For many Wake Divinity students the summer is an ideal time to delve into internships that provide significant and meaningful opportunities for their vocational discernment and formation as future religious leaders. From working in hospice and palliative care, ministries supporting the imprisoned, homeless and burdened, assisting with art and restoration efforts of a living museum, to being immersed into the fullness of congregational life in a diverse array of churches, Wake Divinity students are dispersing across the country. This summer, the Unfolding blog will feature weekly posts from several students who are participating in an internship. Each story will speak to their expectations and experiences.
I have to admit that the internship I did this summer was not in my original plan. I had planned to go to a Lutheran camp in the mountains of North Carolina and have my mountaintop moment, but that’s where God interrupted my plans. After my pastor lost her husband to a suicide this past February, I decided it wasn’t right for me to pack up and move away for the summer. Her husband had volunteered with Open Door Ministries in High Point, so I felt called to take up where he left off. Open Door has multiple functions within the High Point community including: the Father’s Table serving three meals daily, a men’s shelter with up to 70 beds, a food pantry servicing the whole community and a homeless veterans’ residential facility. I was going to dabble a little in all of this.
In another moment of honesty, I have to say this experience took a toll on me personally. It was not physical work by any means. This was emotionally and mentally draining every single day. I saw so much pain and sorrow, but then tremendous joy. My favorite days were spent with the ‘clients’ as they were called. I got to know one homeless man who signed for a deaf homeless friend. What a gift it was seeing them silently communicating. I couldn’t imagine being isolated in a world of silence with all the cacophony of sound around me. It was one of the most beautiful things I saw.
I got to be ‘in the field’ many days. This meant driving around High Point and Greensboro looking for affordable housing (not as easy as you’d think), trying to locate clients at several different locations, and assisting clients with moving in and getting furniture. These days were the hardest because I was confronted face-to-face with the reality of homelessness. Rarely is this a chosen path, and it is always difficult to recover from. Too many people think, “Just get a job!” but this is probably the most difficult thing to do. If we truly want to put an end to homelessness, we need to not just focus on getting the homeless housed. We need to put into place programs that teach budgeting, how to obtain a job (and keep it), food preparation, and other programs that will help them be more successful.
With all the ‘book’ learning we do at Wake, nothing quite prepares you for actual field work: being one-on-one with people who are living through these tough days looking to you for strength and guidance. I’m forever grateful for Wake allowing me to have this amazing experience walking with others through their lives, if only briefly. Always be open for God’s interruptions…it might just lead you to something more beautiful.
Emily lives in High Point with her husband, Sam, 14 year-old son Charlie, 11 year-old daughter Caroline, and a menagerie of animals. She is a candidate for rostered leadership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a Pastoral Associate at First Lutheran Church in Greensboro, NC.