For Alex Witt, ’14, the summer pastoral internship at Paradise Lutheran Church was just another step in a more than eight-year journey.
Since eighth grade, the Pennsylvanian has felt called to the ministry. As a teenager, she became deeply involved in her church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), where she first began to preach.
That commitment continued at Richmond, where Witt chose a religious studies major and threw herself into work with the Office of the Chaplaincy. Many of her activities at the University, including the Lutheran Campus Ministry and the Multifaith Student Council, have centered around faith of various kinds. In 2012, she traveled on one of the Office of the Chaplaincy’s spring pilgrimage trips to France. And as part of Kairos’ leadership, she regularly takes part in Tuesday services, setting up the space, serving on the music fellowship team, and usually preaching once a semester.
So when a summer internship funding opportunity under the the Chaplaincy’s Flamming program, which is also a UR Summer Fellowship, was announced at a Tuesday evening service, Witt immediately thought of the possibility of an internship at Paradise Lutheran Church.
“I want to become a pastor,” she says. “This experience really gave me the chance to live the life of a pastor for 10 weeks.”
At Paradise, located in Thomasville, Pa., not far from Witt’s hometown of Red Lion, Witt got a chance to explore such aspects of the pastoral life as leading Bible study, preaching, teaching at vacation Bible school, and making hospital visits.
She also got an unexpected dose of responsibility when Paradise’s pastor departed on a continuing education trip only a week and a half into her internship.
“I basically did anything a pastor would do, except what I can’t do as a layperson,” Witt says.
One of the immediate challenges she faced in his absence was the need to lead a special lectionary series on Revelation.
“I was there a week and I was preaching on Revelation!” Witt recalls, laughing. “Which was surprising, but very good. I got to delve into the text more than I ever have before.”
Here, Witt’s religious studies major came to her assistance, guiding her to appropriate commentary and helping her decipher some of the original Greek texts.
“[My coursework] helped teach me how to approach the biblical text, which really helped both for preaching and for Bible study,” she says. “For the Bible study, I relied heavily on my notes from Dr. [Frank] Eakin’s class.”
Eakin, the Weinstein-Rosenthal Professor of Jewish and Christian Studies at Richmond, also served as an advisor to Witt, as did University Chaplain Craig Kocher. Kocher in particular helped guide Witt through her experience, speaking with her every other week and helping facilitate the reflection process.
“The Flamming program is really to look at the intersection of faith and vocation, whether your vocation is in a church or marketing or whatever,” says Witt. “For me, it was learning how to sit back and reflect. Craig would ask questions to have me dig a little bit deeper into whatever I was reflecting about.”