When Sara Scungio experienced the behind-the-scenes, day-to-day life of her church, she knew she wanted to become a deaconess and commit her life to church work.
Scungio, 19, was one of the first interns in a unique ministry program for high school students at King of Glory Lutheran Church in Williamsburg, Va. Now a freshman in the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill., she remembers being an intern, listening to a phone call between Senior Pastor Bill Harmon and a church member.
“He was there to listen to this person and it hit me, ‘Yeah, I could see myself doing this,’” Scungio said. “Being a deaconess is all about mercy and spiritual care.”
King of Glory’s internship ministry program officially started in 2014 but had its beginnings in quarterly dinners arranged by Harmon and Tara Wolf with high school students whom they saw as having gifts, talents and skills for church work. Wolf is director of Christian education, and the youth and family minister at King of Glory.
Dinner conversation often centered on how he and other church workers got into ministry. Then he and Wolf, decided to go one step further.
“Let’s be intentional about this and let’s let them see what church work is actually like,” Harmon said. Much like the National Honor Society, which recognizes outstanding high school students, the church’s internship program issued invitations for students to apply for the semester internships. Through the application process, students had the opportunity to think through the reasons they wanted to be a part of the program.
To date, two interns have gone on to the Concordia University System. Scungio is studying to become a deaconess and Harry Grimes is studying to be a director of Christian education.
While there are no Seminary students yet, Harmon said, “The internship is the introduction to the possibilities that await. If we do not ask them and if we do not let them experience it, they may have never considered it at all.”
Students can be interns for one or two semesters and also in the summer. The summer interns are paid for their work. During the fall and spring, interns are expected to work two hours each week and two Sunday mornings each month. King of Glory has four Sunday services — traditional, blended, family and contemporary — giving the interns plenty of opportunities to lead prayers and help with other parts of the services.
But it is the work week when the interns really see what goes on at the church, Wolf said.
Preparing Bible studies for adults, organizing attendance at events like The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s National Youth Gathering, and coordinating and planning events instead of just showing up on the day of, gives the interns a new perspective.
Interns spend time with a variety of church directors, including operations, music, school and family ministry. By working in the church’s front office, they
see the good, the bad and the underbelly on the front lines, Wolf said.
“When people are hurting and sad, people turn to the church family. It goes beyond Sunday morning,” Wolf said. “The Church is not one person. What
Paul talks about the Body of Christ, this internship gives them a picture of the planning, prep and decisions it takes. This is not like a token thing. We ask the interns to do a lot,” Wolf said. “We want to give them every experience. This is our gift as a church body to be able to do this, no matter what they decide to do.”
Currently, King of Glory has seven interns and the career paths they have chosen include the following:
- Pre-seminary for three of the interns. One intern is also considering being a director of Christian education (DCE).
- Information technology (IT) – Harmon noted that this intern will be “a great informed member and leader of his church.”
- Pre-law or communications – Harmon said that this intern “is very involved in the life of the church and will no doubt be a future leader within the priesthood of believers.
- Undecided – Harmon said that while this intern is only a sophomore, she is a great public speaker and undoubtedly will be a great asset to the ministry of the church.
Wolf and Harmon said other churches should consider offering internships as a way of encouraging more workers for the harvest.
As an intern, Harry Grimes asked to serve as a co-director of King of Glory’s vacation Bible school (VBS) last summer. Grimes helped lead the VBS team in a seven-month preparation and managed 100 volunteers and 300 children who attended VBS.
Intern Jack Harmon prays at VBS training. Harmon also asked to serve and co-directed VBS with Harry Grimes.
Harmon said, “As a community of faith it is not only my role to help students discern whether they should be a professional church worker. The staff, leaders and congregation as a whole play a vital role. A youth hearing from a member of the church that they would be a great pastor or from the youth and family minister that they are a great leader and, yes, even the pastor — all has impact.
“The beauty of the internship is that it is not one person helping a future leader discern but rather it is a team of folks walking with them, giving them tools, offering insight and inviting them to first hand leadership in the church,” Harmon said. “That is where I believe the Holy Spirit works and leads the youth in discovering his or her vocation in the life of the Church.”
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 Concordia Seminary magazine.
Photos: Courtesy of King of Glory Lutheran Church
Jackie Parker is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.