michelle-hettmann-story2.jpgWhen I started out my summer as a Candler Advantage intern at Neighborhood Church, I was (secretly) less than enthused about staying in Atlanta for the whole summer rather than traveling somewhere new and fun. Now, hear me say: I love Atlanta. It has been a place where I have been able to grow into who I am, learn more about my call to ordained ministry, and be in community with some truly amazing people.

Yet, I am an adventurer at heart— any chance I have to go explore somewhere new, I’m there. I even took a three week break at the beginning of the summer to go to Europe with my sisters and visit some new countries! I remember sitting in orientation for Candler Advantage and feeling regrets about choosing to stay in Atlanta and continue on with my work at the same church I knew and loved, rather than stepping out of my comfort zone and trying out a new experience. Little did I know that this summer would be the adventure I was longing for and that at times, I would even be praying for things to slow down and feel more familiar. 

This summer has felt like I have traveled around and have experienced the world in a new way, even though I have had the same eight minute commute to church every day. I have been immersed in this culture of pastoral ministry, functioning like an associate pastor of this community that is still learning, growing, and becoming. We are in the middle of a huge building renovation that will take six months, so a lot of my summer has been spent learning about what that planning process looks like, packing/moving boxes, moving into a new office, and transitioning to worshipping at an elementary school temporarily. 

In the midst of all this transition, the largest portion of my Candler Advantage project has been working on a project which included dreaming about how the newly renovated space will function, and how we can be faithful stewards of our space while also offering opportunities for people to engage in the work of restoration through relationship with God and others. Through this work of visioning, I realized that I too needed a space where I could come to be restored. It turns out, maybe the reason that I wanted to travel and be somewhere different was because I was scared: scared to learn, scared to dig deep into my insecurities, scared to be known deeply and fully by a community who cares for me. I am glad that I felt the tug to stay when I was writing my Candler Advantage proposal, because the things I have learned this summer are lessons and skills that I will hold with me for a long time. 

I have learned to counter anxiety with a voice of calm confidence.

I have learned to counter questions about my authority because of my age and gender with gentle smiles and reminders that we all have something to bring to the table (not to mention that I’m 2/3 of the way through a master’s degree in the subject they are questioning me about).

I have learned to embody a pastoral presence when people are counting on me—it turns out sometimes discernment happens when you are thrown right into the work with no time to doubt yourself and let negative self-talk win.

I have learned that I enjoy hearing people’s stories and being out in the community.

I have learned that sometimes connection is as simple as a popsicle, some dog treats, sharing a simple meal, or listening to a child talk about their day at school.

I have learned that people long deeply to be heard, seen, and known and that we can all be a part of making this happen in our own neighborhoods.

I have learned that I am loved and enough just for being me. 

I am grateful for Candler and for the work of Neighborhood Church and the ways that they were interwoven this summer through my Candler Advantage experience. I am excited to continue to put into practice all that I have learned as I continue down this road of ordination and being faithful to what God is calling me to do. 

[Headshot photo: Kristen Wright Photography]