A Gateway for the Futureby Luke Gascho
Planning is a gateway for the future. A gateway creates a transition between one space and another, links from one time to another and makes possible interactions among diverse people.
A Pilgrimage of Peace:
A gateway for the future
Shoulder tapping continuesBy Bethany Nussbaum ’06, Jennifer Rupp ’06 and Jodi H. Beyeler
“Indeed, the special servant has two sources for his call, commission and authority; one is God direct and one is the church.
– H.S. Bender (These Are My People, 1962)
When H.S. Bender was dean at Goshen College and Goshen Biblical Seminary (1931-1962), it was common for the respected campus and church leader to hold appointments with male students offering clear direction as to where they should go and what they should do following graduation, particularly in regards to pastoral ministry or missionary work. The power of this leader’s advice was revered – and most students gladly followed Bender’s advice.
Bender’s philosophy of perpetuating a culture of call has not sustained itself, for better and for worse. Since that era, acceptable professional opportunities widened for Mennonites, and Christians in general began to broaden their conception of ways in which God-given gifts could be used in service to others. And the Samuel Project, a study that examined the Mennonite denominational leadership gap in the late 1990s, reported that the number of seminary students had decreased by half since a 1983 peak and that about a third of credentialed pastors were reported to be age 55 or older.
Director of the Cultivating Authentic Leaders for Life (CALL) Project at Goshen College Becky Horst said, “We learned from the Samuel Project that young people were not considering pastoral ministry because no one was suggesting it to them. We honor individual choice a lot more now. And with this generation, we need different strategies.”
One of those strategies is the implementation of “inquiry” programs. Since the programs began, 188 Goshen College students have spent a summer in one of the three programs available – the church-initiated Ministry Inquiry Program (MIP), and Goshen’s unique Service Inquiry Program (SIP) and Camping Inquiry Program (CIP). “All three of these programs help young people understand the idea of vocation is not an individual choice, but rather a call to serve God and God’s people in the world,” said Horst.
The intent is quite similar to the Bender era – fundamental to the inquiry programs is the need of professors willing to tap the students they come to know in and out of the classroom to suggest that they should consider participating in one of the programs. The summer opportunity structures a time for testing a call as students are placed in mentoring relationships – having someone walk alongside them to ask questions and point out what they see as particular strengths and gifts.
Each placement of a student with a church, service agency or camp also creates a partnership among the student’s home congregation and conference, the college and the hosting church or organization – resulting in a multi-layered support system and a $2,000 scholarship toward college tuition for each participating student.
MIP is a joint effort of Mennonite Church USA and the five Mennonite colleges in the United States. The program, which began in 1988, provides students from Mennonite colleges with an experience with a church where they can test their calling and gifts for ministry by serving as pastoral interns, usually during the summer break between academic semesters. Under close supervision from host pastors, students take various roles in worship, pastoral care and administration during an 11-week term, typically including preaching, youth ministry and hospital and home visits.
According to Anita Yoder, Goshen College director of career services and coordinator of the inquiry programs, many students from Goshen College who have completed MIP have gone on to enter pastoral ministry in some form. While not all head to seminary after college, most at minimum come to address their ideas and even fears about church ministry, experience first-hand the challenges and joys of church leadership and understand ways to be a better congregational participant, according to Yoder.
Following on students’ and churches’ positive experiences with MIP, Goshen sought to offer similar opportunities for testing one’s calling to service. Initiated in 2001 with financial support from a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., SIP offers Goshen College students the opportunity to engage in direct, meaningful service for others in church-related organizations while testing their own fit with future long-term voluntary service. Another outcome is that students come to see different forms service can take, build deep personal relationships with co-workers and clients and see more fully the connections between faith, politics, people, service and justice.
In its fourth year, CIP grew from a donor couple’s life-long interest in camping ministry. Larry and Janet Newswanger, former residents of Goshen, envisioned a camping internship program that would parallel the existing inquiry programs. GC students spend three months among nature and high-energy kids at one of the camps or retreat centers affiliated with the Mennonite Camping Association. They are exposed to the organization’s mission and programs and are encouraged to consider further service in the camping ministry at some point after graduation.
“Whether students have a primary position during the summer, such as a camp counselor, or rotate week by week in various roles, all of them have opportunities to observe and experience behind the scenes administrative responsibilities,” said Yoder.
The total impact of each of these programs on the lives of students is yet to be determined, but by catching a glimpse of the stories of several of this summer’s participants, it is evident that God is working while students are inquiring.
Ministry Inquiry ProgramAs junior Joanne Gallardo (Wauseon, Ohio) prepared to preach her second sermon of the summer at Kern Road Mennonite Church in South Bend, Ind., she had what she calls “the worst MIP nightmare.” Because of computer problems she lost her file the day before she was supposed to deliver it.
“I panicked immediately, but one of the pastors, helped me to calm down and rewrite it,” she said. “And I think it was better the second time.”
Despite what felt, at the time, like a significant crisis, Gallardo points to preaching sermons as highlights of the summer. The pastors at Kern Road, specifically her supervisor Dave Sutter, mentored her in thinking through the purpose of this aspect of a worship service, helped her narrow the focus and directed her to useful resources. “If I need to ever do it again,” she said, “I will have the tools now.”
For junior Bible and religion major Hope Greiser (Telford, Pa.), participating in MIP and being matched with West Philadelphia (Pa.) Mennonite Fellowship brought her to face some fears and apprehensions in a way she didn’t anticipate. When she accompanied the church’s junior high-aged youth group to the Mennonite convention in Charlotte, N.C., in July, she wasn’t sure how well she would relate with the young teens – particularly because her own memories of her teen-age years were of social struggles. But the week went well – the youth enjoyed her company and Greiser felt more confident by the end of convention. “The whole summer has helped me realize that being an adult isn’t so scary,” she said.
Serving with the West Philly congregation was a homecoming of sorts for Greiser; she attended the church until she was eight years old and her father helped to start the congregation. As a “P.K.” (preacher’s kid), the world of pastoring – often including all-consuming work and evening meetings – was also not unfamiliar, yet Greiser said she was struck by the vast responsibilities that a pastor of a small, urban church undertakes. She experienced it too this summer, especially when the administrative assistant was on leave and the congregation’s lead pastor, Fred Kauffman, was away for three weeks.
“I have felt very supported throughout and have been able to try what I wanted,” Greiser said, which has included going on pastoral visits, giving two sermons, worship leading and reading about ministry topics.
Both young women hoped that by applying the Bible stories, ministry theory and Christian history they have learned in their Bible and religion courses at Goshen that they would find clarification about their futures. “I thought I would know for sure when I was done whether I wanted to be a pastor,” said Gallardo, a music education major. “I still don’t know, but I do know that the church is where I want to be.”
Said Greiser, “Even though I don’t have a seminary education, I have realized that I do have something to offer others [in the church].”
Service Inquiry ProgramBrian Schlabach, a junior from West Liberty, Ohio, used his camera and computer in service this summer through SIP.
Schlabach, who moved to Newton, Kan., for nearly three months, worked in the Communications Office of Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership Offices. As a writer and photographer, mentored by news service director Laurie Oswald ’83, Schlabach took the less traditional route of service.
“Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’m actually doing service because I’m not using tools and fixing things,” said Schlabach, “I don’t always see immediate results, but the pen and the camera are powerful tools that can affect many people. It’s really exciting to be able to use what I’ve learned at Goshen in real life settings and then see that work get published.”
Sharing the stories of others’ faith has nurtured his own. “I’ve experienced God through the people that I work with and the people that I interact with every day,” said Schlabach, “I’ve talked to people who worked with AIDS victims, people who work with the homeless, people who have planted churches. All of them have had amazing stories to tell and I always come away with a little clearer picture of God.” Schlabach also saw the body of Christ – the church – at work in a focused way when he attended the Mennonite convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Oswald said, “I loved the privilege of working with a young adult who is so full of energy, creativity and cutting-edge thinking about the church.”
Christina Gosteli, a junior from Flanagan, Ill., participated in SIP as a volunteer for the DOOR (Disciple Opportunity and Outreach) program in Chicago. Gosteli accompanied youth groups to seminars, worship services and sessions dedicated to reflection after a long day on a service site.
“We’re not necessarily always doing manual labor work,” said Gosteli, “but we’re working to make people know that they’re important.”
DOOR provides youth with a variety of service experiences at different locations, all related to inner city outreach. “One day they might be at a day care center,” said Gosteli, “the next day they might be at the urban garden center and the next day they might be somewhere else.”
For Gosteli, observing the positive outlook on life of those she encounterd in drug rehabilitation centers and soup kitchens has resulted in a desire to live in an urban area after graduation. “I’ve seen God working through people that are so much less fortunate than I am,” said Gosteli. “All you have to do is open your eyes a little bit more and you can see Him in everything that you’re doing.”
Camping Inquiry ProgramWhether leading treks through the wilderness, supervising progress through a ropes course or leading devotions, sophomore Joel Gonzalez (Evanston, Ill.) and first-year student Nate Herr (Lowville, N.Y.) experienced a full – and busy – season of outdoor ministry through the Camping Inquiry Program.
Gonzalez served as a head counselor at Menno Haven Camp and Retreat Center in Tiskilwa, Ill.; Herr was stationed at Beaver Camp, located in his hometown, leading wilderness trips and even acting as the camp’s health director for a week.
Supervising third graders through high school students, Gonzalez led a Bible study session each day and accompanied his groups to traditional camp activities, like canoeing, tie-dying T-shirts and playing Capture the Flag, and not-so-traditional activities like shaving cream wiffle ball and a high ropes course.
Herr, along with another staff member, was in charge of leading a group of seven kids on week-long trips through remote areas in upstate New York. He recalled cooking spaghetti under the shelter of a tarp while rain poured down during one trip, with kids huddled all around him.
Between making sure his campers got enough to eat and bandaging up any cuts and scrapes, Herr found time to reflect on what he has learned through his experience. “Summer camp ministry is a prime example of servant leadership,” said Herr. “Success is not in money or recreation, it is in cooperating and serving with the Spirit of God when it moves.”
Although maintaining a high level of energy was challenging at times, Gonzalez and Herr said they found the most joy in developing relationships with the youth who came to the camps.
“I experienced God in the campers, in their sharing,” said Gonzalez, a computer science major. At the end of each week, the campers gathered around a campfire by a cross, where they were encouraged to give over their worries and fears to God. “It was a very emotional time as campers dedicated their lives to Christ,” he said.
The inquiry experience has allowed both students to take a closer look at how camping ministry might fit into the calling they continue to feel in their lives. For Herr, a biology major, the summer’s experiences have led him to think further about his future after college. “It has reminded me that I have a gift and enjoy working with people,” he said. “I’d like to do that in the future, and not just be stuck behind a microscope all the time.”
These three inquiry programs have taken students to all corners of the United States, and even in a few cases abroad. The young people involved – whose on-campus mentors took time to nurture the seeds of what they perceived might be a calling – have found life callings and lifetime mates during these summer experiences. And they have given churches, organizations and camps student interns who are committed, reflective and eager to learn.
“Supervisors are impressed with the caliber of the students they receive,” said Yoder. “Many write back asking us to send them another one just like them.”
Two of the programs – SIP and CIP – are unique to GC, demonstrating the college’s continued commitment to nurture a culture of call on campus. “We take this culture of call seriously at Goshen College,” said Yoder. “And we have programs in place to actually implement that. My hope is that the programs continue to give students an avenue for exploring vocation.”
H.S. Bender would concur – keep on tapping shoulders.