Jessica Ice, a seminary student at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California, says she found more confidence to get beyond her timid personality and insecurities as she practiced her leadership skills through Mennonite Central Committee U.S.’s Summer Service Program.
Through the 10-week leadership development program for people of color, Ice served as a pastoral intern at her home congregation, Hyde Park Mennonite Church, Boise, Idaho, for the second year in a row. She was mentored by her pastor, Marc Schlegel-Preheim.
“I feel grateful to Hyde Park Mennonite for the ways they have empowered me to grow in my gifts by giving me opportunities to lead,” explains Ice while in the midst of her assignment. “I am preaching on a rotation, leading in worship, working with the youth, participating in business meetings and planning various community events.”
She also served weekly at a local homeless shelter, Corpus Cristi House. It is a hospitality day center for the homeless community that provides a comfortable place to sit and visit while providing necessities for maintaining personal dignity.
Ice is one of 27 young adults, ages 18-30, who served in 10 U.S. states this year through MCC’s Summer Service program. Participants serve their local communities, usually their own churches or local organizations, as they strengthen their leadership skills.
Shankar Rai, MCC U.S. coordinator for Summer Service, says, “Summer Service creates opportunities for young adults of color to see the leadership capabilities that lie within them and to practice those skills as they serve where they live.”
Ice found that to be true. “My experience as a Summer Service worker (in 2018) helped me grow in my confidence as a leader and affirmed my giftings for ministry. The experience definitely played a role in encouraging me to take the next step in my journey of entering into seminary.”
Seminary further strengthened her for a second Summer Service term. “This summer upon returning to Boise after a year of school, I feel much more confident in my identity in Christ and who God has made me to be as a woman, a person of color and a leader in the church,” Ice says.
Not all Summer Service participants serve in pastoral roles. Some work in urban gardens, help immigrants at the border or support community development projects.
“Their service helps young adults understand the value and importance of community and to keep them connected to their community,” Rai says. “Through this experience, young adults learn to appreciate the resources, wisdom and strengths of their churches and communities.”
Summer Service participants come with a wide variety of experience and education. Some are teenagers getting their first opportunity to use their leadership skills; others are refining the skills they’ve developed through advanced education and other experiences.
In the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, Summer Service participant Victoria Gillon served at Radical Living, an urban gardening and youth program of Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship. She is a 2019 master of divinity graduate of Union Theological Seminary.
Gillon used her facilitation skills as she led neighborhood children and youth in discussions about racial and environmental justice, recognizing that people of color are disproportionately impacted by economic, health and environmental disparities. In addition to tackling these topics, Gillon and the staff at Radical Living teach youth how to grow plants from seeds.
Denise Haggins, vice president of the board of Radical Living, says, “(Victoria] came to us with a wealth of gifts already,” referring to Gillon’s seminary experience of leading environmental education and social justice workshops. “So, it’s just been fun to watch her use them and apply them and see the children respond to it as well.”
The greatest challenge in her Summer Service assignment, says Gillon, has been working with a wide range of age groups, from elementary-school students to college-bound high school seniors.
“Flexibility is something that I’ve been learning about this summer,” Gillon says. “I think when it comes to leadership, in particular, there’s this notion that you have to have control of everything. There’s a lot of value in being flexible and letting things fall where they may.”
Like Gillon, Ice says she is learning to see leadership differently.
Ice says that one of the hardest things to learn was “to be completely myself and … to dismantle my preconceived beliefs of what a leader should be and look like. Sometimes it feels like there is this unspoken pressure to have it all together, to know all the answers and have a take-charge or commanding personality, which I certainly do not.”
Instead, she is learning that vulnerability is a form of strength in her leadership.
For more information about how your congregation or organization can partner with MCC’s Summer Service program, visit mcc.org/summerservice.
Authors: Krystal Klaasen is communications coordinator for West Coast MCC, and Laura Pauls-Thomas is a communications and young adults associate for MCC East Coast.
Mennonite Central Committee is a global, nonprofit organization that strives to share God’s love and compassion for all through relief, development and peace. MCC is committed to relationships with their local partners and churches. As an Anabaptist organization, they strive to make peace a part of everything they do.