By Bishop Mike Rinehart
We are blessed to have a bumper crop of interns this year. I don’t recall the time in the last two decades when we have had this many interns. We currently have eight. As it happens, I have authorized six of them for the sacrament. Six of them are in candidacy in our synod.
- Cassie Borges is on internship at St. Peters in Bay City. Pr. Pete Lopez at St. John’s in Angleton is her supervisor.
- Jonathan Mollenkopf is on internship at Shared Lutheran Ministries of Fayette County. His supervisor is Pr. Marcia Kifer.
- Rudy Flores is on internship at Kinsmen, Houston. His supervisor is Pr. Mark England.
- Clayton Faulkner is on internship at Faith, Bellaire. His supervisor is Pr. Kerry Nelson.
- Morgan Gates is on internship at Kindred, Houston. Her supervisor is Pr. Ashley Dellagiacoma.
- Carrie Peterson is on internship at Tree of Life, Conroe. Her supervisor is Pr. Chris Lake.
- Stephanie Stark is on internship at St. Martin’s, Sugarland. Her supervisor is Pr. Will Starkweather.
- Sergio Rodriguez just began his internship at Christ the King, Houston, January 1, 2020. His supervisor is Pr. Duane Larson.
Interns do not preside at table in the ELCA. Ordained pastors preside at Holy Communion, except in emergency situations. There are exceptions though: When a community is so isolated that an ordained pastor is unavailable, and that community would be deprived of the sacrament for an extended period of time, the bishop can appoint an ordained person to preside at holy communion. This is called a Synodically Authorized Minister (SAM). There are very clear guidelines set up for SAMs.
SAMs receive some theological and liturgical training and supervision. So, for example, intern Cassie Borges is serving St. Peters Lutheran Church in Bay City, while being supervised by Pastor Pete Lopez at St John’s Lutheran Church in Angleton. This is an exception, but an accepted and commonly used practice.
We are pushing the boundaries a little bit this year. Christ the King’s intern, who will also be working with campus ministry at Rice University will preside. While this is technically not a detached site, providing the sacrament will be useful in that context. A few others have even less critical call for presidency. Meanwhile, others are not presiding at table.
So, next year, I’m going to tighten it back up to come in line with standard ELCA policy. Interns will not preside unless there is a detached site that calls for it. We are seeing more and more of these situations: small rural or small town congregations that cannot afford a full time pastor, and no part-time pastor lives in the area. In those cases, we have been working tirelessly to help congregations share a pastor, to deploy retired or bi-vocational pastors, and in some cases, like Shared Lutheran Ministries of Fayette County and St. Peter’s in Bay City, authorizing interns.
I know the standard line: You can do a lot more damage in the pulpit than at the altar. This is most certainly true. I would be in favor of changing the policy to allow interns to preside under the supervision of their internship supervisor, but until the policy changes, I’m going to ask us all to be team players and go by the playbook. Policy exists as a mutual agreement about how we will be church together. If you’d like to see the policy changed, we should work to change the policy.
So, going forward, for interns starting in summer or fall in 2020, we’ll abide by the policy that interns do not preside at table unless there is an underserved community that would be otherwise be deprived of Holy Communion. In those cases, we will continue to approve the exception. I invite you to discuss this at your conference gatherings. The deans have had conversation around it and will do so in the future.
It is my hope that we will continue to have a bumper crop of candidates and a good number of interns/vicars as well. New, upcoming leaders are a blessing to the church, bringing a fresh perspective and youthful exuberance to the ministry we share.