Thoughts on Internships and Co-ops

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Professor Karyn Wiseman and Pastor Cynthia Krommes on the value of internships and co-ops:

The Rev. Dr. Karyn WisemanLTSP Homiletics professor the Rev. Dr. Karyn Wiseman has first-hand experience on the value of co-ops now made possible at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), thanks to a recent Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation grant.

“When I went to college to become a secondary teacher, I learned a lot of theory and application proposals to go along with those theories,” Wiseman recalled. “But it was not until I was thrust into a classroom as a nervous student teacher that I actually began to learn to teach. That learning was not fully realized until I had my own classroom the following years. That was more than a few years ago, and the process of “teaching teachers to teach” has changed a lot.

“But that process led me to think twice before choosing a seminary to attend when I finally accepted God’s call on my life to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church,” Wiseman said. “I wanted to attend a seminary where practical skills AND theory and theology would be engaged together in the classroom and in the church setting from the very beginning. I found that model at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, MO.

“The model of theological education they employed was a co-op model,” she explained. “I pastored a small church in rural Kansas while I went to seminary and had a supervising pastor the next town over. The seminary and the church required that I meet with the pastor on a regular basis for reflection and supervision. In every class in which I was enrolled we had assignments I would use in the local church. In every encounter in the local church, there were opportunities for learning and reflections of those learnings to be utilized in the classroom. The synchronicity of doing and learning was powerful and so very helpful to me as a pastor.

“Another great aspect of the program was the fact that I was given a salary, housing, and insurance from the church I was serving and therefore left seminary with much less debt than many of my counterparts at other seminaries. The program for me offered the best of both worlds — a fabulously rich and rigorous theological education and a varied and important practical engagement with that education in a church setting where I could put those learnings and skills to work. For me it was the best learning experience of my life.”

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia KrommesLTSP trustee the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Krommes, senior pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, encouraged the development of a co-op approach to seminary education at LTSP after many years of serving as an internship and field work supervisor. Here is her perspective on the benefits of such an approach.

“I have found that the relationship between the seminarian and the congregation is one of the most exciting aspects for the growth of ministry,” Krommes said. 

“The seminarian is able to try out the ideas he or she is learning at seminary in a congregation,” Krommes said. “Seminarians can introduce new concepts, new ways of doing things, and new theological thoughts as they interact with people of the church. The people expect such thinking from a seminarian and are open to it in a way they may not be with a pastor. Or, it could be the pastor gets stuck, thinking ‘this will never fly’ and therefore doesn’t take a risk, while the seminarian leaps in without such caution and surprising things happen. Sometimes those surprises are absolutely wonderful. Other times, not so much, but seminarians are usually easily forgiven.

“Whenever I’ve been able to supervise the same seminarian over a two- or three-year period, another dynamic enters the learning process — the building of trust, Krommes added. “The student, the pastor and the people grow in their investment in the relationship, in trusting each other, and take more risks. The people offer more honest feedback because they have seen growth over a number of years. With one of my students this trust was particularly evident in preaching. The first few times the seminarian preached, the people were kind and vague in their feedback. By his sixth or seventh sermon he was given specific suggestions and engaged in deep discussion about his sermon and the text. It was wonderful to behold.

“The building of trust over two or three years also enables the seminarian to experience the normal conflict that is part of parish life and then to learn how to work through it,” she added. “Ministry then goes beyond the superficial into the heart of the life of the community.

“As a supervisor, working with seminarians has been such a gift to me,”Krommes noted. “Often as we discuss an aspect of ministry he or she will share insights from the classroom — perhaps a professor’s comment or something from a book they are reading. New ideas are introduced that way, and I have found myself delving into a book or line of thinking I might never have discovered on my own. While I was working to help a seminarian grow into a good pastor, he or she was helping me become a better pastor. I would hope the gift would flow the other way too — with experience in the parish being shared in the classroom and enhancing the teaching ministry of the seminary.

“Our new co-op program at LTSP, which has a seminarian serving a congregation over three years, allows the building of trust over time with corresponding opportunities for ministry,” Krommes said. “It also provides the seminarian three years in one place to experience the cycle of the lectionary, the ongoing day-to-day, week in and week out life of a congregation, and with the gift of this time, the ability to try something new both for the student and the people that has some substance and staying power. Finally, and most importantly, such a time in ministry gives the Holy Spirit opportunity for love to grow — love for the Gospel, the church, and one another.”

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