Little did I know
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 been in school drowning myself in books drenched in philosophy and drizzled in ideology.
I have the spent a bulk of my time asking difficult theological and ethical questions – who is God?; does God change?; why doesn’t God intervene on behalf of those who are oppressed?; what is the true relationship between God and God’s creation?; and who is responsible for the pain and suffering within the human experience? – questions upon questions relating to the very nature of God’s existence. Although I am extremely grateful for the education I am receiving in divinity school and the teaching I have received, it is here at the Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministries where reality crashes with educational enlightenment.
I started my internship there on June 2, 2015. To put it simply, I was extremely excited. After doing CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) I knew chaplaincy was the field for me. I couldn’t get past the idea that interning at a prison in the chaplaincy department would look stellar on my ministerial resume. Just the thought of making space for those who have been abused, forgotten about, and discounted; just the thought of visiting people in their cells and praying with them as they share their stories; just the thought of giving up my summer to be with those that society deemed disgraceful made me feel like a super Christian. Surely I knew that I would be doing the work of the Lord.
Little did I know that I was not making space for those on the fringes of society, but it was those who were and continued to be on the fringes who were going to be making room for me this summer. I had no idea that all the religious practices (such as sacraments) I read about and all of the ideology and terminology thrown around the classroom would not become truly meaningful until I experienced them in the context of this powerful ministry.
Here I thought I was going to be leading others in prayer when in reality it was me who needed to learn what authentic prayer sounds and feels like. I thought I was going to be leading others in worship when in reality it was me who needed to learn how to lead others in authentic grace-filled worship. I thought I was going to be extending grace and mercy to those who have not experienced grace and mercy, but little did I know that I was going to walk into an environment with those who would teach me what true grace and mercy mean.
A month ago I would have referred to Bible verses to try and tie down what the meaning of grace and mercy is. Through this internship I have learned that grace and mercy, the twins, aren’t ideas, but lifestyles. Grace and mercy are not things that we just simply do but things that we live out. They are simply a stooping before others and before God. They are acceptance of energy, a renewal that flows from the Father to the individual and then flows from the individual to others. It is through this internship that I have learned that grace and mercy are not ours to hold onto, but instead they are a gift that is given to us freely. Grace is not our gift to give to others, but a gift given to us that we continue to pass on.
The men at the prison and the women at the jail are transformed not because they feel ashamed of their crimes, but because they understand how much grace they have been given and feel a responsibility to extend that grace to others. Everyday is an opportunity and another chance for them to extend that grace to others.
What a wonderful internship and journey.
Beatrice is a native of Los Angeles, California. She is a faithful member of the Church of the Holy Spirit Fellowship where her pastor is Roger E. Hayes (MDiv ’13). Beatrice is a 2013 graduate of Guilford College where she was a double major in religion and psychology. Upon graduation from Wake Divinity she plans to enter chaplaincy.