As a step on the path to becoming a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA], one must have a year of internship at a Lutheran Church. This summer, not one, but two interns are serving the Mountain Lutheran Parish, as well as Pocahontas Episcopal Ministries.
The two organizations worked together to receive grant funding for the program and, in July, Evan and Hillary Christensen moved to Minnehaha Springs to begin their two-year internships.
“Our internship is a little different because, normally the church pays for the intern to come, but they applied for a grant through the ELCA, and that’s why we’re able to be out here,” Hillary said. “That’s what is really wonderful. It’s the first time that type of grant has been used for interns.”
Usually, an internship is done after two years of school and is followed by another year of school. But, since the couple is here for two years, Hillary is doing her internship first and Evan will take over the following year.
The program is also different in that the two will intern with both the Lutheran churches in Pocahontas and Pendleton counties, as well as the Episcopal church at Snowshoe.
“The Episcopal Church and the ELCA are in full communion together, so if a preacher from the Lutheran Church can go to the Episcopal Church and back and forth, they do,” Hillary said. “[Lutheran] Pastors Jason and Jess [Felici] have been working with the Episcopal Church at Snowshoe.”
During their time here, the Christensens will perform nearly all the duties as a pastor, excluding the Sacraments, for which a pastor must be ordained to perform.
“We will be preaching – I’m doing that on Sunday,” Hillary said. “Starting to lead worship. Maybe doing some Bible studies. It’s kind of difficult right now with the pandemic because we’re not doing as much. We’re just learning what it means to be a pastor – pretty much every aspect that they do.”
“It’s providing pastoral care – doing hospital visits or visits with people who are homebound members,” Evan added. “Especially in Pocahontas County – from what we’ve been told – we are the only Lutheran clergy presence to be living in the county in more than a hundred years. We’ll be closer than Pastor Jason and Pastor Jess are able to be.”
While practicing social distancing, the couple has been able to visit with members on their porches, and Hillary has led church services in the parking lot at New Hope Lutheran Church in Minnehaha Springs.
“People come and park, and we hand them communion and a bulletin,” Hillary said. “They can sit in their car, but some of them sit in chairs outside their car because it’s really hot.”
“We practice social distancing – masks if you can’t maintain six feet,” Evan added. “All the stuff that’s passed out is passed out using gloves and a mask.”
Hillary speaks into a microphone for the service to ensure all in attendance are able to hear the message.
“It’s been interesting, but it’s great that we can still get together,” she said.
The couple is from Nebraska – Hillary from Wahoo, and Evan from Omaha.
“The easiest story for how we met is at summer camp,” Evan said. “Kind of a summer camp in eastern Nebraska where we both worked.”
“We were in college at the time,” Hillary interjected.
“We worked together at camp for one year, both as counselors,” Evan continued. “Then I ended up sort of being her boss the next year, but really, she helped me a lot. After that summer, we became really good friends and started dating, and then I guess, the rest is history now.”
Both received teaching degrees and taught in their respective fields – Hillary in elementary music and Evan as a special education tea-cher. They began their discernment to enter the ministry when they were in college, but didn’t begin the process until after they were married and had been teaching for several years.
“We decided to go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to the United Lutheran Seminary,” Hillary said.
For the internship process, churches apply to the school and students go through an interview process, but since the Christensens were working together, the process was a little different.
“We pretty much were told, ‘there is this good church in West Virginia that we think you would really like,’ and so we interviewed with Pastors Jason and Jess, and loved them; then it just all worked out,” Hillary said.
Moving from a flatter area like Nebraska to the mountains of West Virginia was quite a change for the couple, but they say they have enjoyed what they’ve experienced so far.
“Enjoying actually being in the mountains,” Evan said. “Living in Gettysburg, we saw them often in the distance – not necessarily in and among them – and coming from Nebraska, we don’t have hills really.”
“People are super friend-ly,” Hillary added. “We’ve had lots of food dropped off. We’re getting to explore the county a little – finding out where the green boxes were because we’re not used to that. Also, exploring the town a little.”
After they finish their internships and school, the couple will be placed with a Lutheran Parish somewhere in the country. They will provide a list of options to the Synod and the Bishops will place them accordingly.
“We can say that we want to go back to Nebraska, and then it’s up to our Bishop if we are going to or not,” Hillary said. “In two years, we’ll find out.”
“With the whole process, we’ve been open to going anywhere God leads us, and also being okay with going back to Nebraska,” Evan said.
For now, they are learning about West Virginia and are happy to serve the communities here.
“We’re doing our best to engage with people from the community,” Evan said.
“I know when we’ve had the chance, we say, ‘we’ve just moved here, so we don’t know what’s going on.’ It’s been interesting because some people already know who we are.”
A Parking Lot Service is held each Sunday at 4 p.m. at New Hope Lutheran Church in Minnehaha Springs.