Coming into my Candler Advantage summer internship, I experienced a variety of emotions about the work before me: uncertainty, curiosity, nervousness, and excitement. My experiences in Contextual Education I and II had been phenomenal. I had learned and grown so much in the last two years. Despite these experiences, I still doubted whether or not I had what it takes to serve as a minister within a church. I had trouble imagining myself as “a pastor,” as someone who flourished in full-time church ministry. I knew Candler Advantage would allow me an opportunity to “try on the pastoral pants,” where I could see how working full-time in a congregational site would fit.

While some of my peers headed across the country and even across the world for their internships, I headed to Decatur, Georgia—a whopping 3 miles from Candler School of Theology. Throughout the summer, I coordinated and facilitated an accessibility and inclusion audit of Decatur First United Methodist Church, working alongside the congregation to take steps towards becoming more inclusive of people with disabilities, one of the most marginalized groups in churches worldwide. People with disabilities may not feel welcomed in churches on Sunday morning due to a variety of reasons. Many churches in North America, especially historic churches, often have barriers to physical accessibility of the facilities. In addition to physical accessibility, the churches must also examine their culture to see if they are welcoming of people with disabilities.

In fall 2018, I took the course “The Church and Disabilities,” which ignited a passion within me to work alongside people with disabilities to create inclusive communities within the church where everyone can find a sense of belonging. Because inclusion work must be a slow and intentional process, I knew that much of this summer would rely on building relationships with congregation members, listening to their stories, and connecting with people and organizations in the community.

It was through this heavy emphasis on pastoral care that I discovered the secret about wearing “the pastoral pants.” Rather than expecting to either fit or not fit in the pants, ministry is learning to tailor those pants through discernment, mentorship, and the guiding of the Holy Spirit. Instead of trying to be the ideal minister, I was reminded that I must be who I am. I had to take those pants and tailor them to fit my gifts and wirings. By leading and serving from my gifts and my strengths, I was able to flourish in the fullest sense. I gained confidence in my leadership skills, members of the congregation began trusting me more, and I didn’t feel this pressure to be the perfect minister. Under the guidance and support of my site supervisor, I fully leaned into my gifts of pastoral care and religious education. I discovered new passions and encountered areas that I’m not gifted in. By embracing who God has made me to be, I’ve identified a passion I have for empowering laity to discover their gifts and passions in order to serve within the body of Christ. Because no matter who we are, what abilities or disabilities we may experience, or how long we have been attending church, each of us have a role within the body of Christ. Each of us is created for a purpose, gifted with talents and abilities that are needed within the church. By embracing who each of us is created to be, we can cast the net wider so more people can experience God’s love through the community of belonging found within the body of Christ.