Today begins week 4 of our ten-week internships for Candler Advantage. What a privilege and gift this has been for me and for my journey in ministry. My initial hopes and goals for this summer included immersion in the day-to-day activities of the church. I can tell you that in the last three weeks, I have experienced a total and complete immersion!

I am spending my summer on staff at Brookhaven United Methodist Church, located a little more than 5 miles from the Emory campus. This is a mid-sized church (about 70 people attend Sunday worship) located in a diverse neighborhood. The church has a daycare center that operates during the week and fills my days with the sounds of life -laughter, singing, excited voices and, yes, even a few tears and occasional screams.

A significant ministry of this church includes an outreach to the recovery community. This community includes those who are in recovery programs for alcohol and substance abuse. Brookhaven UMC has a local pastor on staff whose main responsibility is to minister to those who are in recovery. His story is that of alcohol and drug abuse and the completion of his own recovery program. He is not shy about telling his story to the community and sharing his acceptance of Jesus and his belief in God. We celebrated his 11th birthday last week – 11 years of sobriety. He is a truly a blessing to the church and the community and to all who know him. His ministry includes once a week meetings for those in recovery using a Bible specifically for those in recovery, titled The Life Recovery Bible. He also oversees the transportation of those in recovery who want to attend worship on Sunday mornings to be brought in for Sunday School and worship. Twice a month, a Saturday night worship and fellowship event for those in recovery is held at the church. A short, casual worship service including communion is followed by a meal of hotdogs (always!) and a rousing game of BINGO. Everyone leaves Soulful Saturday with a prize – practical prizes including toothbrushes, shaving cream or maybe a box of Little Debbie cookies for those who just want a junk food snack. On Monday evenings, the recovery community is brought to the Clothing Closet housed in the church and the participants (almost completely men) are allowed to pick out clothing, socks and, if they’re lucky, shoes. These are all items that have been donated by the community. This is a wonderful outreach to those who are one step away from homelessness as Pastor Don describes them.

The senior pastor of this church is the only full-time employee. Her job includes anything and everything that needs to be done. From picking up elderly members for worship on Sunday morning to delivering a provocative sermon series on the fruits of the spirit to sharing communion, Pastor Sara does it all. She is a wonderful role model and is always open to my questions and reflections on the reasons why she does things the way she does.

It’s been three full weeks of total immersion in the life of a mid-size church. What have I experienced so far? I’ve been welcomed by the community in various ways – some more warmly than others and I imagine that is the way a new pastor must feel when going into a church the first time. I’ve had the wonderful experience of leading the Monday morning chapel service for the daycare children and singing This Little Light of Mine with the sweetest voices you can imagine. I’ve served dessert to the recovery community at Soulful Saturday and played a little BINGO. I’ve watched grown men rejoice at the prize of a new razor or a tube of toothpaste. I’ve taken an elderly couple to the emergency room and listened to their life stories while they waited to be seen by a doctor. I’ve had the pleasure of planning worship with a creative and open Senior Pastor. I’ve taught children’s Sunday School, eaten lunch with the younger adults, and visited members in the hospital. What have I learned in these three short weeks? I have learned that this is indeed my calling in life and as hard as some of it may be, it has nourished and challenged me to grow in ways that I had never considered in the past.

If any of you are considering spending your summer interning next year through Candler Advantage, I can not recommend it enough. Your life and your ministry will never be quite the same.