$10,000 grant adds online coaching for 2021 Isaiah Project interns

July 01, 2021
By Alan Wild
A $10,000 grant from the Forum for Theological Exploration is enhancing the experience for this summer’s four Isaiah Project interns by adding an online coaching component to their 10-week ministerial discernment process.

“It’s an affirmation of our internship that FTE was looking to enhance it,” said Rev. Kevin Burney, the Kentucky Annual Conference’s Director of Ministerial Services and Assistant to the Bishop.
The grant is paying for trained coaches to meet regularly on Zoom with the interns and their clergy mentors. Burney said there is no agenda – just sessions designed to help them decide whether they are called to a career in ministry. The experience “was hand in glove with what we were already doing with the Isaiah Project,” he added.

The interns are enthusiastic.

“So far it’s really good and helpful in the discernment process throughout this journey. I’m really appreciative of it!” said Joey Hambrick, who is receiving mentorship this summer from Rev. Craig Tuck at State Street UMC in Bowling Green.

Hambrick, who already is a student at Asbury Seminary, added: “I believe that I am called to pastoral ministry. However, the coaching and mentoring is helping to shape that.”

The Isaiah Project, which dates to 2009, works to identify, encourage and support young people who are feeling a possible call to ordained ministry. It is designed to assist them in discerning exactly what God is calling them to do. Churches have considerable latitude over interns’ responsibilities, with some parameters – each intern is required to preach at least one sermon, for instance. Also, while the interns work independently with their host churches, they will meet together with leaders about halfway through the summer to compare notes on their experiences.
Isaiah participants receive a $4,000 stipend from the Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry that serves as their compensation. Typically, a host church is asked to find lodging for its intern, but with COVID-19 still a factor, all four interns this summer are working in their hometowns, said Rev. Derek Robinette, Chair of the BOM’s Ministry Exploration Team, which runs the Isaiah Project.

“Sometimes you get ’em (grants) and sometimes you don’t. But this one was a win,” said Robinette, the incoming Senior Pastor at Crestwood UMC and former Associate Pastor at St. Matthews UMC in Louisville.

Besides Hambrick, the State Street intern, this summer’s participants are:
  • Hannah Blythe, a December 2020 graduate of Murray State University, working at Settle Memorial UMC in Owensboro under the mentoring of Senior Pastor Keith Switzer.
  • Anna Shupert, a rising sophomore at Centre College, working at Maysville Trinity UMC under the mentoring of Pastor Jim Fant.
  • Collin Higgs, a 2020 graduate of Kentucky Wesleyan College who will start this fall at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He is being mentored at Watkins UMC in Louisville by Senior Pastor Rob Tucker.
Robinette and Burney were enthusiastic about the online learning component this summer. Burney said Peg Aldridge of Passion in Partnership (PIP), a clergy coaching network, contacted him about applying for the grant.

The Conference initially applied for $8,000 and made the first cut, but he said PIP asked for an “adjustment” in the request – which basically involved asking for the full $10,000 … and the request was approved.

Burney said that in his experience, it’s virtually unheard of for an organization to ask an applicant to increase a grant request.

Robinette said it is important for churches across the Conference to understand that the BOM isn’t just depending on apportionment funds to invest in clergy and those discerning their calling – the team is actively seeking financial partners. He also said that since this grant is for one year, the Conference can’t guarantee that the online training component will continue beyond 2021.
This year’s interns seem to be making the most of it.

“The Isaiah internship allows me to gain valuable insight and perspective on the daily life in ministry,” said Blythe, the Settle intern. “It allows me to learn and grow in a positive environment that helps me discern my own calling and provides the resources to pursue it.”

Higgs, the Watkins intern, said that as of late June, “I have currently had one coaching call, and it was incredible to have an outside source that does not know you incredibly well, yet is able to provide spiritual advice on the church and life. It is a growing process, where you learn about yourself with the help of another person.”

Higgs said that by late June he already had become immersed in pastoral work – doing the weekly children’s moments, participating and leading two calls or visits for congregational care, planning a church event for July, planning and executing Vacation Bible School, attending funerals, and sitting in on various church meetings. He also has already preached one sermon with another planned later in the summer.

“I have liked the full immersion of church and business,” he said. “I have seen many people treat the church as if the Creator of the Universe is not involved within every action of the church or lead it and decide to lead themselves, so it is incredible to experience firsthand how leaders should let God work through them in a literal aspect.”

He listed one of his strengths as sermon research but said he gets nervous while presenting since has limited experience as a public speaker. Tucker, his mentor, has given him ample opportunities to learn his speaking style. Higgs said he also has considerable experience working with children and youth, so a priority this summer is getting experience working with adults.

“The Isaiah Project has been a well-rounded spiritual experience that enables the church to work with young adults for the transformation of ministry and the world. It is not a job; it is a service to the community that God has called us toward,” Higgs said.

Shupert, the Maysville intern, also said she is enjoying her summer experience. She also had her first online coaching session in late June. A chief priority for her is getting help preparing to deliver her first sermon in July.

A member of Centre College’s cross country and track teams, Shupert must find time to fit in 50 miles a week of offseason running. She normally makes the half-hour drive from her home in West Union, Ohio, and runs in Maysville in the mornings before work. It can make for full days.

“Nothing’s ever the same” with pastoral work, she said. “That’s one thing I’ve learned already.” As of late June, she said she had worked with the church’s youth group, helped prepare to be one of the leaders of VBS, and even has been exposed to a Maysville pastoral book club.

“I think (Isaiah) has been great so far,” she said. “I was telling my sister (who’s 17) about it the other day and she said, ‘I want to do that when I get older.’ ”

Shupert grew up in Maysville Trinity and remembers as a little girl when Burney, who served there from 2003-2008, was her pastor. At some point, she wrote him a note on elementary school writing paper. Her mother gave it to him and he still keeps it in his office. 

“I don’t exactly remember making that for him because I was pretty young,” Shupert said, laughing. But she does remember being sad when he was moved. “My mom explained it to me, but now I am learning even more about why that happens and what goes on behind the scenes of our church and Conference.”

The Isaiah Project experience can also be quite the wake-up call, seeing what goes into the work before it comes together on Sunday morning.

“Pastoral ministry is a beautiful disaster!” said Hambrick, the State Street intern. “It’s full of twists and turns that are challenging yet fulfilling! There’s no typical day in the life of a pastor. However, just know that if this is a ministry you feel called to that you are in for a journey of a lifetime, so buckle your seat belt and let the adventure begin!”

He added: “In all, it’s been good! If I had to choose another path … I wouldn’t!”
How to apply: The application window for prospective Isaiah Project interns is Nov. 1-Feb. 1. Here’s the link: https://kyumc-is.brtsite.com/internships
How to donate: Investment in potential future clergy is always welcome. To donate, go to: https://www.isaiahprojectumc.com/post/donations-9985122