Interning with the ARUMC: A retrospective

Jacob Turner

Jacob Turner

By Jacob Turner
Special Contributor

Editor’s note: Turner spent this summer working with the Arkansas Conference through the cooperation of Hendrix College’s Miller Center for Vocation, Ethics, and Calling, which provides guidance and funding, and the Hendrix Office of Career Services, which provided support.

As the Center for Technology intern, I had the opportunity to work in communications and social media strategy, branding development, storytelling, video recording and post-production, information technology helpdesk services, end-user management, website development, production assistance for the Arkansas United Methodist, graphic design, application systems development and worship technology.

However, my internship was more than just a crash course in IT work for a religious organization. It was an opportunity to experience how technology has applications in ministry, an idea that I’ve struggled with for a while now. I would summarize what I learned in three points:

1. Technology can be a ministry.

For a long time, I saw ministry as “the guy in the pulpit every Sunday,” and that was really it. At my first job as the “worship technician” for First UMC Sheridan, I saw what I did as just a job. However, with this internship, I learned that technology truly has applications in the church beyond “just a job.”

“Ministry” can be defined as “any activity someone carries out to express or spread the faith.” I hope all of my work for the Conference fulfilled this definition. I do feel like that was the case, especially with the REcharge Initiative, which I consider my proudest achievement of this summer internship.

To me, REcharge is a ministry to churches, and is 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 rapid spread of technology, it can be an expense some churches cannot afford.

The REcharge Initiative will refurbish gently used technology that is being stockpiled (or worse, thrown away) 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, in turn, allow churches to create new ministries and enhance existing ones. REcharge also keeps equipment out of landfills and other areas where they would be toxic to the environment (in accordance with the ideas laid out in the United Methodist Church’s Social Principles, specifically the section on “The Natural World”).

As I took part in developing this initiative, churches shared plenty of plans for new ministries if they had the technology they wanted, from starting after-school programs, to assisting the homeless with applying for jobs, housing and public assistance, to enhancing worship with larger-print Scripture and hymn lyrics. These aren’t ideas that a group of people came up with as potential uses for the REcharge initiative. These are real ministries that real churches will now be able to do.

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, which highlighted ministries across the Arkansas United Methodist connection, from community gardens to ethnic ministries. What really caught my attention was how each video told a different but important story.

Stories as a means of communication 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. Stories can promote causes and bring about change. We see stories in the news that expose injustices in the world, that start movements to change society for the better. As I watched the 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.

With that goal in mind, I actually have two more projects to work on, telling the stories and experiences of four very different groups of people. For now, I will only say that I hope to tell them and do them justice, because they are important stories to share.

3. I could never really thrive in the corporate world.

Yeah, this may sound like the stereotypical thought of a college kid, but I sincerely mean it. My experiences with the Conference office showed me that I can work in an office and be just fine, but I would only be truly happy if I am actually doing work that helps the world in ways that may not always turn the biggest profits, but are the most beneficial.

Right now, I see that as working for the church (whether that’s back in the Conference office, at a church-affiliated organization or even a local congregation or a startup focused on church-related IT work). Whether my life actually plays out like that, who knows? But as of now, I know what track I want to be on.

This commentary is adapted from a post on Turner’s blog. Find his original and related posts at www.jacobturner.me/arumcintern.

More information on the REcharge Initiative