A strong faith community can be hard to find for college students. Where I go to college, Lehigh University (ironically located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania), there is no Lutheran campus ministry. I’m not able to go to a traditional church service on campus or easily connect with other people of faith my age. When I’m away at school, it would be easy to feel disconnected from my faith. But thanks to the Abiding Presence internship program, I no longer do.
The Abiding Presence summer internship program serves young adults between 18 and 24. This is our fourth summer offering a paid internship program for college-age youth. Our interns work on various projects, including helping run six weeks of summer camp programs for youth, supporting our church’s food ministry, or working on special projects in the community. These special projects may look like partnering with community organizations such as Ecumenical Community Helping Others (ECHO), a local food bank, to provide marketing and client services support.
I was very involved in the church throughout middle and high school. I was confirmed, and unlike many young people, actually remained involved. Throughout high school, I participated in our music ministry and taught small group classes to children during our Wednesday night gatherings. I loved the church, but my role in the congregation always felt like the role of a child. I participated in youth programs, but even as a late teen, I wasn’t invited into the more “adult” spaces of the church. I felt in limbo between my childhood self and my dreams of adulthood.
When the pandemic first rolled in during the spring of 2020, I was graduating high school into an uncertain future. I decided to take a gap year, but I didn’t know how I would fill my time. Knowing of my plans, Pastor Keseley reached out to me in June 2020 to see if I would be interested in working at the church through a summer internship program. I worked that summer, and I have continued to work at Abiding Presence in some capacity every summer since. What began as a “pandemic pivot” has become integral to my life.
Abiding Presence has given me and the other college-age interns opportunities for leadership, self-discovery, and career development, all alongside a firm foundation of faith. For me and my peers, this internship program has been an absolutely invaluable experience.
Our program is founded on four main pillars: faith formation, vocational discernment, leadership development, and relationship building. On a daily basis, this looks like morning devotions with all of the interns, some sort of leadership role for each intern, and jobs and projects fit for each intern’s own strengths and capabilities. Once a week, we have “faith formation” time, where we have a guest speaker from the church come tell us about their career and how it relates to their life as a person of faith. As interns, we develop close-knit bonds with each other as we spend our summers working, laughing, and building relationships.
These pillars, when put together, have given me and the other interns so much more than just work experience. It has helped us feel connected to our community and our faith in a new (and more adult) way.
When you’re young, it’s easy to feel like the church isn’t relevant to your life. Once you complete confirmation and become an “adult” in the church, many youth programs begin to drop off. By college, most young adults are disengaged entirely. With the summer internship program, Abiding Presence has created a welcoming space for college-age young adults to gather, worship, dig into faith on an adult level, and build relationships.
This summer, one of our interns, Ally Tingen, is working with Abiding Presence’s mental health and neurodiversity ministries as well as ECHO, a local community organization that provides food assistance to the Northern Virginia area. Ally said that she appreciates the way Abiding Presence has catered this program to young adults.
“I feel like it’s extremely beneficial to have a program that’s very open-minded and accepting because I feel like this generation is very different from generations that have existed before in the church,” Ally said. “I think it’s important to have a program that highlights that and treats it as a strength.”
But how does Abiding Presence treat our perspective as college students as a strength? Our church actively seeks out leadership opportunities for us in our work as interns, makes connections for interns to network, and allows us to voice our opinions and views in the church by sharing faith reflections during worship services and on social media.
Through these opportunities for leadership, our college-age young adults have reported feeling not just trusted, but invested in by the church.
“I’m grateful that the church thinks I’m responsible enough for these roles,” one of our summer camp interns Sarah Holt shared. “The adults that we meet with and work with in the church are investing in us and our futures.”
Our internship program has also helped a lot of our young adults return to the faith after shying away from it during their teen years. “Devotions each morning reopened my faith journey,” our intern Elizabeth Horan shared. After Covid, she felt disconnected from the church. The Abiding Presence summer internship program helped her restart her relationship with God. “It’s one of the best ways to start the day at this job because it’s a moment where we all get to reflect and thank God in our own way. It’s really made me want to go to church more.”
Our experience as college interns at Abiding Presence has taught us that the church truly does value our thoughts, feelings, and opinions. The church puts its money where its mouth is by investing in us as the future of the church. We are trusted to truly be God’s hands and feet in the world through our ministry work.
Why does this matter? Through this trust freely given by Abiding Presence, we (as young adults) feel invited to become full members of the church. Not just now, but for the rest of our lives. It helps us see a future in which our generation is welcomed as an integral part of the Church.