Winthrop Covenant creates pastoral internship to help new army chaplain in his journey

On a June evening in 2020, I received a phone call asking for help. Phone calls asking for assistance are nothing new in ministry. In the midst of a pandemic where we were still getting our bearings around in-person services with masks and social distancing, asking our rural church if we could help someone develop their ministry seemed—on the surface—daunting.

We were still wondering if we would be able to do any fall ministry with the restrictions we were navigating. Nevertheless, my initial conversation with Paul Menne resulted in a one-on-one meeting to see if we could help in his journey.

In Paul’s words: “I felt a calling toward Army Chaplaincy and worked toward that calling for the past five years by going to Bethel Seminary, serving as a Chaplain Candidate in the Minnesota Army National Guard, and going through the Covenant Orientation program. While finishing all these tasks and looking forward to the next chapter of life, I knew that I wanted to be better equipped for what was ahead. I also had a mentor suggest I look for opportunities to serve as I applied for Army Chaplaincy. I reached out to the Northwest Conference and let them know my situation and what I was looking to do. They connected me with Pastor Gary and Winthrop Evangelical Covenant Church.”

Our initial discussion provided clarity in what Paul needed to help him move forward in his journey. Additional experience in preaching and teaching, along with a working familiarity in pastoral ministry responsibilities would provide Paul with the experience and tools necessary to minister as an Army Chaplain.

New pastoral internship

My experience as Academic Dean in a Canadian Bible College included designing pastoral internships for our students so, along with our Leadership Team, we designed a six-month pastoral internship. Paul and I would meet weekly where we would discuss ministry issues, expectations and topics relevant to pastoral ministry and how that would dovetail into his chaplaincy.

We started small by having Paul lead in certain aspects of morning worship, and we built up his involvement in the services to the point where he would lead the service and give the morning message. Paul preached four times in conjunction with the current sermon series. Involvement in weddings and funerals, along with Leadership Team meetings, also helped in Paul’s development.

The pace and program that was developed helped to build Paul’s confidence and comfort within the community of Winthrop Covenant.

The outcomes of this internship became evident for both the church and for Paul. As far as Winthrop Covenant is concerned, what this internship did for the church was remind them that when we remain available to God for opportunities to minister, He will provide those opportunities. Internships, equipping the saints, preparing people in their call to ministry is not something reserved for the urban church. The rural church can be just as effective when open to the Spirit’s leading.

From Paul’s perspective, “They [Winthrop Covenant] opened their hearts and doors for me to be a pastoral intern with them. All despite not knowing me and this being in the middle of the COVID pandemic. When other churches had shut their doors, gone virtual and were no longer offering up internships, they went the other direction. They ran into the fire with me and for me.”

Winthrop Covenant contributed to Paul’s commission to the United States Army and he, along with his wife, Mary, and their nine children, are stationed at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. Paul is the Chaplain to the recruits as they arrive for boot camp.

For the benefit of the Kingdom

As Paul reflected on his experience with Winthrop Covenant, he shared: “Winthrop was able to not only develop this program to meet my needs, but also to meet the needs of the church community. The ability to balance and reconcile the needs of what was seemingly different things led to a connection of love between myself and Winthrop ECC. Even after I completed my internship, I returned to preach and lead once more before moving to South Carolina to assume my new position as an Army Chaplain.”

“The love Winthrop ECC had for me, and my family was and is something truly special that I did not expect, nor think would be available to me. But it was, and they showed me what kinds of ministry a small rural church can do,” he continued. “There is a whole untapped resource out there within the ECC body that I hope other churches can experience. I am grateful for Winthrop Covenant and for Pastor Gary for being exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it, for the benefit of the Kingdom as I continue on my journey.”

We praise God for His work in our lives and continue to search for other opportunities as He gives them.

By the Rev. Gary Gilkinson, Lead Pastor of Winthrop Evangelical Covenant Church