Summer Vocational Community Internships 2007
Redeemer Lutheran Church
The Peace Palace in North Minneapolis, an outreach of Redeemer Lutheran Church, where St. Olaf senior Denise Miller interned as part of Lives of Worth and Service.
"Redeemer defines its mission as 'a beacon of hope' to the Harrison neighborhood through providing a 'dynamic, impactful ministry through the development of authentic, transformational relationships grounded in Christ’s love.' I was drawn to Redeemer largely because of this commitment as well as the work of Redeemer’s non-profit branch, the Redeemer Center for Life. Redeemer also boasts in its diversity. It has become a church body that truly does reach out to an array of people ranging from upper middle class St. Olaf, Wartburg, and Concordia alumni to struggling neighborhood families who are all in search of being part of a powerful community. …" --Denise Miller
Download Denise Miller's final project on her summer internship at Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis »
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St. Paul
During my second week at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church I had the pleasure and challenge of serving as a coordinator for the church's Vacation Bible School. Gloria Dei is a very large congregation located in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. Also in this neighborhood is Holy Spirit, a large Catholic church. The two churches, along with several other smaller congregations in the area have combined together for vacation Bible school in the past.
Coming from Upstate New York, where Lutheran Churches don't come close to the size of Gloria Dei, I had no idea what to expect when I was told Vacation Bible School would have 500 children. After being informed of this staggering number of children I was also told that my job would be to coordinate all of the 4 year olds. I was expected to oversee all seven of the 4 yr old classrooms, assist that teachers and help herd the children from one location to another. I should mention that of the 500 children signed-up for VBS, 61 of them were in the 4 year old age bracket.
During that week I was jumped on, climbed on, and chased. I had a young girl roll her eyes at me when I asked how to pronounce her name, while another girl cried every day from start to finish. Perhaps my favorite memory is when one boy poured a cup of pudding into the cowboy boots he wore that day. I talked with parents when they picked up their children. I helped excite the kids when they sang songs. I worked with the youth volunteers. I even wore a lobster costume and greeted the kids when they arrived. And best of all: I got to wear a tie dye t-shirt and funny hat to identify me... everyday.
It was also an operation, and it was also exhausting. As I reflect back on it there is a lot that I really enjoyed. But, when I think about what I learned from this experience in light of my future vocation, my thoughts are more muddled.
I loved my time at Gloria Dei, and I loved the opportunity to serve this community which took me in for the summer. However, I have reservations about the VBS program. As I said, it was an operation. When I think about ministry I can't help but hesitate at the thought of a big production like VBS at Gloria Dei. The real meaning of the message seems to be lost amidst keeping track of 500 children.
I had some very good conversations with many of the staff at Gloria Dei specifically about there Vacation Bible School. Nearly everyone agreed that the core aspects of ministry become diluted when so many children are involved. But they also explained to me the importance of what Gloria Dei was doing.
By teaming with Holy Spirit the two churches together could create a Vacation Bible School that would serve not only their two congregations, but also the smaller congregations in the Highland Park neighborhood. For some of those children, this was the only opportunity they had for a VBS experience.
So, I am left with a thought to ponder as I inch closer to a career in ordained ministry. What is the proper balance between serving a neighborhood and maintaining effective ministry? Certainly both are important. With fewer children I could have focused more on individuals, rather than a large group. I could have built relationships and served as a role model or mentor--if only for that short week.
But shouldn't I also trust the Holy Spirit to work despite the logistical nightmares of 500 children? And isn't it better to allow 500 children the opportunity to hear the Gospel, rather then just 100? Shouldn't the church serve more than just itself, but also serve the community in which it is contained?
I learned a great deal this summer, but more than anything the mantra of my higher education echoes in my head: The more you know, the less you know. My thanks go out to the Lily program and to Gloria Dei and the all the 4 year olds in Highland park for giving me the opportunity to learn, grow, and most importantly-- to keep questioning.
Calvary Lutheran Church
A short memory that displays how positive and encouraging my summer experience was:
My first Sunday at Calvary, the pastors brought me in front of the congregation, said a few words about what I'd be doing, and then prayed for me. Attendance was low that Sunday. The following Sunday, more of the regular worshipers returned. The pastors wanted to make sure everyone knew who I was, so they insisted that we dedicate a portion of our service to formally welcoming me in front of the church, again, and praying for me. I felt a little "over-appreciated" by this continuous welcoming. I mentioned to one of the pastors, "You don't need to go through all this again, it's no big deal to me." She quickly corrected me, saying, "We're about welcoming people and making them feel important; you are a big deal!"
This story simply and shortly exemplifies that kind and positive community I was a part of this summer.
Augustana Lutheran Church
The conclusion I came to after experiencing personally different communities within the Augustana family--Augustana Church, Community Emergency Service, and Crossroad Ministry--was that religious communities do have something unique to teach us about human interaction. On a very basic level, it has to do with the ways religious traditions understand time. In our modern society, there is a tension between the values of being productive and being in relationship; these two values are often on opposite ends of a see-saw. On both ends, time is of the essence: someone oriented towards being productive hopes to use less time; someone oriented towards being in relationship has to use more. At the final meeting of the interns, when some of us expressed our feeling that we had more "down time" at our sites than we expected, Pastor Kelly Chatman of Redeemer Lutheran in North Minneapolis, responded that he believes "down time" is a eurocentric value. His point was that, for many in the Western/capitalist paradigm, personal identity is derived from and relative to what we make or do--in other words, our level of productivity. In the community in which Pastor Kelly works, which is poorer and mostly black, identity tends to be based on one's relationships. His observations are a fascinating commentary on our society and the differences that still appear along racial and class lines, and would provide a great starting point for a sociological study. But the implications for the role of the church are just as interesting. Pastor Kelly's observation illuminated the conclusion which I'd been coming to all summer but hadn't recognized yet: religious communities, at their best, can teach us that, in balancing between productivity and relationships, relationships need to take priority. In this sense, a genuine community is one that focuses on building relationships. Building relationships necessarily involves taking time, listening patiently, practicing hospitality, welcoming openly, and withholding judgment.
Throughout my summer, I felt at various times that I wasn't "doing enough." I felt that, because I didn't always have concrete, tangible things to show for how I spent my time, I was somehow not being useful. But my supervisor and other people I spent time with did not share this worry. In fact, I was encouraged to spend more time just getting to know people. One of the projects that I was involved with--recording oral histories of older members--is evidence of this difference in mindset. I was stuck in the "productivity" orientation, whereas others around me had made the "relationship" orientation a priority instead.
Of course, some might argue that the juxtaposition of "relationships" and "productivity" as the two extreme attitudes towards time is overly simplistic, and it probably is. But the idea of prioritizing relationships over other economic, social, and political demands does seem pretty radical in a culture that has an individualism-consumerism complex. To me, that seems like exactly the place where religious communities can offer an encouraging alternative by teaching their members the importance of building relationships.
Nathaniel Preisinger as a lobster at Vacation Bible School.