Friday, January 19, 2007

Understanding Presbytery Internships

A friend and former classmate will be graduating in May.  He confessed to me today that he would not be prepared to transition into ministry at that time, however, because he hadn't completed his Presbytery Internship.

In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), anyone who would be ordained for ministry must complete an Internship.  In most cases, it is difficult to get a call to a pastoral position unless a man has completed this step, because he would not be able to be ordained without it.

My friend misunderstood the difference between his field education, required by the seminary, and his Internship.  It may be worth taking the time to draw some distinctions here:
  • You may be enrolled in seminary and still not be considered an Intern by Presbytery.
  • You may have completed required field education and still not be considered an Intern by Presbytery.
  • You may be a high-level volunteer leader in your church and still not be considered an Intern by Presbytery.
  • You may be on your church's staff and still not be considered an Intern by Presbytery.
  • You may even be an intern at your PCA church and still not be considered an Intern by Presbytery!
In short, the only way to be an Intern of your Presbytery is to become an Intern of your Presbytery.

To do this, you need to apply to Presbytery as an intern.  (If you are not already "under care" of your Presbytery as a Candidate for Gospel Ministry, now is a good time to do that, as well.)  To be an Intern, you must have been a member of your PCA church for six months.  You must also be sponsored by your church as a Candidate, which means that your church Session (the body of Elders) examined and approved you for ministry and recommended you to Presbytery.

You may not become a Candidate or Intern in a Presbytery other than that in which you are a member.  You may become a Candidate or Intern in a Presbytery in which you are an associate member-- for example, if you chose to maintain membership at your home church in another Presbytery but joined the local church as an associate member.  And you may work to arrange a "co-operative Internship" where the Presbytery where you are under care as a Candidate works with the local Presbytery to allow you to be overseen and shepherded locally, rather than trying to coordinate efforts long-distance.

If you wish to apply to be an Intern (or a Candidate, for that matter), be sure to get started early.  Agendas for Presbytery meetings are set weeks in advance, so that members may receive copies ahead of time.  Often, to be placed on the agenda as an incoming Intern you must first be approved by a committee, which might meet a month or more before the Presbytery meeting.  Thus, it may be that you must apply for a Presbytery Internship two months in advance of the Presbytery meeting.

Furthermore, an Internship ordinarily takes a year or more to complete.  While it is possible to meet the requirements in less time, doing so also requires a special vote of Presbytery to approve it (since the Book of Church Order requires that Internships normally be at least one year in length-- BCO 19.7.2).

Requirements for an Internship vary from one Presbytery to another, but the basics are fairly predictable:
  • You need experience teaching and preaching (usually something like 12 sermons and 30 total teaching instances)
  • You should have interacted with Elders/a Session
  • You must have a grasp of how a church functions and operates (budgets, congregational meetings, etc.)
  • You need to have some visitation experience
  • You must work with leadership development is some way
  • You probably will need exposure to officer training
The BCO says this about requirements: "The nature of the internship shall be determined by the Presbytery, but it should involve the candidate in full scope of the duties of any regular ministerial calling approved by the Presbytery.  It is to be both a time of practical instruction and testing by the Presbytery, and may be in any work which the Presbytery deems to be a suitable ministry to test the intern’s gifts."  (BCO 19.7.3)

Many of these requirements can be "grandfathered" from experience you already have, but the BCO specifically stipulates that an Internship is to represent experience gained during or after theological training.  Thus, even if you (like me) spent a number of years in ministry before beginning seminary, you won't be able to fulfill all of your requirements from that (though some Presbyteries will allow you to apply some of that to your requirements).  Most "grandfathering" is based on ministry you have done since beginning seminary.

I recommend that seminarians become Presbytery Interns as soon as possible.  Since there are sometimes financial advantages to being under care of a Presbytery as a Candidate, many seminarians take care of this before beginning seminary-- but you can become a Candidate and an Intern at the same time.  Starting this process as early in your training as possible will only help you.

One final word: once you have completed your Presbytery Internship, request from the Clerk of Presbytery a paper copy of the minutes from the Presbytery meeting where you were declared to have completed it.  This ensures that it was entered into Presbytery records, and provides you with verification should there ever be a questions.  (Thanks to Rev. Stephen Estock for this idea.)

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