I began discerning my call to ministry during my Senior year of high school. Knowing my future would consist of full-time, vocational ministry influenced my decision to major in History; it played a role in which clubs I joined in college; and it impacted my choices for summer experiences. In December of my Freshman year, a member of my church family sent an email describing a summer camp internship opportunity for college age young adults. The first thing that caught my attention about this experience was that, if hired, I would get to spend 8 weeks with the same children while most other summer camp experiences brought in new children every week. The second aspect of the internship that caught my attention were the “Friday Experiences,” or vocational exploration opportunities built into the schedule on Fridays to encourage young adults continue to discern ways they can live into their calling to ministry throughout their lives. With these two things in mind, I applied, got accepted, and began preparing for a 2 month long summer camp. What I could not have anticipated was just how transformative that summer would be, or the fact that for a total of three summers, Project Transformation would become one of the most hands-on and holistic ministry learning experiences I have yet to encounter. Through planning worship, pastoral care, and administrative duties, Project Transformation (PT) challenged me to grow.
In my three summers with Project Transformation, I served the first as an intern and the second two as a House Pastor. An intern runs the day-to-day camp with kids, and a House Pastor makes sure the interns are taken care of spiritually, emotionally, and physically. As an intern, I had the opportunity to experience Tuesday night worship with interns. I watched other, more musically talented interns help lead worship, and I experienced House Pastors facilitating the services by planning worship and facilitating any tasks that might need to get done. However, my experience drastically shifted as a House Pastor myself. Planning worship on a weekly basis was a new experience for me, especially as interns come from diverse backgrounds and faith experiences. Though the speaker comes in with the message every week, the responsibility of thinking about worship creatively, coming up with new ideas, and ensuring that they flow smoothly falls on the House Pastor. Outside of actually pastoring a church, I am not sure I could have found a similar ministry experience where I felt the weekly pressure of focusing a worship service around a particular theme and seeking to help others with different stories and experiences somehow connect with God more deeply through it.
Another aspect of Project Transformation that has influenced my ministry experience is that of pastoral care. Young adults wrestle with major questions of faith, important life decisions, and steps in relationships. As a House Pastor, I had the opportunity to walk with a number of interns, intentionally providing space for these deep questions of faith and life. I was on call 24/7, with a day and a half every other weekend off, so interns could text or call me with any personal issues at any time, day or night. I learned that pastoral care does not have to happen in an office. It can occur on a walk, in the car, or over milkshakes at a favorite fast food chain. Even when I felt incredibly under qualified – a sentiment that may be more common among those in ministry positions than I had originally thought – I learned that actively listening to people demonstrates a sense of love and compassion that every human being desires so deeply. Serving as a House Pastor provided experience in these realms of pastoral care, which tend to be taught in classes. But, it also challenged me to develop healthy boundaries and practice self care, which are mentioned but not taught quite as explicitly. I learned to set aside time to do the things I loved and to make sure that I was doing okay emotionally and spiritually so that I could, in turn, hear other’s stories to the best of my ability. PT began to challenge me not to feel guilty about setting these boundaries or taking that time for myself, because it is truly necessary to minister effectively without burnout in the long-term. It is a lesson, though, that I am still working through today. Through Project Transformation I was able to apply some things about pastoral care that I had learned in a more practical setting while constantly being challenged to take care of myself in the process.
Another crucial aspect of ministry that my experience with Project Transformation helped prepare me for is the ability to meet deadlines and handle logistical components of a job such as budgeting, scheduling, and communicating effectively with various parties while serving in a fairly stressful leadership position. As a House Pastor, it was my responsibility to ensure interns had food to eat. Whether that was budgeting and shopping weekly for breakfasts and lunches or communicating the dinner volunteer protocol with Partner Churches to make sure food arrived on time and ready to eat in order to fit into interns’ schedules. Coordinating schedules with a number of young adults and volunteers from churches challenged my organization skills in a new way. My scheduling and communication skills were also put to the test when it came to organizing the logistics of worship on Tuesday nights. Communicating with pastors about times to arrive, the amount of time to speak, and the theme for the week via email, phone call, and the occasional Facebook message taught me not to assume anything and to communicate guidelines clearly. Serving as a “middle person” of sorts between Project Transformation Staff and interns also showed me the necessity of listening to truly understand different perspectives and learn how to communicate them clearly to the other- recognizing my own voice within it all. Meeting deadlines and scheduling in the midst of a PT summer is no easy feat, but I am thankful for my experience because it challenged me to be more organized and communicate more clearly my needs and expectations.
Project Transformation has truly lived up to its name and has been a transformative presence in my life since 2014. It provided the space and opportunity for me to question my own beliefs and calling while also providing a unique and intensive ministry experience unlike many other internships. As a House Pastor, I planned worship weekly, practiced pastoral care, and experienced more of the administrative side of ministry, and I am incredibly grateful for all of these experiences and the relationships built in the process, because they continue to shape me into the pastor I hope to be.