Thoughts from a New Fellow by Rachel Leary

In the months following my acceptance into the Fellows Program I found it nearly impossible to explain to friends and family exactly what I would be doing starting September 1st , 2009. For simplicity sake I would often tell people I had an internship with a church, where I would be working with the youth group and taking some Seminary classes.  I always walked away slightly dissatisfied, wishing that we could talk for few more minutes, wishing that I could share with them my ever-increasing joy and excitement for the upcoming nine months in Trinity’s Fellows Program. It’s not that the Fellows Program is vague or disorganized. It’s quite the opposite; the individual pieces of the program, including both church and local community involvement, as well as opportunities for personal growth are knit together into an intricate 9-month fabric of life experiences that cannot be compared to any other post-graduate opportunities in the country. If I had a few more minutes to talk about the upcoming program I would start by describing the workplace experience. For the first three days of the workweek Fellows are placed in an internship in a local business in the Charlottesville community. Besides the opportunity for practical workplace experience, these internships are meant to help Fellows explore their own God-given abilities and passions. Take, for my example, my classmate Emily Mims, a recent graduate of Davidson College, who has the most incredible heart for children and for service. This year she is working with the “I Have a Dream” Foundation at the local Albemarle High School, where those God-given passions will continue to develop as she is in the process of changing kids lives through the work of the Foundation. Out of my class of 15 Fellows, I know that each and every one of us views our internship as an incredible opportunity.

If time allowed, I would also share that Thursday and Friday mornings our Fellows class takes Seminary classes through the Charlottesville’s Center for Christian Study. For most of us, myself included, this is the first time that we have ever studied our faith in such an academic setting. Despite the fact that many former Fellows have been called to various forms of vocational ministry or further Seminary study, our classes are not solely intended as ministry training. The classes are forcing us to engage our faith and understanding of the God in a new way, particularly by exploring the relationship between our head knowledge and the heart knowledge. Already, in just two weeks of class, my personal faith in God has been enriched by our intellectual exploration of church history and the doctrine of the trinity. These academic pursuits are not something that only young people need to participate in- believers of any age and any stage of their faith would experience a deepening of faith this type of rigorous study.

Perhaps the highlight of the week is the two hours that we spend at Johnson Elementary School on Thursday afternoon. The Fellows, along with dozens of university and community volunteers, work with Charlottesville’s Abundant Life Ministries in an after-school tutoring program. Proportionally, we spend such a short time with Abundant Life, but it is potentially one of the most powerful experiences fo the week. Two weeks ago I met Anicea, a third-grade at Johnson, who loving accepted me into her world, begging me with her attention and her eyes to pour out some genuine love. Not only do I have the opportunity to help Anicea with her multiplication tables and her reading skills, but I can demonstrate the love of Christ to her simply by showing up every week and giving of myself.

If I could steal a few more minutes of my listener’s time, I would attempt to explain that ways that the relationships in and around the Fellows Program have the biggest impact on a Fellow’s experience. Host families open up their homes to complete strangers, generously caring for our physical needs, but also inviting us into the intimate community of their families. Mentors from Trinity’s congregation volunteer their time and wisdom to invest in our lives, with the purpose of seeing us come to a deeper and richer understanding of our Lord Jesus Christ. Trinity’s youth group welcomes the Fellows with open arms, allowing us to jump into the lives of dozens of middle and high-school kids and grow in Christ-like friendship with them.  As a church, Trinity welcomes us into the lives of their people, loving us in a way that only Christ can and teaching us the beauty of broken, but redeemed church community.

Do you see why it’s impossible to explain the Fellows program in a sentence or two? Even after explaining the rundown of our weekly activities, it would be hard to describe the full experience of the program, because it’s the relationship between the parts that constructs the whole. Everything that I am learning in class is speaking into the way that I approach my job and my relationships all the people I encounter daily. My job is teaching me things about the secular work world that can contribute to Christian community. And being loved by this new family of Fellows, host families, mentors, and the community of Trinity Presbyterian is transforming and renewing my life so that I may better glorify God in everything that I do.