Some college graduates discover that finding a job in their field can be challenging, but 2016 Union graduate Jessyka Albert had a job waiting for her as one of four pastors in a church that regularly attended by up to 250 members each Sabbath—a position she was offered five months before she graduated.
“I didn’t have to worry about job hunting,” Jessyka said. “I knew where I was going to be.”
The offer to be discipleship pastor is a testament to her passion for ministry, her natural leadership skills and her love for young adults, with whom she now works closely in Bible studies, small groups, and social events—but it is also a testament to the new program at Union College that allowed those positive qualities to be refined and recognized.
The first of its kind among Adventist colleges in North America, the semester-long pastoral practicum at Union College allows theology students to gain practical pastoral experience in a church while maintaining the structure and security of a classroom. Under close supervision from Union faculty and a mentoring pastor, third and fourth year theology students experience the rigors of pastoral duty, including sermons, Bible studies, small groups, board meetings, hospital visits and social events.
“It’s an opportunity for the student to pick up some real life ministry experience and to be mentored by a pastor,” said Craig Carr, Ministerial Director for the Rocky Mountain Conference. “It allows students to really get their feet wet.”
For Jessyka, her practicum at Boulder last summer was more than a chance to get her feet wet. As the young adult pastor for those five months, she had to dive in head first. Her responsibilities included rebuilding the flagging youth program, developing a leadership team of young adults, coordinating potlucks every week, and planning frequent hiking and camping trips. By her final week, regular attendance had grown from seven young adults to more than twenty.
“It was so incredible to watch young adults get excited about church,” Jessyka said.
The church and conference leaders were just as excited. Before she left to finish her final semester at Union, they offered her the position of discipleship pastor. Because they wanted her to return after she graduated from Union in the spring, the Boulder Adventist Church, in accordance with conference policy, assumed responsibility of one-third of her salary and all of her benefits. They were so eager for her to return they collected an offering her final Sabbath to cover the remaining balance of the funds they lacked.
“I wasn’t sure they would want me because of the cost of the benefits,” Jessyka said. “But after potluck they came up to me and said ‘We have it all covered. We want you to stay.’”
The remaining five months of classroom curriculum were demanding, but Jessyka had peace of mind in the knowledge that she would be employed immediately after graduation. “I was already stressed out about school. I can’t imagine having the pressure of trying to find a job, too,” she said.
Her peace of mind was also due largely to something that continues to make the educational experience at Union College special: mentorship. Like many students before her, several professors worked one-on-one with Jessyka to make sure she was competent and confident, in ways often not possible at larger schools.
“After class one of my professors approached me and said ‘I can tell you’re stressed. Why don’t you come meet with me once a week and we’ll talk about life?’” The following week Jessyka met with Dr. Holdsworth, afraid he was going to enumerate all of her pastoral inadequacies. “Instead he said, ‘let’s go get some ice cream. I want to make sure you’re doing ok.’” Just as he had promised, they met every week for the rest of the semester.
“Having mentors in my life is very important in keeping myself grounded,” she said. “I had never met an advisor like Dr. Holdsworth.”
Jessyka continues to seek growth from her mentors—now colleagues—at her church in Boulder. “I am treated one hundred percent as an equal here but I have so many questions to ask,” she said. “It’s important to have people I can be honest with. Having mentors here like that has been an incredible gift in my life.”
But the growth of the church is most important to Jessyka. “There is a lot of room for our church to grow,” she said. “I feel this is something I can do for a really long time.”
By Michael Rohm, freelance writer (and 2014 graduate)