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Home truths from ‘an intern’: responses from both sides of the arrangement

19 July 2013


From the Revd Philip North
Sir, - The brave and disturbing article by a former parish "intern" (Comment, 12 July) is a powerful wake-up call to those responsible for these increasingly popular schemes, which, while having the capacity to offer a transformative and enriching experience to young people, can very easily become exploitative.

In Camden Town, we have been running a pastoral-assistant scheme for 16 years. It has produced a string of capable young clergy. In expanding the scheme to include other parishes in recent years (www.north-london-pastoral-assistants.org.uk), we have agreed minimum standards, which include, among much else:

1. Job description. This needs to be realistic, varied, interesting, and challenging, keeping administra-tion to the minimum and not just being a list of jobs that no one else wants to do. It should maximise pastoral encounter and community ministry.

2. Remuneration. Housing and utility bills need to be covered by the parish, and an allowance must be generous enough for an intern to get by reasonably comfortably. Schemes that offer no allowance or that require young people to raise some of their own funding are not just excluding of poorer candidates, but are straightforwardly exploitative. The development of a funding package for an intern scheme should in itself be seen as a major project.

3. Formation. Young interns have a right to weekly or fortnightly supervision, and should have other formational opportunities that allow them to mix with others exploring God's call. Spiritual direction, retreats, and proper time off are also essential.

Some parishes seem to think of interns as a cheap pair of hands or as a cut-price curate. Those run-ning such schemes, however, must see them as a contribution to the future ministry of the wider Church, and should be prepared to put more time into supporting their intern than they get back in terms of work.

A Church that has so often spoken out about fairness in the workplace should be a model of good practice in the way that it manages its own employees.

The Rectory, 191 St Pancras Way
London NW1 9NH

From Mr Tim Wall
Sir, - The experiences of "an intern" were saddening, but by no means typical of all interns. Having graduated four years ago, I undertook two internships, one for a national Christian charity, and the second for a city-centre church. Both were extremely positive ex- periences for me. Far from being put upon and exploited, I felt valued and cared for during both years.

Yet I recognise some of the practices described from some of my peers who have been interns in other churches and with other organisations: exhausting schedules, pressure to raise money to survive, and an expectation to work for little reward.

These are not symptoms of all internships, but symptoms of bad internships. Churches should not expect interns to be a source of cheap labour; the corollary of not paying interns a wage is that you offer them something in return. In my case, I undertook a course of theological learning as well as other opportunities.

This being said, interns should, of course, not be expected to live in poverty-like conditions. It is the church's responsibility to provide for its interns (my rent and utilities were paid for), and, if a church cannot afford to do this, it cannot afford to run an internship.

Unfortunately, this practice is not limited to internships. It seems to be indicative of many Christian organisations to expect employees to raise funds apparently to pay for their salary. This places an undue pressure on employees (who, unlike interns, are not in the position to expect further benefits). Furthermore, it limits the potential field of candidates, as many simply do not have wealthy friends and family to call on in this way.

Christian organisations do not have to operate like this; the charity I worked for did not. It utilised the passion and enthusiasm of its staff in its fund-raising, yes, but paid staff a proper salary. They, I believe, felt more valued and secure in their position because of it.

11 Brass Thill, St Margaret's Garth
Durham DH1 4DS

From Canon Andrew Dow
Sir, - The anonymous article about interns made sad reading, and, as an incumbent who appointed quite a number in the course of my ministry at Christ Church, Clifton, in Bristol, I would like to offer an alternative and brighter perspec-tive. Over the two years (usually) that they were with us, our interns - or lay assistants, as we called them then - learned a huge amount about authentic Christian ministry.

They learned that it could be very hard work, physically, spiritually, and mentally; they learned that church life wasn't always a foretaste of heaven; they learned not to expect buckets of gratitude from all of those to whom they ministered; above all, they learned the fantastic privilege of being part of a team serving Christ in and through his Church - all excellent preparation for the stipendiary ordained ministry of the Church of England, to which scores of them (yes, literally) were subsequently called.

Their experience as an intern obviously did not deter them; on the contrary, it inspired them; and surely that should be our longing for all such schemes operating today.

17 Brownlow Drive
Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 9QS

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