away from home. I always loved being at home for those prolonged breaks, be it in high school or college. But I had also spent a semester abroad during my previous school year, which I think prepared me to finally leave my family for a long summer stint. 

This was in a time when I was discerning whether or not ordained ministry was a path I wanted to walk down after college. Funnily enough, it was something that I'd hardly considered before this internship, even though I have been involved in church and religious life since I was a child. In this internship at this small PC(USA) church sandwiched between one of Richmond's historic neighborhoods (Ginter Park) and one of its most poverty-stricken (Chamberlayne Avenue), I would be shadowing the church's only pastor. It was daunting, but as soon as I went to the church's website, read more about its values, and more about Carla, then I knew I was going to a good place.

That summer, I learned to navigate an entirely new city for the first time on my own. I pumped my own gas for the first time (yeah, yeah -- I got my license late and didn't have a car in college), took a train up to DC, made a day-trip to visit a friend, found a favorite cafe, a favorite pizza place, grocery shopped, and even had my car battery die on my second-to-last day of the internship. I was truly more of an adult than I had ever been before.

I was trying out new vocational skills, too. I was expected at the church office every morning, and I even had my very own office. I audited a class at the seminary across the street, made visits to church members in the hospital and those who were homebound. I organized two volunteer events and a book discussion, and spent the Fourth of July with members of a group home near the church with the purest of hearts. I led at least one part of the liturgy every Sunday, wearing a robe. And I researched, wrote, and preached one sermon--that Sunday, it was a joy to look out on the small congregation and see not only faces that I had come to love, but to see my parents and brother, my home church pastor, and one of my college best friends. It was a good day.

I was finding out a lot about myself in all ways, and it was a journey that would continue when I returned for my senior year of college, when I would regroup with other classmates who had done similar internships around the country. We were all trying to figure out what we wanted to do with our lives, and how God would be a part of that. Sometimes--during that summer and after it--I felt like I was supposed to want to be a pastor. "You speak so clearly, you have such a good presence!" folks would tell me after worship. "Are you a student at the seminary?"

No, I'm a 21-year-old trying to figure out what God wants of me, and what I want with God.

Because even though I did speak so clearly, even though I did have a good presence, I didn't feel like I was as much of myself preaching in the pulpit as I was worshiping in the pew. It was a feeling that would take time to digest and explain, but I knew it clearly at my core. I felt most myself when I was among a congregation, singing hymns. I did not relish the feeling of being up front, and proclaiming. While several of my fellow discerning peers knew that they wanted to pursue seminary and ordination, I wasn't sure that I did. And when we had to write up what our "ideal job" would be, I was the vaguest of all.

The best part of looking back on those two summer months in 2009 is realizing that not only did I explore my inner and outer surroundings, but that I met people who still impact my life today. I met them at worship and over meals, through their hospitality and kindness. They took me out to dinner, invited me to an Indigo Girls concert, took me to the botanical gardens, made sure that I saw the Patrick Henry reenactment at the very church where he uttered "Give me liberty, or give me death!" Two people who became two of my very favorites hosted me in their home all summer, except for when a family member had a bout with the swine flu--and then I got to stay with another who became one of my very favorites. New friends drove me to Charlottesville, took me frolicking and boating on the James River, had me over to their homes, made me oatmeal cookies with almond icing, got me a cake when I preached my sermon. On June 25, 2009, one of them drove me over to the house of a friend of hers who had cable, turned on ESPN, and watched bemusedly as I freaked out when my classmate was picked seventh in the NBA draft.

All interns of all sorts should be so welcomed in the communities they have joined.

When I read back over that vague job description now, I recall my panic and frustration as I wrote it, a fall semester college senior. Now, it makes me smile. Because I believe that with this internship, God found people to lead me right to it.

Without my time at Ginter Park, I would not have had any inkling that church/religious work was something that I would or could do, even though (this is what always surprises me) I have loved and felt close to church ever since I was small. Why had I not considered it before?

Without that realization, I would not have reached out to churches for post-college jobs, or gotten the church youth/children/communications internship that kept me employed that first year out of school.

Without that position, I would not have been in Charlotte, or met my husband. Or gotten my first full-time job--at a church, in communications.

Without THAT position, I would not have been able to be where I am now--a communications specialist at an active, justice-seeking, worshipful, energetic divinity school.

Without my time at Ginter Park, I would not have met so many friends and supporters, people like Andrew, who kept in touch with me about writing. Who introduced me to Collegeville and encouraged me to apply to a workshop, where I first started seriously thinking about going back to school for writing. And then I did. 

It is fascinating and fulfilling and so much fun to begin to understand the many intricacies of that summer and how they still play into my life--especially since I had no idea what my life would look like back then. It's one of those stories that you can't see fully when you're in it, but as you start to unravel it, God is everywhere. In the faces of my friends and mentors, in my experience leading worship, in my uncertainties, in my burgeoning independence, in my explorations.

And the story doesn't end; that was just the first chapter.

Just some of my wonderful friends, several years after the internship.

Just some of my wonderful friends, several years after the internship.