Interning with the ARUMC: A Retrospective

Over the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to be an intern at the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church, a statewide organization composed of all the churches in Arkansas that call themselves United Methodist. Specifically, I was an intern in the Center for Technology, the group responsible for IT and communications for the Conference. As a part of that group, I had the opportunity to work in a variety of areas, including “Communications and Social Media Strategy, Audience and Branding Development, Storytelling, Video Recording and Post Production, IT Helpdesk and End User Management, Website Development, Arkansas United Methodist Newspaper Production Assistance, Graphic Design, Email and Application Systems Development, and Worship Arts Technology”.

However, I like to think that my internship was more than just a crash course in IT work for a religious organization. It was an opportunity to truly experience how technology has applications in ministry, an idea that I’ve struggled with for a while now. And in the end, I would say that if I had to sum up how the internship affected or changed me, I would do it in three points:

1. Technology can be a ministry.
Yes, this point has already been said, but it really cannot be stated enough, at least for me personally. For a very long time, I saw ministry as “the guy in the pulpit every Sunday,” and that was really it. Even at my first job as the “Worship Technician” for the First United Methodist Church of Sheridan, I saw what I did as just a job, one that hopefully assisted those in the congregation. However, with this internship, I learned that technology truly has applications in the church beyond “just a job”.

If you look up “ministry” on the bastion of reliable information known as Wikipedia, it is defined as “an activity carried out by Christians to express or spread their faith, the prototype being the Great Commission”. And in that way, I hope that everything I did, all of my work for the Conference, was in fulfillment of this definition. I will say that I do feel like that was the case, especially with the REcharge Initiative, which I consider to be my proudest achievement as an intern with the Conference office.

You know, this thing!
You know, this thing!

To me, REcharge was a ministry, but not to individuals, but rather to churches. It’s based on the idea that technology is a rapidly expanding and increasingly effective way of communication. It’s especially useful in communicating with my demographic (commonly known as the Millennials or Generation Y) who have not known a world without cellular-based communication, and (for some) social media. However, even with the spread of technology throughout every aspect of almost everyone’s life, it can be an expense that some churches cannot afford. Therefore, I developed the REcharge Initiative as a way of refurbishing gently used technology that is being stockpiled (or worse, thrown away) more and more as devices are more frequently replaced in favor of the latest and greatest, even though they may have quite a bit of use left in them. These devices, with some TLC, in turn allow churches to create new ministries and enhance existing ones, as well as keeping said devices out of landfills and other areas where they would be toxic to the environment in multiple ways (in accordance with the ideas laid out in the United Methodist Church’s “Social Principles“, specifically the section on “The Natural World“). Even in the short time that I had to take part in developing this initiative, here are some of the ideas that churches had if they had the technology they wanted:

  • “possibly starting an after school program where students who don’t have computers at home can come to the church to do homework, research, etc.”
  • “assisting the homeless with applying for jobs, housing, and public assistance”
  • “enhancing our worship to better serve our congregation with larger-print Scripture and hymns”

Again, these aren’t ideas that a group of people came up with as potential uses for the initiative. These are real ministries that real churches will now be able to do, thanks to the REcharge Initiative. And again, this give new life to technology that can be reused, (mostly) regardless of its age (and even if it is too old to use, there are guidelines for properly recycling the computer and even attempting to reuse as many of its parts as possible in other computers). And with that one idea, I was able to fully understand the potential technology has in ministry.

2. Storytelling is immensely important.
As an intern, I got to see the development of a series of videos for Annual Conference called Spiritual Revival: A Moment To A Movement. These videos highlighted the ministries taking place across the Arkansas United Methodist connection, from community gardens to ethnic ministries. However, what really caught my attention with these videos was how each one told a very different, but very important story. And that got my mind going about what other stories in the boundaries of our Conference that could be told.

To me, I see stories as very important things. Stories as a means of communication need no more explanation, and they even have a “storied” (pun intended) history in the church, as Jesus Himself had stories that he shared as religious lessons (we just call them “parables” instead of stories). Methodists even sing a hymn that starts off like this:

I love to tell the story
of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory,
of Jesus and his love.

However, there can be more to stories than just communication. They can also be ways to promote causes and bring about change. We see stories in the news that help to expose injustices in the world, that start movements to change society for the better. And both of these aspects appeal to me, and as I watched those Spiritual Revival videos and saw the reactions to them, I started to talk with people about what other stories we could be telling, both in the church and outside of it.

And with that goal in mind, I actually have two more projects (currently secret ones, because they haven’t technically started yet) to work on, telling the stories and experiences of four very different groups of people. When I have more information on these storytelling projects, I’ll be sure to share them, but for now I will only say that I hope to tell them and do them justice, because they are very important stories to share.

3. I could never really thrive in the corporate world.
Yeah, this may sound like the stereotypical thoughts of a college kid, but I sincerely mean that. My experiences with the Conference office showed me that I can work in an office and wear a suit every day and be just fine, but I would only be truly happy if I am actually doing work that truly helps the world in ways that may not always turn the biggest profits, but are still the most beneficial acts. And right now, I see that as working for the church in its various manifestations (whether that be back in the Conference office, at a church affiliated organization, or even a local congregation or a startup focused on church-related IT work). I have also seen it as working for non-profit organizations, but I can’t speak as much to that, considering I haven’t done as much in that regard (but don’t get me wrong, in an ideal world I would be able to work with both). Whether my life actually plays out like that, who knows. But I feel like as of now, I know what track I want to be on.

And with that, I close the chapter that is this summer’s internship, and begin the transition back into college life (which actually starts tomorrow!) If you would like to read more about my internship, please feel free to read my “Interning With The ARUMC” series of posts that I have recently moved over to this blog.

Until next time,
Jacob

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