A SVOTS seminarian reflects on how his DOS summer internships helped him connect ideas and skills he has learned in seminary to their practical application in parish life.
By Seth Earl, Seminarian at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary
Being in an Orthodox seminary is a unique experience. No matter how long you’ve been Orthodox, or how many roles you’ve served in your local parish, seminary life is a big shift from being in a parish community. Living at seminary means being in close, daily communion with people you might not have chosen to live with. It’s seeing the same people day in and day out, doing the same things day in and day out, all while learning, growing, and hopefully smoothing out the edges.
This tight knit community is necessary for many of us looking into the vocation of priesthood. It expands our experience and challenges our presuppositions. It often forces us to ask again the questions that we thought we had the answers to. It provides us with a liturgical and, hopefully, a spiritual foundation for the years to come. While engaging with this community, however, it is possible to forget what life was like in the local parish. At seminary, your mind is filled with papers that need to be written and books that need to be read, and everyone around you is game for a lively discussion about theology. The focus and needs of local parish life can be quite different.
This summer I had the privilege of participating in the Diocese of the South’s internship program. The Diocese encourages every MDIV seminarian to spend one summer interning with a priest in the South, with the idea of reconnecting the student to the concerns and focus of a local parish, as well as receiving mentorship from those who may become brother clergy in the case of the student’s ordination. In my internship, I was blessed to be able to be a part of not one, but two different parishes. Being under the tutelage of more than one priest was a great opportunity to see how each priest is different, as well as each parish community, and to observe how each priest seeks to fulfill his vocation.
I began week one of my internship in Columbia, SC with Fr Thomas Moore at Holy Apostles Orthodox Church. Fr Thomas took me under his wing as he prepared for the first visit of Bishop Alexander. Fr Thomas has been serving in a priestly role for over eighteen years, bringing seasoned experience to my time with him. Watching him as he interacted and cared for not only his flock, but the immediate community of Columbia, was a impactful reminder on the role of the pastor.
The bulk of my internship was spent with Fr Christopher Foley at Holy Cross Orthodox Church in High Point, NC. Over the many weeks with Fr Chris, I was able to sit in on parish meetings, attend and serve in liturgical services, visit a mission parish, and above all, experience the hospitality of the parish community. The most valuable takeaway I received was in my daily conversations with Fr. Chris. Talking to Fr Chris helped to put the things we discuss in classes into the context of parish life.
Through working with both Fr Thomas and Fr Chris, I was able to connect the ideas and skills I have learned in seminary to their practical application in parish life. It was good to be reminded that connecting people to Christ is the primary goal of all we learn at seminary, and ultimately the goal of all our efforts. The Diocesan Summer Internship program has been an invaluable part of my seminary experience and I am grateful to have had the opportunity for the additional practical, pastoral training.