For Cori Clevenger, her education as a church intern in England began just moments after arriving at the airport in Manchester, U.K.
Clevenger was met by a member of one of the churches she now serves. While helping load her luggage into an elevator, the church member said, “Ay up, Duck!”
“I literally ducked,” said Clevenger. “I didn’t know what that meant. It turns out the people from Derbyshire don’t say ‘Love,’ as many English people do; they say ‘Duck.’ So that was a learning experience.”
It was the first of many ways that Clevenger has been challenged in her nine-month internship in England, made available through a partnership between Perkins and the Methodist church in England.
Clevenger, who expects to complete her M.Div. in May 2020, has been serving since last fall at three churches in the Midlands area of England – Swanwick Methodist Church in Swanwick, Alfreton Wesley Methodist Church in Alfreton and Grassmoor Methodist Church in Grassmoor. At the first two, she’s essentially functioning as a senior pastor; at Grassmoor, she’s more of an associate pastor, assisting with Bible studies and ministry for the impoverished.
She applied for the internship with the encouragement of her church history professor, Ted Campbell, and she’s glad she did.
“Professor Campbell believed in my abilities to handle this internship before I believed in myself,” she said. “Serving in England has not only given me a broader perspective for my ministry, outside of my native context of Texas United Methodism, but also has given me the confidence that I can be an effective minister.”
As to what’s next, Clevenger is currently considering doctoral programs in the U.S. and the U.K., and ultimately hopes to pursue ordination.
Before traveling to England, Clevenger’s on-campus activities included serving as a Residential Community Chaplain to students living in the university commons. Last spring, she was selected to attend The National Workshop on Christian Unity in St. Louis, sponsored by the Council of Bishops Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships.
Clevenger’s academic interests include Moral Theology/Christian Ethics focusing on the dynamics of abuses of power in organizations such as the church, and how to best promote healing when they occur.
“I think it is important to strengthen the relationship between theology and secular psychology; there is a lot of potential for the two disciplines to help each other,” she said. “People struggling with depression and suicide can too easily fall through the cracks in our secular governing system. I hope that academic research will enable the church to better minister to those with mental health issues, both inside and outside the walls of the church in partnership with secular psychologists.”
She’s also an enthusiast of church history. Her paper, “John Wesley Hardin: Preacher’s Kid and Convicted Killer,” was selected last year as the recipient of the Walter Vernon Essay Award. She received a $250 prize and an invitation to present a summary of the paper to the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Texas United Methodist Historical Society.
Hardin (1853-1895) was an American Old West outlaw, gunfighter and controversial folk icon. The son of a Methodist preacher, Hardin got into trouble with the law from an early age. He killed his first man at age 14, he claimed in self-defense. Pursued by lawmen for most of his life, he was sentenced in 1877, at age 24, to 25 years in prison for murder. Hardin claimed to have killed 42 men; however, he was well known for wildly exaggerating or completely making up stories about his life. Within a year of his release in 1894, Hardin was killed by John Selman in an El Paso saloon.
Clevenger’s interest was piqued when she learned that Hardin’s father was a minister in her home church in Liberty, Texas.
“I had come across Hardin earlier while doing historic research for the church’s 175th anniversary celebration,” she said. “It was a story I knew and was familiar with, but it was never told through a psychological lens. I looked at the relationship between Hardin and his circuit-riding father – how that relationship affected him, and what we can learn from that today when addressing clergy burnout and its effects on our families.”
When she’s not busy shuttling between her three parishes, Clevenger takes time to nurture her own spirit and to stay close to God. She enjoys composing music at the piano and sketching images that relate to her prayer life.
“Whenever I feel anxious, I want to create something beautiful, to remind myself of the One who holds me in the palms of their hands,” she said.