Tonganoxie Pastoral Internships

Proposed and reported by Bill Gepford
Tonganoxie UMC, Tonganoxie, Kansas

Project Summary

Did the project go as expected?
Yes - though our interns far exceeded my expectations.  We did tweak the way in which we achieved some objectives (one intern learned faster through conversation than reading, so we trimmed some of the reading and focused on discussion instead) - but they were far more effective in their ministry, and rapid in their learning, than I had anticipated.  These are both great candidates for ministry, and I feel confident they will go on to long and incredible careers.

How were people impacted through the project?
First, and most directly, were the interns themselves.  Both Grace and Austin received opportunities to experience most aspects of ministry firsthand (we didn't have a wedding this summer, so they missed out on that).  Both responded differently to each aspect - but both sharpened their understanding of the nuance of ministry.  Both experiences the necessity of robust spiritual disciplines - especially as the summer wore on and the workload began to escalate.  Both learned about their own strengths and weaknesses through hands on experience in real life ministry situations.

Second, these two set a precedent for our church.  Prior to 2016, Tonganoxie UMC has never had a female pastor, and most of the up-front leadership has been male-dominate.  However, there are several high-capacity, leadership-gifted young women in the congregation - all of whom benefited from seeing the up-front leadership of Grace Woods.  TUMC has not (in recent memory) put forth a candidate for Elder or Deacon - but now our youth will have Austin Harris as an inspiration and a guide.

Third, the larger congregation began to see itself somewhat differently.  Tonganoxie UMC has historically been a smaller church on the outskirts of the KC District - and typically the place that pastors come to retire, rather than learn.  However, this grant has sparked conversations about shifting the narrative of who we are and who we will continue to be in Tonganoxie.  Exciting days are ahead!

How did you tell the story of your project?
Through videos the interns completed reflections after each major module - which you can find here: 

Grace's Video Playlist:

Austin's Video Playlist:

We chose YouTube as a platform because it is universal - anyone with internet access can see what these two were up to this summer - but also, they can do a little bit of vicarious discernment through sharing in Grace and Austin's stories and experiences.  Our hop was to help lots of people going through their own discernment process - both in our church, and across the whole Conference.

Which of the 5 earmarks of Culture of Call did this project address?  How?
It addressed all 5 earmarks:
Discernment events/experiences:  Each intern received the opportunity to shadow pastor and staff at unique and diverse aspects of ministry.  Both were given long leashes to explore (and even fail - safely), while in a nurturing environment that would support them and help them learn from any mistakes.

Personal exploration:  Interns met with their supervising pastor roughly 1x/week for candid conversation.  Introspection was required on several fronts - their spiritual life, their calling, and their giftings and graces. 

Mentoring: These meetings also functioned as a mentoring session.  Interns were coached towards better fulfillment of their goals and better performance in their work.  However, a priority was put on spiritual development.

Spiritual nurture: This was key.  The toughest conversation of the whole summer came when one intern started skipping their spiritual disciplines to meet deadlines.  However, this person learned from the experience and is on a much stronger pathway now.

Community expression of supporting individual calls:  Our church rallied around these two.  Their two sermons were two of the most discussed and supported of the summer (and for good reason).

What could you share about this project with others?
Everything - I've got the syllabus on Google Drive, as well as a basic overview of their hours, the budget, etc.  We designed this to be replicated within our own church, but I could see this being replicable most anywhere.  The three biggest pieces were both essential and foundational - we had to recruit the right people (we had two faith-filled, self-starting, passionate, and candid interns), secure the financial funding, and then define their boundaries and get out of the way.

Final Report Survey

How did you use the funds?
We spent the majority on the salaries of two pastoral interns over the course of the summer, plus some for developing a call track on our Discipleship pathway, and a small amount on books, resources, etc.

Will the project that you undertook be continued?  How?
Yes, Grace Woods is continuing at TUMC via a work release program with her school.  We are applying for another grant for Austin to get us through to the next budget cycle (when we can add funds for him as regular staff, if appropriate).

How did this project cultivate a culture of call in your church or district?
We publicly raised up two young candidates for ministry, who were changed with actively discerning their calls and chronicling their progress on a series of YouTube videos (as inspiration and discernment aid for others who may follow).

Who was the primary audience of your project?

Is there anything else you would like for us to know about your project?
It succeeded and we would love to do it again.

You can contact Bill via e-mail: