Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ritual of Welcome for a Pastoral Intern

When we were hastily making arrangements to have Intern Extraordinaire come work for us, one of the many questions I asked was about rituals of welcome and farewell. The response was .... crickets. Apparently most of the contextual education placement sites at Intern's seminary don't do them.

I was really surprised. These are students learning about ministry among people, they are expected to build relationships and grow in the pastoral, priestly, and prophetic gifts ... and there is no ritual way to welcome the start of that relationship in a church? Particularly for churches that do this year in and year out, I was actually pretty disappointed. My own experience of being formally welcomed into pastoral leadership at my field education placement site in seminary was deeply meaningful, as was the ritual of parting, and I know that many of my seminary colleagues felt the same way. Ministry is not just "a job" that starts and finishes on certain dates. It is a relationship with a community of faith, and we actually have very good ways to honor relationships in the church. And I just could not believe that these relationships were not being lifted up with the congregation as a whole.

How do congregations know who this person is, and what their role is? What does the intern hope to gain from the experience? What does the congregation hope to gain from the experience? How do they honor the start of that relationship? How do they recognize its ending, as a community of faith? These are just a few of the questions that ritual seeks to embody. Perhaps most importantly, rituals help us name new realities and help usher them into deeper being.

So what did I do? I called my former contextual education professor and asked for samples or other resources that I might use. She, smart woman that she did, gave me none. She did, however, give me ideas and questions to ponder about the nature of the relationship we hoped to have with our Intern. That helped me shape a ritual of welcome for Intern Extraordinaire, albeit one rooted in the "installation of a pastor" in the UCC Book of Worship.

Since our time with Intern Extraordinaire has ended, I thought I'd share with y'all the rituals of welcome and farewell that we used. Maybe if you ever have an intern, you won't use this resource, but use it as a springboard to figure out how you and the church you serve want to welcome this leader-in-formation into a pastorally appropriate role, so you can shape your own liturgy. (Or ask me to!)

Here was our ritual of welcome:

Words from the Moderator
Today we celebrate a new beginning in the life of our congregation. By welcoming Intern Extraordinaire as our pastoral intern, we are opening ourselves to a new experience of God’s power and presence in our midst. Intern Extraordinaire has some clear goals she wants to achieve in our time among us – including leading adult Bible Study, learning about what a visitation is, participating in ecumenical partnerships, and to experience ministry in an Open and Affirming congregation. We do not know all the ways that this relationship will be lived out between now and May, but we move into this new relationship with joy and excitement, looking forward to the ways God is still speaking to us through this experience.

Words of the Covenant
Moderator: As a representative of the board, I covenant to help Intern Extraordinaire grow in her gifts and skills for ministry. We promise to provide her genuine opportunities to do pastoral work, to offer her appropriate feedback when requested, and to help guide her and her supervisor, Pastor LiturgyGeek, as they learn and grow together.

Pastor: As the pastor of this congregation, I covenant to mentor Intern Extraordinaire, to guide her towards growth in ministry, to pray with and for her regularly, and to offer her appropriate feedback. I promise, with the help of God, to lead by example and to model faithful ministry work in this congregation. I also recommit myself to my own covenant with you, the congregation, and promise to continue to labor alongside of you in the ministry of reconciliation and extravagant welcome to which we have been called.

I.E.: I covenant to work faithfully to the best of my abilities, to offer you myself and to receive you as brothers and sisters in Christ. I covenant to be accountable to the work of pastoral care, worship leadership, ecumenical work, and Bible study, and to learn and grow in faith. I promise to take on the authority of my position as pastoral intern with grace and humility, and to receive your feedback as faithfully as possible.

Congregation: We covenant to learn from you, Intern Extraordinaire, to introduce you to others in our community and to the story of who we are, to open our hearts to what you have to teach us. We covenant to offer loving and gracious feedback to you in order to help you grow. When we offer criticism, we covenant to do so only when asked and with appropriate care. When we offer praise, we covenant to do so honestly and generously.

We give thanks for the ministry Intern Extraordinaire begins in our midst this day.

ALL: May God surround all of us with grace to accept the gifts of this new stage on our journey, and the courage to act in faith and hope, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!
Prayer of Blessing

Presenting of Gifts
(I remember giving her a gift certificate to Soul Desires, a great religious bookstore in Omaha; maybe there were other gifts, but I don't remember them....)

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