Meet Denisse Peña
Denisse Peña is one of nine students involved in the 2017 TAC College Pastoral Internship Project.
Some 15 years ago, The Texas Annual Conference committed to cultivating vibrant, growing churches while investing in a younger generation. An exciting vision was born through the Emerging Leaders Initiative with the goal of recruiting pastors for the future of the denomination. One of the four programs focused on this goal is the College Pastoral Internship Project that allows university students to experience the life of a pastor for 10 weeks in the summer. They shadow an experienced pastor in every aspect of ministry to truly understand church leadership.
Rev. Peter Cammarano, Chapelwood UMC Lake Jackson, is Denisse Peña’s mentor this summer and an avid supporter of the internship program for personal reasons. “I remember the kind faces each summer as I came back from seminary and attended Annual Conference. I remember the time they took to learn my name, and to ask me about what ministry I had been involved in over the last 12 months. Those who invested in me as a seminary student made all the difference to me as I was deciding where I would serve in the United Methodist Church. I have found that the College Pastoral Intern Project has allowed me to return the favor of investing in new leaders.”
Peter explains that the College Pastoral Intern Project is a powerful way for the Annual Conference to invest in the young as they discern their call of ministry that starts at baptism and matures into a life of service in adulthood.
Q. How did your internship develop?
A. A native of Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, I graduated from Lydia Patterson Institute, the Methodist preparatory college in El Paso, TX in 2016. Then I was blessed to be an intern at Cypress UMC for several summers through the Lay Ministry Program. My friendship with Dr. Jerome Brimmage has been major factor in my internship this summer. I’m now attending Wiley College in Marshall, TX where my chaplain, Rev. Tabitha Rankin has encouraged me to pursue my call to ministry.
Q. What activities are you doing this summer?
A. I have been shadowing the pastors on pastoral care visits to hospitals, nursing homes, or residential homes. I’m also the coordinating activities with the youth and children at Lakeview, and helping with UM ARMY, Faith in Action, and local activities like True to Life Ministries in Lake Jackson. Finally, I have the chance to preach a chapel service at the conference office and at my host church -- to really experience being a pastor.
Q. What is your favorite aspect of the internship?
A. I love doing missions and hanging out with new people, so Lakeview and UM ARMY have been the best two weeks so far. I’ve done both of these as a camper when I was the intern at Cypress UMC, but I’m getting such a different experience being an “adult” and I’ve loved every second of it.
Q. What is the most challenging part of an internship?
A. Having a pastoral role in a funeral the very first week of my internship was a challenge. Also, I’m finding the pastoral care hospice visits to be learning experiences but heartbreaking, at the same time.
Q. Do you spend very much time with the pastor?
A. I attend meetings with Pastor Peter throughout the week and work on worship planning. We’ve also set a time for a one-on-one pastor to intern talk to help me process everything that has been going on, and to learn and grow in my faith. We stay in touch even when I am out of the office.
Q. How is this experience helping you discern your call to ministry?
A. I am trying to figure out a way to combine my calling to ministry and a career in nursing.
Q. Can you share a story of where you see God at work?
I see and feel God more than ever during Lakeview camp and UM ARMY. During camp, I could see my 6th and 7th graders pouring out their hearts to God in worship. It was a privilege to see such young girls being so passionate about their faith. I also see God every day at Chapelwood in all the staff members and volunteers who are dedicated to sharing God’s love and grace with others.
Q. When this internship concludes, what’s your next step?
A. In the fall, I will be getting ready to begin my sophomore year at Wiley College. My goal is to get more involved at First UMC Marshall and help build their college student ministry.
Q. How many times over this summer will you preach?
A. Preaching the chapel service at the Texas Annual Conference Office on June 13th was my first experience with preaching, but afterwards Pastor Peter and I worked on ways to improve and I’m really excited and looking forward to preaching at Chapelwood July 30th as part of the summer sermon series.
Q. Have you met any other role models?
A. Lisa Michelle Wilson, children’s and youth pastor is a role model because of her strength and passion as a woman dedicated to ministry.
Rev. Cammarano says, “Denisse is the third intern to serve at Chapelwood UMC, one of the other interns was a church member. “I was thrilled to learn that Chapelwood member Paul Meiller, after shadowing me for 12 weeks last year, is now completing his first year at Perkins and is a candidate for ordained ministry in our conference. I have enjoyed spending the summer showing each intern the joy in pastoral work, the places where they can stretch, and the difference the church can make in other’s lives.”
Peter enjoys watching their careers and spiritual journeys unfold. He adds, “The best part for me is to help them celebrate as they choose a path towards ministry and to walk with them as they seek ordination, graduate from seminary and take their own appointment in the connection. The College Pastoral Intern Project is a powerful way for the Annual Conference to invest in the young.”