NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – It isn’t that Miriam Regier doesn’t believe people – including herself – don’t have gifts. She’s just a bit skeptical of “gifts language.”
As a senior majoring in mathematics at Bethel College, perhaps Regier can be forgiven for needing concrete evidence. Personally, she found some this summer in her 11 weeks with the Ministry Inquiry Program.
Regier was the latest in an unbroken line of Bethel students who have participated in MIP since it began – at Bethel – 20 years ago. She spent her time this summer working with Barbara Krehbiel Gehring and Richard Gehring, co-pastors of Manhattan (Kan.) Mennonite Church.
As has been true for the past number of years, the first person to tap Regier on the shoulder about the possibility of doing MIP was Bethel’s director of church relations, Dale Schrag. “He first [said something to me] in my sophomore year,” Regier remembers. “I didn’t have time to think about it then, so I told him to come back to me, which he took as ‘OK, she’ll do it.’
So a year later, Schrag came to her with the MIP paperwork, and she took the time to seriously consider spending her summer as an MIP intern. “Even though I still wasn’t sure about it, enough other people were that I thought I could do it,” Regier, a member of First Mennonite Church in Newton, says. She indicated her congregation preferences (urban or rural; small or large; etc.) and that information went to Western District Conference minister Dorothy Nickel Friesen, who suggested three congregations in Kansas with female pastors or co-pastors.
Regier chose MMC, a 29-year-old congregation located in Manhattan, which would be considered a small town except for the fact that Kansas State University, one of the state’s largest institutions of higher education, is there.
For his part, Schrag says, he was prompted by “a strong recommendation from Amy Barker [Bethel campus pastor], plus the fact that Miriam is obviously serious about religious things and that her chapel reflections were always thoughtful and serious.”
Regier is starting her second year as a student chaplain at Bethel. Because of that role, she notes, “people say, ‘Oh, you have these [pastoral] gifts.’ People are really willing to use that word when they want you to do something. I wasn’t so sure – I wondered, ‘What gifts?’”
Her 11 weeks at MMC were valuable, for one thing, because “I gained confidence. That was one of my hopes. I realize now that if this [pastoring] is the direction I’m called, I can do it.”
Because both the congregation and its median age are on the young side, Regier didn’t experience some of the visitation and pastoral care issues an older congregation might deal with, although she did accompany the pastors in taking communion to a woman who was recovering in a nursing home.
“I preached three times – that was kind of fun, although I found out I like writing the sermons better than preaching them,” she says. “The pastors were gone for a two-week block so I was in charge of the office for that time. I went to committee meetings, which was very interesting. I did all the office things – the bulletin, the mailings.
“What was surprising,” she says, “is how simple [the job of pastoring] appears, and sometimes is. The focus is often on the sermon and the week is structured around it. I began to understand how many pieces there are to hold together.”
She was able to identify “what I’m good at: writing sermons, listening and being responsible.” That last, she said, the MMC pastors modeled to her – “They were very competent. Something else I saw as that they could set themselves aside and be present. I don’t have that, and I want to develop it. It’s a good life skill.”
She attended weekly staff meetings and also-met one-on-one with Barb Gehring. “That was really good,” Regier says. “She was understanding and affirming but not afraid to challenge. I could ask questions about anything.”
“Having Miriam be part of our ministry team was a wonderful experience,” Gehring says. “This was our first time working with the MIP program. It was a privilege to be a small part of watching [a person] grow in their call. I would love to do it again.”
MIP is a joint program of Mennonite Church USA and the MC USA-affiliated colleges to help college-age young adults consider pastoral ministry as a vocation. Students do not have to be Mennonite to participate although they are placed in Mennonite congregations.
MIP allows students to experience ministry first-hand under the supervision of an experienced pastor. They also receive up to $2,000 in scholarship funds to be applied to tuition, and the host congregation supplies housing and money for other living expenses during the 11-week term.
There were 18 MIP students serving in congregations this summer: in addition to Regier, one from Bluffton (Ohio) University, three from Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, Va.), 10 from Goshen (Ind.) College and, for the first time, three from non-Mennonite colleges or universities.
The program was “the brainchild of James Dunn, a former director of church relations at Bethel and now interim pastor at Burrton Mennonite Church,” Schrag remembers. “When Jim was a Bethel student [in the early 1960s], Bible and religion majors were frequently asked to preach in area churches when the pastor was gone.
“Later, Jim thought there ought to be a way to re-create that experience. He got together with John Esau, then conference minister for the General Conference Mennonite Church, and the program was born in the summer of 1987. Bethel had three students participate that summer. We’ve had at least one every single summer since then.”
Regier says, “Yes, pastoring is a possibility for me [in the future]. At this point, it’s not my plan to go to seminary right after college. I’d like to get some life experience.
“I didn’t think Dale was right at the time, when he first tapped me for MIP,” she says, “but he was.”
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the highest ranked Kansas college in the national liberal arts category of U.S. News & World Report’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.