College Students Exploring Call to Ministry through Conference Sponsored Internship
By Lindsay Peyton
Summers are the perfect time for college students to consider their callings, to contemplate a greater purpose. In the Texas Annual Conference, the College Pastoral Internship Project (CPIP) offers students a firsthand experience behind the scenes at a local church. Interns also benefit from the mentorship of an established pastor.
Let’s meet our three interns this year – Jacob Dunn, a 21-year old at the University of Texas at Tyler and Hailey Derome, a 21-year old at Stephen F. Austin University and Matt Mooneyham, a 21-year old student at Texas A&M International University.
Jacob DunnDunn will be a senior next year, majoring in history with a minor in religious studies. His home church is LaRue UMC. This summer, he is shadowing Lead Pastor Jason Smith at FUMC Athens.
Q. How did you start feeling called to ministry?
A. My grandfather is a Methodist preacher. I was born and raised in the Methodist church. Growing up, my dad was a basketball coach. People would ask me, “Do you want to be a coach like your dad or a preacher like your grandad?” I didn’t want to be either one of those things. Later, I went to Lakeview, and TAP [or The Andrews Program which helps assist youth who God is ‘tapping’ to serve] people were like, ‘If you feel a calling, come talk to us.” I was 15-years old and I kind of felt it. It got stronger and stronger and stronger. You can only say “no” so many times. It was such a strong feeling. God was like, “This is what I want you to do.” Ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do next.
Q. So what were some of your next steps?
A. My junior and senior year of high school, I was president of the newly formed FCA at my school. My senior year, I got to preach my first sermon at my church. I’ve preached 13 sermons now at LaRue. I declared my candidacy not long ago. In fact, when I was filling out my application for this internship, I was also filling out my candidacy paperwork.
Q. How did you hear about this internship opportunity?
A. Rev. Patricia Lund told me about it last year. I was worried it would be canceled because of COVID-19. It was a little nerve-wracking. I actually got interviewed with all the applicants in March, about a week before all of this happened. I was super excited – and the next week, the whole country got shut down. Then, I got an email to tell us they were still looking for a host church. We didn’t hear anything for a while. They say no news is good news, but that’s not how I work. I like to know exactly what is going on. Then, they said Jason Smith would be a good mentor for me, and I started my journey at Athens.
Q. What has the internship been like so far?
A. I’m usually there from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. They opened up for in-person worship the week before I started. They involved me in that with prayer or doing the children’s moment. Recently, we opened up to two services – traditional and modern. I got to do the announcements, the Apostles Creed after the traditional service. That’s been really cool. I was super excited to have my own office. I get to be involved with the youth, chaperone for missions week and our mystery trip. We did some work around Athens. We had a prayer at our county square after George Floyd died. I was in charge of Sunday school for a while, before we decided to shut it down for a couple of weeks. It’s been super fun.
Q. Do you feel like this has been a valuable learning experience?
A. I’ve been able to see how large churches run. It’s so much bigger than what I’m used to at LaRue. We have people who go to both services and who watch at home. Being in a bigger church, I’ve learned how things operate. I go to board meetings. I see Pastor Jason making important decisions. I’ve learned people aren’t always going to like you as pastor – sometimes for no reason. You’ve got to just roll with it and do your job. Jason’s attitude is so great. He tries to involve everybody. He doesn’t always take credit for his good ideas. He’s like, “It’s better for the church. It makes people happy – and that’s what I care about.” There are so many things that Jason has taught me and that I’ve learned from being at Athens. It’s definitely where I’m supposed to be.
Q. Do you have any advice for others who received a calling at a young age – like you did?
A. They should definitely do this internship. Not everyone gets this type of ministry experience. I’ve been blessed to be in a position with my grandfather. But whatever church you go to, there will be some type of leadership position or volunteer opportunity to learn how a church works. You should take every opportunity to learn more, to go in there and soak up all the learning you can.
Q. What are your plans after the internship?
A. I have one more year at UT Tyler. Then, I plan on becoming a licensed, local pastor. I want to start doing what I love to do and what I’m being called to do. Then, I want to get my masters of divinity at SMU, so I can do more. I want to get my masters so more doors open.
Q. It sounds like you had to learn to have faith in God’s plans for you, even though you were young, to stick with your calling. Is that something you would want to pass on to others as well?
A. At some point, I had to decide not to say “no” to God. I learned to trust God and say, “I don’t know where you want me to go, but just show me the steps, and we’ll get there together.”
Matt MooneyhamMooneyham has two more years of college, majoring in communications. He grew up attending FUMC Fairfield and now calls A&M UMC home. He is also spending his internship at A&M UMC, shadowing Senior Pastor Rev. Preston Greenwaldt. This will be his second year in CPIP.
Q. When did you start feeling a call to ministry?
A. Pastor Rev. Richard Heyduck came to FUMC Fairfield my senior year, and the parsonage is in my neighborhood. We would go for walks after school and talk about life and the church. He invited me to serve communion on Christmas and do Ash Wednesday. He had me preach the Easter Sunrise Service. I had never had an experience like that before. It was nerve-racking. My legs were shaking, but when I was done, I knew this is what I needed to do for the rest of my life. I knew I wanted to be in ministry, and I started looking for opportunities.
Q. What did you do next?
A. I applied for CPIP in 2019 and went to Chapelwood UMC in Lake Jackson with Rev. Peter Camerano. That’s where I got a confirmation of my calling. The packed up my stiff after my last final at college that semester and drove to Lake Jackson. I was 20-years old and by myself. No one there knew me. I have a twin brother, so I always have someone I know with me. This was my first time to really be alone. I was new to them, and they were new to me. To witness the members at Chapelwood, to hear their stories of how they came to know Jesus Christ, how they started their own ministries and moved to be outside the wall of the church, that was incredibly inspiring to me. I was learning about the day-to-day operations of the church. I got to preach three times. I realized, I really do love every second of this -- the pastoral care, the preaching, just getting to know and serve the people. The challenges were even fun. I’m not overstating this – that was really the best summer of my life.
Q. Did the internship affect your next school year?
A. My first year in College Station, I was actually the church introvert I would sit in the back row, and I would usually dart out before it was over. Rev. Elizabeth Duffin [who runs the CPIP program through the Clergy Recruitment Ministry Area of the Center for Clergy Excellence] told me to join A&M UMC. After the internship, I got in my car and drove to the church. I asked if Rev. Preston Greenwaldt had a minute. I told him, ‘I’m Matt and I just finished the pastoral internship’ and that I wanted to join his church. He set down his phone and took the time to talk to me. I joined the church and got involved with college ministry. At Fairfield, I felt called. At Chapelwood, I figured out that what I really wanted to do was be part of the United Methodist Church. At A&M UMC, that’s where I pretty much fell in love with ministry.
Q. Then you decided to apply again for CPIP?
A. I enjoyed my time so much at Chapelwood, but there were still some unanswered questions from the year before. I thought, ‘I might as well go for it one more time. I also wanted to get a feel for another church. Each church is different, and they are all special places. At Fairfield, the congregation really encouraged and supported me. At Chapelwood, I saw so many people come there to work for Dow Chemical, who may have been unchurched or did not have a relationship with Jesus, then come to faith in Lake Jackson. So many people told me they didn’t go to church at all until a friend told them about Chapelwood. Now, I’m seeing Preston Greenwaldt at a church that reaches out to a specific group that doesn’t often get ministered – college students. In this internship, you get to see ministry from an honest perspective. And you get to see the inner workings of a church. It’s an experience you wouldn’t get anywhere else besides CPIP. I’d recommend it to anyone.
Q. What has the internship been like so far?
A. In ministry, there’s really no day-to-day schedule. There’s a routine, but it might all change to accommodate pastoral care. Also, with COVID-19, every day is something new. This internship has helped me understand the need to be flexible, the need to be consistently creative, seek new ideas and encourage other people. The pastor is trying to steer the ship in the midst of what seems a constant storm. Pastor Preston is also a great preacher. I’m totally in awe of him and still in shock that I get to be in his office. It’s so cool to hear his ideas – and bounce my ideas off him. His input and encouragement have been great. We’re still growing as a church even during COVID-19. It’s because of his energy. We’re not just surviving this. We’re growing.
Q. What are your plans after the internship?
A. I graduate in two years. I’m starting my candidacy. I’m continuing to serve at A&M UMC. We don’t know what next year will look like on campus with college ministry. I’ve been teaching the Golden Rule Sunday school during my internship for 80- and 90-year olds. They asked me to continue into the fall. It’s so cool that I get to continue serving the church that I love. I want to eventually become an ordained elder. It’s going to involve seminary, grad school. Do I know the exact plan? No.
Q. Do you have any advice for others who received a calling like you did?
A. Pray about it, and try to find a good mentor. I still text and call Rev. Richard Heyduck every week. He’s like a third parent to me. Find someone you can talk to and pray with, who gives you opportunities that could be outside your comfort zone. Pray for a good mentor to come into your life and a congregation that shows you support. You’re going to need someone to listen to your first sermon or to attend your first Bible study. There are going to be many firsts in ministry. You need people who are willing to help you. And sign up for CPIP. It’s an amazing experience – so much growth can happen from week one to week 11. There’s nothing a college student can do that’s like it, that’s such an exact replica of the church. It’s the most realistic experience you’ll get.
Q. It seems like you had to push yourself to preach – to basically go for it, even when you were nervous. Is that something you would recommend to others considering ministry?
A. I would say just go for it. I didn’t know for sure that I wanted to be a pastor in the UMC, but I took steps forward in some direction. If you get the opportunity to preach, or lead a Bible study, don’t hesitate. Maybe the key to success is just saying yes to opportunity. Say yes more than you say no. It’s all about living faithfully with your doubt, taking steps forward not necessarily knowing where you’re going sometimes. God will reveal to you where you need to go.
Hailey DeromeDerome is majoring in family and consumer science and completing an educator certification. Her home church is St. Philip’s UMC, and she attends Timber Creek Church while at college. This summer, she is shadowing Senior Pastor Seann Duffin at Bellaire UMC.
Q. Were you involved in St. Philip’s UMC before going off to college?
A. I’ve been going to St. Philip’s since my family moved to Houston from Tallahassee, Florida, when I was about 1.5-years old. My mom started leading VBS when I was 5-years old, and my dad became the youth director. I started going on mission trips when I was 9. I was very involved with church.
Q. What happened when you started SFA?
A. My sophomore year of college, I joined the Wesley Foundation on campus. Ben West [campus ministry director] came up to me and said, “We’d really like you to be on counsel. Which position do you want?” I didn’t know. They thought I would be perfect for music ministry. Tom Teekell [executive director] gave me a job in the counsel. I had only been there for about six weeks! Ben West and Tom Teekell also told me that I should look into ministry and told me all about CPIP.
Q. Had you ever considered ministry before?
A. I actually thought about it a lot. I had done multiple sermons for church before, through my youth group. A lot of people at St. Philip’s told me I should be in ministry. When I told them that others at the Wesley Foundation thought I should consider ministry, they were like, “Yes! That’s where we see you.”
Q. You said that you were doing music ministry at the Wesley Foundation. Are you a singer or do you play an instrument?
A. I sing and play piano. I did a lot of choir at church. Now I sing in the worship program at the Wesley Foundation. I forgot how much I missed doing this!
Q. Why did you want to try CPIP?
A. I thought it would be a perfect experience. I had been thinking about ministry for a while. People told me that this internship either shows you that you should pursue ministry or you might find, “I could see ministry being part of my life but not pastoral ministry.” I wanted to fully think about what I could be. And this has allowed me to do that.
Q. And what did you decide?
A. I definitely want to be involved in the church – but not in pastoral ministry. I think my calling is teaching. I think I will connect with people in a different way – through secondary education. Or maybe I will get a doctorate at a university and involved in ministry on campus.
Q. What has the internship been like?
A. Usually when you do CPIP, they place you in a church where they think you should be. Because of COVID-19, they told me to reach out to Methodist churches in the area. I reached out to Bellaire, because my church collaborates a lot with them. My dad has worked with their youth director, and my mom has worked with their VBS director. Pastor Seann has told us to stay at home because of the virus, but before that I tried to spend as much time at the church as possible. We’d have a one-to-one meeting once a week. We’d talk about the book, my life. He’d help me write my sermons. I’d go with him to staff meetings. Lately, I’ve been calling congregants to meet some of the people. I’m reading a book on pastoral studies, and I’ve done two sermons.
Q. Is leading a sermon kind of like teaching?
A. I think so. It’s kind of like giving a lecture. I like that a sermon can be personal. I enjoy sharing my story. It can make things more relatable.
Q. What has having a mentor like Pastor Seann been like?
A. I feel like I get to see a lot more about being a pastor from talking to Seann. When you’re a pastor, it’s not like you have a job on Sundays and then again on Wednesdays for Bible study. It is almost 24/7. I have seen how busy Seann is. We talk a lot about how I feel about my calling. He told me a lot of stories about him growing up. He didn’t grow up in the church like I did, and people thought it was weird that he wanted to be a pastor. I’ve learned so much through his stories and random words of wisdom. Just because I feel a calling doesn’t mean I have to go into clergy. I can do something different with this calling. I can do something in a different way. Seann’s helped me see that. I’ve also become more organized, because he’s so organized.
Q. Do you have any advice for others who are considering ministry – and may feel confused about their calling?
A. I would say to try your best to get involved in whatever you are called to do. Find help from a pastor to dig deeper into that calling. Sit down and try to write a sermon, even if it’s not going to ever be heard. If it comes naturally, it might be something you’re called to do. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not called to ministry. You might just be called to a different kind of ministry. It helps to surround yourself with people who have gone on that path before.
Q. Do you have anyone who inspires your path?
A. I’m definitely following in the footsteps of my mom. I got the same major, and I even want to work in the same school. I know in the schools that you can’t preach to your students. My mom is one of those people who reaches out to her students. They grasp onto her as a mom figure. She just has a positive influence in their lives. She’s changed a lot of lives. I want to be that person – who helps them be who they want to be.
Q. What are your next steps after the internship?
A. I have two semesters left. But I can’t do student teaching next semester because of COVID-19. So, I’ll take a semester off. During that time, I’ll continue to be part of the Wesley Foundation. I’ll graduate in 2022. Hopefully, I’ll start teaching at Elsik High School in Alief. I’m not positive how that will work out, but that’s where I want to be. I definitely want to volunteer in church, whether that’s in children’s ministry, VBS, music ministry or as a volunteer with a youth group.
Q. Would you recommend the CPIP to other college students?
A. I totally would, even in the situation we’re in. It answers a lot of questions. You also see a side of the church that you never would have otherwise. Even if you grew up really involved in the church, like I did, you learn so much. It’s really amazing.