Ole Summer Interns Make an Impact through Lutheran Center-sponsored Internships
The Lutheran Center’s goal is to provide a setting for the St. Olaf community to both learn about the Lutheran tradition and experience perspectives of multiple faiths and worldviews. In addition to academic year programming, the Lutheran Center offers summer internship experiences with congregations and other faith-based organizations in Minnesota. In 2020, the Lutheran Center was proud to sponsor its first round of interns, with five students working with two organizations.
By Deanna Thompson ’89 and Carolyn Pierson ’06
Exploring assets-based approach to community with the Center for Leadership and Neighborhood Engagement
In summer 2019, the Lutheran Center, with expert guidance from then Piper Center Peer Advisor Thando Kunene ’14, began imagining summer 2020 internship opportunities for St. Olaf students to work with Rev. Kelly Chatman, the Executive Director of the newly created Center for Leadership and Neighborhood Engagement in North Minneapolis (CLNE). CLNE is dedicated to mobilizing congregations and leaders to be neighborhood-based agents for social change. In February, Chatman came to campus and recruited students at a session in the Taylor Center. Everyone was delighted when close to 20 students applied, and Chatman and CLNE staff selected 15 students to interview for 2-3 intern positions sponsored by the Lutheran Center.
“In some ways we weren’t ready at all to have a group of interns, but in other ways, we were very ready, and creating summer internship experiences for them helped us develop our Center’s sense of purpose.” – Rev. Kelly Chatman
Then the pandemic hit, and internship opportunities started getting canceled. But CLNE was still interested in hosting St. Olaf interns; in fact they had so many exceptional applicants that they decided to increase the total number of interns to five (three sponsored by the Lutheran Center, one sponsored by Social Impact Scholars, and one by CLNE). “In some ways we weren’t ready at all to have a group of interns,” Chapman noted, “but in other ways, we were very ready, and creating summer internship experiences for them helped us develop our Center’s sense of purpose.”
Because the internships needed to be primarily done remotely, CLNE developed a curriculum led by a diverse group of community leaders from North Minneapolis who met with the interns for daily sessions. Central to Chatman’s vision for the internships was students developing an understanding of an assets-based approach to community development and social impact. CLNE shaped their work with the interns around challenging deficit-based analyses of the community and lifting up all the assets, potential, and strengths already present in North Minneapolis.
“Working with [Rev. Chatman] helped me to understand that our role as interns was not to serve as saviors to an underprivileged community, but rather to comprehend and help shape the existing culture that is in place.” – AD Banse ’23
Chatman’s leadership and this assets-based approach made a lasting impact on St. Olaf intern AD Banse ’23. Reflecting on his work with the Center and Rev. Chatman, Banse said, “I was excited to see a Black man who was in a position of power and used that power to help out a community that has been ostracized and marginalized. Working with him helped me to understand that our role as interns was not to serve as saviors to an underprivileged community, but rather to comprehend and help shape the existing culture that is in place. Through CLNE partners, I was able to make meaningful connections with community organizers, activists, and all-around good people.”
“CLNE values relationships and allows for an environment of cultural learning and exploration.” – Hanane Idihoum ’23
While St. Olaf interns benefited from daily sessions with CLNE staff and community leaders, they also each had projects they worked on in the community. Intern Hanane Idihoum ’23 said that in addition to learning about faith, youth programming, arts, and culture, she helped co-facilitate creative writing and performance workshops for middle school students around the pandemic, youth empowerment, and racial and social justice. Rather than being exposed to a version of North Minneapolis that depicts harmful stereotypes of violence and drug use, Idihoum found a “tight-knit community” of people committed to the neighborhood and working to help it thrive. “CLNE values relationships and allows for an environment of cultural learning and exploration,” she said.
“I loved every aspect of how we engaged in art, knowledge, and community development, as a way to heal not only North Minneapolis, but also ourselves.” – Leila Rocha Fisher ’23
According to Rev. Chatman and the staff at CLNE, the St. Olaf interns were amazing additions to the life of the Center during its first summer of existence. Through their deep engagement with the people and the projects of North Minneapolis, the interns made their mark with CLNE and its staff. It’s also clear that the internships impacted the interns and their developing sense of who they are and where they belong in society. Leila Rocha Fisher ’23 summed up the summer’s experience by saying, “I loved every aspect of how we engaged in art, knowledge, and community development, as a way to heal not only North Minneapolis, but also ourselves.”
Applying marketing and communications skills for Church Anew
The pandemic closed the door on summer plans in every corner of the world, yet for a few lucky Oles, it opened the window to new opportunities. Deb Hetherington, Director of Leadership Event Planning from St. Andrew Lutheran Church in the Twin Cities, didn’t anticipate needing summer interns before the pandemic hit. She was involved with Church Anew, a special ministry of St. Andrew dedicated to providing support to regional pastors and ministry leaders. But after they started a blog at the beginning of April, they realized the impact they could have during the trying times of COVID-19. “There were a lot of people besides the five-state region of ministry leaders who were hungry for resources and support. It’s not only people who work for churches, it’s faithful people all over the world that started reading our blog. And we realized we could have a far broader net than we ever could have imagined,” said Hetherington.
But in order to make this a reality, they needed help. So, they reached out to St. Olaf and solidified positions sponsored by the Lutheran Center for two student interns.
English major Alyson Brinker ’20 was well-equipped to take on the marketing and communications responsibilities at Church Anew with her recent experience working with the marketing and communications department at St. Olaf. In addition to managing Church Anew’s social media channels, she edited manuscripts for the blog — which gained even more traction throughout the summer. The focus of the blog was posting “practical resources from award-winning authors for pastors and congregation members regarding the most pressing issues of the current moment: racial justice, COVID-grief, etc.,” explained Brinker.
“It was so fun and exciting to see what Alyson and Jenny did so quickly and built on all summer.” – Deb Hetherington
Jenny Bui Duc ’20 had a unique skill set as a certified Google Analytics and Google Ads consultant which she was able to put to work for Church Anew to efficiently grow the reach of its website. Due to the pandemic, Bui Duc had moved back home to Vietnam but was able to tag-team the workday with Brinker and Hetherington, despite the 12-hour time difference. “It was so fun and exciting to see what Alyson and Jenny did so quickly and built on all summer,” said Hetherington.
The culmination of the summer was the church’s first virtual conference, Being Church Today, which aimed to challenge, provoke and inspire participants to think about the role of the Church in the world today. Ten nationally-recognized speakers and emerging voices (such as Diana Butler Bass, Brian McLaren, and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry) spoke at the August 17 event, addressing what some churches are doing after the murder of George Floyd and how churches across the country can be leaders, particularly in response to systemic racism in the community. As the conference website reads: “God is calling the church into the public square, into the halls of power, and alongside the voices protesting on the streets.”
The greatest challenge with the conference, Brinker explained, “was figuring out how to authentically reach out and create community with the abrupt and anxious shift to online programming.” But after careful marketing and planning, the virtual conference had 1,500 registrants. “Being brave enough to try something new paid off,” said Brinker. “I think a lot of people are looking for community right now and are turning to digital methods out of safety.”
“Being brave enough to try something new paid off. I think a lot of people are looking for community right now and turning to digital methods out of safety.” – Alyson Brinker ’20
Although the internships are over for summer 2020, the interns are continuing work in the field: Bui Duc is pursuing digital marketing in Vietnam, and Brinker has accepted a full-time position at Church Anew, where she will help equip church leaders to face the adaptive changes needed for ministry today and tomorrow.
“The Holy Spirit has totally been at work this entire time, in ways that served everyone well, and continues to surprise. God is at work in the world,” said Hetherington.