News November 2021 Perspective Online Top Story

Letter from the Dean – November 2021

“The internship was life changing for me.”

That sentiment, expressed by Perkins graduate Matt Gaston in this issue’s feature story about our Internship Program, brings vividly to mind my own internship experience.

I worked in churches part-time throughout college and then – as “field education” – during my first two years of graduate school. The seminary I attended did not require an internship, but the idea of having a more immersive and intensive supervised ministry experience appealed to me immensely. In particular, I wanted the chance to work under an outstanding mentor in a setting that would stretch me in new ways.

Through a class on evangelism, I became aware of the brilliant Anglican rector and scholar Michael Green, best known for his classic work Evangelism in the Early Church. Here was something I had not encountered before: a highly-educated (with top degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge), even-handed, and exceptionally articulate evangelist. His church, St. Aldate’s, was known for having a highly impressive ministry with students at Oxford University.

I contacted Michael out of the blue, and he suggested that I come over during my Thanksgiving break to meet with him and several others. I jumped at the chance. So it came to be that I moved to England that next summer and worked full-time under Michael’s direction as part of an amazingly talented staff for the following year.

Talk about being stretched. Michael constantly put me into ministry situations way outside of my comfort zone, such as speaking in grade schools, preaching in a youth prison, leading Bible studies for Oxford undergraduates, co-leading an adult seeker’s group, and even street preaching.

Along the way, I got the chance to interact with an extraordinary group of church leaders who came to St. Aldate’s, including Desmond Tutu, John Stott, David Watson, Billy Graham, and many others. At the same time, I attended seminars and lectures by leading scholars at the university. As you would imagine, it was an incredibly rich environment that greatly expanded my horizons.

My intern year helped me to imagine the possibility of a future ministry in which pastoral and academic interests were mutually pursued. It also helped this young man from central Illinois to believe that he might have what it takes to succeed in a place like Oxford. I returned there to pursue a doctorate three years later, which led to becoming a Fellow at Yale Divinity School, the chance later to spend a year as a Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University, and ultimately to come to Perkins–none of which, I feel certain, would have occurred had it not been for the privilege of that internship.

Perkins interns serve in a wide range of places, from local churches to church-affiliated ministries and nonprofits. Their internships may expose them to far different settings than what I experienced at St. Aldate’s, but they do get a similar chance to take a deep dive into ministry, one through which new clarity, direction, understanding, and opportunity present themselves. It is part of what drew me here and one of the best things we do.