Two interns who took part in Ministry Summer Service (MSS) this year share their reflections on the experience—certainly one of the most unusual since the start of the program.
MSS is a leadership development program for college students in the Church of the Brethren, sponsored by the Youth and Young Adult Ministry and the Office of Ministry, with those offices and four of the church-related colleges and universities providing scholarships. Usually, interns would spend 10 weeks working alongside a mentor in a congregation, district office, camp, or denominational program, following an in-person orientation. The pandemic forced the program to shift how interns were placed, how they served, and even how orientation happened.
I was looking forward to being in a different area and location for church, but God still made a way for this program to happen, so I am very thankful.
When I got the call that things were shifted to online, I wasn’t sure how to react at first. As I learned what the online format would be like, I could sense God telling me, “Sierra, do it! This is an opportunity that you NEED to take.” So that’s exactly what I did. Between the Zoom calls, devotions, and guest speakers, I can definitely say that I have learned so much about ministry. Our orientation speakers talked about spiritual practices, worship and preaching, theology, Brethren heritage, working styles, and ethics.
I volunteered at my home church, Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren [in Pennsylvania]. I helped out with the food distribution on Friday mornings, and I helped with the church’s social media pages. Through the pandemic my church has still been able to help the community as much as it can, and I am thankful that I am able to help out as much as I can.
On Fridays, before the truck of food gets there, volunteers from all over are putting cardboard boxes together and stacking them. When the food gets there, we are able to pack the boxes for the people receiving their packages. The packages have dry foods, canned goods, produce, meat, dairy, etc.
Once all the pallets are set, all of the volunteers assemble in a line ready for directions. The woman or man in charge for the day tells each volunteer what to put into the boxes— for example, the quantity of each product on the pallets, such as two bags of carrots and one egg carton. There are two different lines, one for dry foods and one for cold foods.
Once the packages are filled they are placed on pallets and ready to pick up. The first couple dozen packages typically go to individuals who are delivering to other families, so for the first half hour we pack people’s cars with packages so that they can get out of the way for the rest of the packages we need to make. —Sierra Dixon
In the early spring, I was debating what to do for the summer before my junior year of college. The head of the chemistry department had encouraged me to apply to an amazing research opportunity in France. I also had been feeling a tug toward ministry, but I was so unsure of what that would mean for me, a pre-med student. My pastor encouraged me to consider Ministry Summer Service, but I was unsure if that was something I should do. It would be hard to pass up doing research abroad if it came time to choose, but I decided to apply anyway and see where God would lead me.
The day before I heard back about the research opportunity, a feeling of peace washed over me as I thought about doing MSS and resolved to turn down the research offer if I was accepted. Turns out I didn’t get the research position, and I wouldn’t have been able to go abroad anyway due to the pandemic, so it was just as well— funny how the Spirit works sometimes. MSS shifted to a virtual format, which in many ways was a blessing in disguise. Our weekly Zoom calls were fascinating sessions, including subjects like theology, work styles, and worship/preaching, with some additional sessions by people we would not ordinarily have heard from if we were in-person.
Our diverse group of interns made for especially engaging conversations, and when we collectively decided we needed to have an additional conversation set aside for race and the church, we did so. It was perhaps the most memorable of the calls for me.
That conversation emphasized the importance of engaging in conversations with our siblings in Christ, even when the subject is uncomfortable or challenging. Additionally, we discussed the church as a whole and the need to empower members of marginalized groups through the unconditional love and compassion we’re called to share. It’s that conversation and ongoing reflection that brings up new thoughts and actions that continue to encourage personal and collective growth.
Of course, I missed getting an in-person placement, but I’m grateful that I got to be involved in my home congregation, Peace Covenant Church of the Brethren [in Durham, N.C.]. I worked with pastor Dana Cassell on outreach ideas, preached during online worship one Sunday, and worked on a project to create a digital collection of devotionals and online resources for the congregation.
Along with MSS, my summer included taking an online class, working with my campus ministry to plan for the fall semester, and working with patients in nursing homes and hospice facilities as a home care provider.
It was this combined experience that made me realize that part-time ministry—a reality for so many— is possible for me too. And ministry can look like so many things, including preaching a sermon, leading a Bible study, and providing care for patients in their last days. I don’t necessarily have to choose between a call to medicine or to ministry.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate in MSS and that the denomination provides such an experience to young adults for this kind of discernment. After this summer, irrespective of its unexpected twists and turns due to the pandemic, I realize that ministry will be a part of the life I live, no matter what, and I look forward to seeing where God continues to lead me. —Kaylee Deardorff