Ela Hefler is a senior History Major from Toronto, Canada. This summer she had the opportunity to explore the possibility of a career in Ministry through Davidson’s Ministry Fellowship Program.
Before coming to Davidson I had only met one ordained person: the Catholic priest at the church where my family worshiped sporadically. With the exception of the one time I took confession before my first communion we never talked. I couldn’t tell you his name, and by the time I finished primary school my family had almost completely stopped attending mass. I never considered myself Catholic and didn’t give much consideration to whether God existed or not.
At Davidson, that changed, slowly, then seemingly all at once. I got involved in Davidson’s interfaith group, Better Together, as a secular person. Through meals, conversations and celebrations I began to understand the fundamental role faith can play in a person’s identity. I realized that if I really wanted to know my friends and peers, I could no longer dismiss the importance of religion and religious understanding. Interfaith work also prompted me to dig deeper into my own beliefs. When I began to let go of a binary understanding of faith I started to find that a lot of the language and values of Christianity helped me find depth and grounding in my own identity, as well as my responsibilities to other people and relationships.
It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around how, in three years, I went from never having met an ordained woman to considering ministry as a vocation and accepting a nine-week summer “fellowship in religious vocation and leadership.” When I tell people I spent my summer interning at a church, most people ask – very tentatively – whether I want to be a minister. The answer is, I don’t know.
For years, I had planned to go into International Relations or Development. Davidson was the only college I applied to without an IR major, which may be how I ended up falling in love with history and domestic policy. Though my academic interests had changed, my plans for after college had not. That is until I paused to look back on my time at Davidson and realized the two areas I had invested the most time and energy were academic diversity and religious life. I realized my career goals hadn’t kept pace with my growing and changing passions, and that I wanted a career grounded in relationships rather than politics, and focused on domestic issues and communities.
Every summer Davidson College offers five rising seniors the opportunity to explore congregational ministry through the Ministry Fellowship in Religious Vocation and Leadership. The fellowship begins with an eight to ten week summer internship with an experience clergy member, and the fellows continue to meet regularly to discuss vocational discernment throughout their senior years. Students of all religious backgrounds are invited to apply.
However challenging I found the idea of ordination I knew a summer exploring ministry would give me the chance to explore in the ways I wanted to. And it did. I spent nine weeks at First Congregational Church of Minnesota, a United Church of Christ congregation in Minneapolis. It was a phenomenal experience, and I still don’t know if I want to go into ministry.
But, here’s what I do know – ministry is hard, and hard to define. Over the course of nine weeks I led prayers, gave communion, wrote and delivered a sermon, planned a vespers service, helped with home visits and attended a weekly bible study with local ministers of a different denomination. I also volunteered at a food pantry and an interfaith garden, created and ran a church Instagram account, protested the police killings of Philando Castile and Anton Sterling, helped organize a vigil for the victims of the Orlando massacre and ordered lawn signs for the church and our members, which read “To our Muslim neighbors a blessed Ramadan”.
I know that I am a better listener after this summer. I have learned to recognize the value of simply being a “non-anxious presence” when there are no answers and you’ve said all you can. I have begun to let go of the fear that I am not “Christian enough” to go into ministry or contribute to a conversation about bible texts. I’ve started to think about how church can be verb, or a conceptual noun, and not just a fixed location with a steeple.
I’m grateful to Davidson College, and the Chaplain’s Office in particular, for walking with me as I stepped beyond my comfort zone to explore a career and a field I had never thought to imagine myself in.