Internships give M.Div. students at Perkins an opportunity to integrate coursework of Bible, theology and ethics with ministry practice in the real world. Now, Perkins students have the chance to do this in another culture, broadening their understanding of Christian expressions from those found in the U.S., thanks to a partnership between Perkins and the Methodist Church of Great Britain.
Third-year student Cori Clevenger is currently interning in England in a three-point charge in Methodist churches in the Midlands area of England. Her internship is part of a pilot program that organizers hope will become ongoing.
“This is an opportunity for Perkins students to see how Methodism in Great Britain is lived out,” Docampo said. “It’s a chance to get another perspective on the Christian faith and the world, and to critically reflect on these.” Currently, students are being interviewed for one or two potential internships in England in the 2020-2021 school year.
The unique internship evolved from discussions almost two years ago between leaders of Perkins and Cliff College, one of the ministerial training sites for the Methodist Church of Great Britain. In addition to the UK internship, the resulting partnership between Perkins and Cliff has led to still-emerging global theological education initiatives.
England is a natural for Perkins students, Docampo said, because it’s the birthplace of founder John Wesley and of Methodism. (The program is separate from Perkins’ partnership with Wesley House, Cambridge in England that provides an international study opportunity for two recent Perkins graduates each year.)
“This program is different from the previous post-Internship program between the Perkins Intern Program and the Methodist Church of Great Britain that ended approximately 16 years ago,” Docampo said. “In that program, Perkins students who had completed their U.S. based Internship for course credit would be selected for a one-year post-Internship in England and given an appointment at a ministry charge. In this brand-new program, Perkins is sending students to do their year of internship for course credit in Great Britain instead of the U.S.” Also, in this new program, Cliff College is part of the partnership and that makes it possible for students to take classes in England while also completing their internship.
Just as with internships in the U.S., the intern in England is supervised by a mentor pastor and a lay committee. The Rev. Loraine N. Mellor, chair of the Nottingham & Derby Methodist District, traveled to Perkins in 2019 to prepare for the partnership. She’s sharing mentoring duties with the Rev. Ann Anderson, minister of Grassmoor Methodist Church and Clevenger’s on-site supervisor. (Because Clevenger has a 3-point charge, Mellor functions in a more supervisory role due while juggling other responsibilities, and Anderson offers day-to-day practical and pastoral guidance.)
Mellor says interns can bring a new perspective to parishioners in the churches they serve.
“Students from Perkins give to our congregations a flavor of another culture and they see the Bible come alive through others’ experiences,” she said. “The building of relationships also enables a greater dialogue which allows us to reflect upon what unites us as well as what divides us, that is in theology and practice but also about what it means to be disciple and a follower today. The Perkins interns also bring a different way of worshipping which challenges our presuppositions, and again this creates a place for conversation and dialogue which leads to understanding.”
A lay committee comprised of church members at the churches in England meets with the intern each month to assess them on the goals they have set forth in their Learning Covenant in the areas of leadership, self-awareness and theological reflection on the practice of ministry.
“Technology has helped us quite a bit,” Docampo said. “We have trained the lay teaching committee over Zoom, an online platform for web-based conferencing, and I am able to also conference with Cori and her mentor pastor, Loraine, as needed.”
“We paired Cori with Ann Anderson, an experienced minister, which meant that we could quickly respond to any challenges and anxieties that might occur,” said Mellor. “We believe this is a good model.”
The three congregations that Clevenger is serving this year have each reacted differently to their American pastor.
“One is an elderly congregation that wanted some Bible teaching which they have responded to eagerly and been very appreciative of the way in which she has led this,” Mellor said. “The second congregation includes many professionals who are early retired.” After some initial friction, she said, “Cori has won them around and they very much look forward to her leading worship and joining them on other occasions.” The third church, located in a low-income community, has been open and inclusive. “She has quickly become one of them,” Mellor said.
“Loraine, Ann and the lay committee members have taken their mentoring roles very seriously,” Docampo added. “This is very important, given that I have a student so very far away, and critical to the future of our partnership.”