Emory & Henry interns help vitalize church for the community

Emory & Henry interns help vitalize church for the community

(Left to right) Mack Henningsen, Tatum Harvel, Madison Harosky, and Emilie Davis are the first students to participate in a new Spiritual Life internship at Emory & Henry College.

EMORY, Va. -- Over the last four months, Emilie Davis has sorted through piles and piles of used clothing. She delivered food to front porches and prayed with people in the rain. She problem-solved the technical challenges of online worship.

The experience changed the direction for what she wants to do after college graduation.

“It changed my life,” says Davis, a senior at Emory & Henry College, majoring in philosophy and literature. “I want to go into full-time mission work. I want to be a bridge between the church and community.”

Davis is one of four students participating in a new mission internship program created by the Spiritual Life office at Emory & Henry College this year. Two of the students grew up in The United Methodist Church, and two did not. But all of them were immersed in United Methodist ministries demonstrating how the local church can be vital to the community.

“I never realized the biggest part of the pastor’s job could be outside the church,” said Tatum Harvel, an Emory & Henry sophomore and member at First United Methodist Church in Pennington Gap, Va. “I was stretched in so many ways, but I know now that ministry will always be a part of my life no matter what.”

Davis, Harvel, and Mack Henningsen served over the summer at Bishop Mission Initiative in Bishop, Virginia, assisting the Rev. Daniel Bradley in offering food, clothing, tutoring, and other services as well as friendship to an isolated and distressed community.

Harvel and Madison Harosky, a sophomore and member at Beech Grove United Methodist Church in Bristol, Virginia, helped the four local churches of Bristol Cooperative Parish start a combined youth ministry this summer.

The internship program was created using funds from a grant provided by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, said the Rev. Sharon Wright, Emory & Henry chaplain and Spiritual Life director. The funds provided a stipend and housing assistance for the interns.

“To me, the best way to hear the voice of God calling you to make a difference in the world is by engaging in the world,” Wright said. “We’re hoping to help young people see the church is not just a building or a place. A church is active. A church cannot be divorced from the community.”

In Bishop, Virginia, the interns described delivering food to a child whose father had just died of addiction and to families living in dilapidated housing. They described working with Bradley, pastor at Alexander Memorial United Methodist Church, Lisa Duncan and a handful of church members to prepare and deliver nearly 200 meals every Thursday to about 40 percent of Bishop’s population.

“On my first day, we visited a house where a grandmother had just found out her granddaughter was deceased,” said Davis. “It was raining, and we stood on that porch in the rain and just prayed and prayed with her. Seeing the love that Lisa and Daniel have for the community, to let them know they are valuable, was so impactful to me.”

Davis, who attended a nondenominational church in her hometown of Fayetteville, N.C., loved working in Bishop so much that she continued her internship through autumn and into 2022. In addition to helping set up a clothing and shelter mission at the recently closed Brown’s Chapel United Methodist Church, Davis also helped Bradley with improving online accessibility to Sunday worship.

“Flooding is common in the area, as well as house fires,” said Henningsen, who also helped set up the new clothing and shelter mission in Bishop. “We wanted to make a place where they could spend the night and get a fresh set of clothes.”

Henningsen, who grew up in the Assemblies of God church, said his friends in Emory & Henry’s Spiritual Life program “played a big role” in inspiring him to enter the United Methodist candidacy program to pursue a career in ordained ministry. In addition to the Bread of Life meal ministry at Alexander Memorial, Henningsen said he was impressed by a new summer and after-school tutoring ministry, called “Alexander Scholars.”

“That was really the church going beyond the four walls and inserting itself directly into the community with things they needed,” said Henningsen, whose home is Abingdon, Virginia.

The tutoring ministry answered a need that was magnified when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to switch to online classes, placing a burden on families without resources or internet access, he said.
Davis, Henningsen work in tutoring ministry.

“Children are often neglected in conversations about poverty. It’s incredibly great that a church provided tutoring for children after COVID had been such a disruption to their education," Henningsen said.

Bradley said some experiences were “heartbreaking” for the interns to witness, in a community where poverty and addiction cause great suffering.

“They got to see some of the bad sides, but they also got to see how God is blessing this community,” he said. “They got to see that there are good people here.”

The pastor said he was encouraged by the interns’ willingness to serve.

“They brought a whole new level of energy to what we’re already doing," Bradley said. “They constantly asked me if there was more they could do. The kids still ask about them. All three were the picture of being the hands and feet of Christ.”

In Bristol, Harvel and Harosky worked in more of an urban environment, helping Reynolds Memorial United Methodist Church and three smaller churches put together a youth group.

Today, the group is 15 to 20 members strong and planning to participate in Resurrection spiritual retreat in January 2022, Harvel said. The interns also helped at Hunt Memorial United Methodist Church's Proverbs 3:27 Mission Center, serving the homeless of Bristol. 

“Working in these places has made me so much more grateful for the family and faith I’ve had,” Harvel said.

The plan is to expand the internship program in 2022, placing six students in more sites including an urban mission outside of Holston Conference, Wright said.

“We’re hoping local churches and grant programs will start underwriting the internship program,” she said. “We want to be sustainable for the future. This program has the potential to transform the lives of students and lives in the church and community.”


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Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.

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