The Vocation of an Intern

Three months ago, I began working as an intern at The Washington Institute. In one sense, my work is very practical. As a Program Coordinator I organize various events from pastors’ lunches to lecture events to dinners all with the focus of drawing people into this question of vocation as mission, which we keep exploring at TWI. And, since our organization is still quite small, in many ways I am an extension of my supervisor, helping with the administrative tasks necessary to grow and develop our organization. There are website updates to be made, emails to be sent, data to be entered, and mail to be picked up. In a larger sense though, my work is to contribute to the ongoing dialogue of vocation as mission. My job is to think about why I am doing what I am doing.

But how did I reach this point to begin with? The Capital Fellows Program at McLean Presbyterian Church, of which I am a part, brings me to The Washington Institute. This program is one of many such programs all across the country collectively known as The Fellows Initiative. These programs serve recent college graduates who desire to enter into a fuller and richer practice of the Christian life. Many Christians understand faith in terms of belief, or perhaps belief and worship, but they struggle to understand the many other facets of their lives as being as much a part of their faith. For example, how is it an expression of faith to wake up Monday through Friday and to go into work to help sell widgets? At best such “secular” jobs as “Widget Salesman” provide opportunities to evangelize at work or model Christian ethics. At worst, such “secular” jobs are viewed as merely a part of a large commercialized system of greed—perhaps a necessary evil that feeds the family, but an evil nonetheless.

The vision of The Fellows Initiative is to shatter such notions which at best are overly simplistic and at worst heretical. And so we fellows take a few seminary classes, help with the youth ministry, live with host families, participate in the life of the church, tutor students, and go to work each week with the ongoing goal of deepening our faith with respect to community, theological understanding, and vocation. In short, The Fellows Initiative seeks to give young Christian men and women a fuller vision of the Kingdom of God and their place in it.

Since my days on my high school’s mock trial team, I have known that a career in law was for me, and all my decisions from academics to summer jobs have been made with that goal in mind. I have discovered it is quite rare for college students, let alone high schoolers to have such clarity regarding career direction. In deciding how to fill my time before law school, I figured a year spent as part of a fellows program would give me valuable perspective. I have heard countless stories of people who went off to law school with a certain set of ideals and a vision to make the world a better place, only to graduate three years later jaded and cynical. Recognizing this pitfall, I joined the Capital Fellows Program with the hope of discerning what it means to be a servant of the law and also a servant of the Kingdom of God. I had a few internship opportunities to choose from, but I decided The Washington Institute would be the perfect environment in which to chew the cud of vocation. The mission of the organization resonated with me, and I knew that I could learn much from people like Steve Garber and Bill Haley.

But now that I am here, what of it? Like my other friends in my Fellows Program, I am an intern. But where is the significance in that? As I breathe the air each day at work, I am certainly inspired by our ongoing dialogue: we talk about how our callings from God are rooted in an overarching theological metanarrative, that there is not sacred work apart from secular work but that all work can be understood as sacred, that each person has an important role to play in bringing about the Kingdom in all its fullness and shalom. People in the construction industry build things, business professionals create wealth, managers bring order to disorder. But again, what do interns do? Send emails, make copies, enter data, pick up the mail? Do daily office tasks really fit into the Bible’s grand story?

In one sense, perhaps I am making this question more complicated than it really is. Surely the mission of The Washington Institute is integral to the missio Dei: we bring others into this conversation through educational programs and the building of important relationships. And so, as an intern, my work helps make it possible for TWI to carry out its mission. And perhaps something similar could be said of my friends who find themselves as interns in political offices, non-profits, and businesses around the D.C. area. Interns are important nuts and bolts that makes the machinery of these organizations run.

But even as this metaphysic underlies the role of intern in all its theological significance, the pragmatic nature of such a role cannot be ignored. In many ways an internship is about resume building; it is a step from one thing to the next. My Fellows and I are hoping to make connections and tap into networks through our jobs that will benefit us down the road. Many of my friends are hopeful that their internships will lead to more permanent jobs, either with their current organization or with another. For me, this internship is a step from college to law school, and perhaps a step to something beyond. In many ways, an internship has a sense of in-between-ness; it is not its own thing, but rather a temporary phase between college and career. So what then is the vocation of the intern?

Well, much could be said about what I have learned so far, but as it relates to this question, I have learned that a vocation is not the same as a job. When we say one is called to be a business professional or a fire fighter or a minister, we are speaking too simplistically. Vocation is much bigger than merely what happens when you are on the time clock; it is bigger than merely that for which you are monetarily compensated. In the broadest sense, vocation is the call for each of us to serve in the Kingdom, and how each person does so can be expressed in many different ways. There can certainly be specificity in each of our vocations, but we are called to do God’s work each day, and we are called to do God’s work over the course of our lives. When understood in this light, my internship is both a thing in itself and a stepping stone; it is both a destination here in the now and a bridge that links my past to my future. This internship need not be the focal point of my career because it is part of a much larger story, and yet my internship is not without dignity in itself.

And so, although I may not have a glorious title or a lofty position of power, my work still matters. And for my friends in my Fellows Program with me and countless other fellows programs across the country, your work also matters. And for those in my generation who are coming of age in an economically challenging time able to find little more than a temporary internship, in many cases, with dreams deferred, your work matters too if you have eyes to see.

We are now in the midst of the Advent season. This is a time of anticipation. We remember the most astounding miracle of all, the Incarnation: God took off the mantle of His glory, took on the frailty of human flesh, and dwelt among us. But we not only look back; we also look forward. We look forward to the day when Christ will come again. We look forward to the coming of the Kingdom. We look forward to the many ways we continue to see God incarnate all around us in our world and through our lives. Yes, this is a time of anticipation, and in this season more than in any other, the intern can find solace. As we await what is to come in this season of Advent and as we as interns await what is to come in this season of our lives with hopeful expectation, let us take joy and peace in knowing that ours is a God who comes, and His kingdom is a kingdom that comes, and His calling is a calling that comes to each one of us. Sometimes we have to wait for what is to come, but ours is a faith that it will come. Amen.

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