Fourteen Calvin students are testing their calls to ministry at sites all around the U.S. and Canada.
During the summer between her high school graduation and first year of college, Annamarie Koster took part in Facing Your Future, a three-week Calvin Theological Seminary program that helps students explore God's call to ministry in their lives.
Now, three years later, Koster, a rising Calvin College senior, is spending 10 weeks in Lincoln, Calif., doing a summer internship at Granite Springs Church as part of the college's Jubilee Fellows program.
There she already has planned the entire children's ministry summer curriculum and is teaching one of the children's ministry Sunday school classes. She also works the church's booth at the local farmer's market, planned the church float for the local Fourth of July parade, is helping lead worship services and will have the opportunity to plan an entire worship service.
Deep and wide
That depth and breadth of experience is exactly what the folks who run the Jubilee Fellows program at Calvin hoped for when they assigned the 14 Jubilee Fellows to their 2012 summer-long internships.
"We match students with the internship sites, taking into consideration the individual interests of the Jubilee Fellows and the needs of the churches," said program coordinator Kary Bosma. "And we work closely with each student to determine their vocational goals. Our goal is to find for each student a place where the student will learn, grow and be challenged and encouraged by their experiences."
So far, so good for Koster, a double major in religion and English, who is thrilled with what she has participated in at Granite Springs.
"I love this," she said, "because I am gaining real ministry experience. Also, working in Lincoln, which is a completely different environment from my home church in (Grandville) Michigan, has really pushed me out of my comfort zone."
Academy and church
Granite Springs pastor Kevin Adams, who helped start the church in the early 1990s as a Christian Reformed "church plant," has worked with the Jubilee Fellows program since 2007 (the program began at Calvin in 2002), and he plans to stay connected to it.
"We have had five previous fellows," he said, "and each year it is a treat: a learning and growing and enriching experience for all of us. It's a wonderful intersection of the academy and the church. Students are very interested in vocational ministry; they've explored it via their Calvin mentors and a spring semester class. The summer then provides a very hands-on experience for them."
The internships, added Adams, benefit not just the Calvin students, but also the churches who host them.
"We get to know great people," he said, "who become like family to us. Our fellow from two years ago—K.J. Van Ek—returned to be our high school director this past year during a time of transition. Last year's fellow—Nicole Veenkamp—came back this summer to help lead our music and drama camp, and be part of the urban plunge. We get a chance to connect to the broader church, and we get the joy of helping encourage and train the next generation of Christian leaders."
Other pastors who are part of the program concur.
Jeff Meyers, pastor of North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, said simply: "Our two Fellows, Amy Hinkle and Grant Hofman, are bright, energetic, willing to take risks, hard workers and committed to Christ," he said. "Amy and Grant have exemplified why the Gospel is relevant today and will be relevant tomorrow. Who wouldn't want students like this around?"
Hinkle and Hofman are equally enthused about working with Meyers. Hinkle, who is a strategic communication major at Calvin and also in the gender studies program, plans to attend seminary after Calvin. Already as a Jubilee Fellow, she has taught Sunday school, chaperoned middle schoolers, been a crew leader for Vacation Bible School, read scripture and played the piano in Sunday services and more.
"I am receiving a hands-on experience with ministry," she said. "I am living it. It has been a challenging and informative summer that has helped me to determine that I would, in fact, like to do the work of the church. Overall, this has been a tremendous blessing to me personally. The family I am living with is a delight, and the people in the church have welcomed me with warm smiles and open arms."
Prepping to intern
Meyers credits the Jubilee Fellows' leadership, including Bosma and co-director Todd Cioffi, for getting both students and their host churches ready for the internships.
"They are on top of their game, providing direction to us in preparing and hosting the fellows," he said. "They have been great at holding our hands through some of the new experiences of hosting students from Calvin, including giving us theological material to help guide the students in their personal reflections, biographical background to help in finding the perfect fit for their host families and checking in on us to make sure that the fellows and our church are getting the most out of the experience."
That preparation of the fellows begins already during the spring semester of their junior year when all 14 take a seminar course in which they study the lives and theologies of those who have led the Christian church in the past.
"They learn about prayer and reading and memorizing scripture. They read and research; they eat meals together," said Cioffi, who also teaches in Calvin's new congregational and ministry studies department
Used by God
In their senior year, after the students have dispersed to all corners of the continent for their internships and then returned to Grand Rapids for their final year of college, the Jubilee Fellows are then expected to contribute to Calvin College community life through a ministry-related service component.
"Students take what they have learned from their internships and find creative ways to use their gifts," said Cioffi, "whether it's at Calvin or helping Calvin students participate in church life in Grand Rapids."
After graduating from Calvin, Jubilee Fellows tend to go to seminary. Roughly 75 percent of the students who have been part of the program in the past either go to seminary or into the ministry, said Bosma, while the others become active lay leadership in their congregations.
Koster is likely to be among the 75 percent, but with a slight twist. After graduation, she is hoping to get her masters of divinity and also wants to earn a counseling or masters of social work degree.
Regardless of the path this year's fellows might take, North Avenue Presbyterian's Meyers believes the outcome will be providential.
"If God does call them (the fellows) to ministry," he said, "I wholeheartedly believe that they will be powerfully used by God in service to the Gospel. And I believe the Jubilee program will be one of the key factors in their journey down that road."