Works and Days



St. Pauls Lutheran Church: Ava Kamb, Winter Shadow 2016

It would be impossible for me to define an average day during my externship in Brooklyn, New York this past January, as every day I engaged in activities as diverse as writing liturgy to learning how to handle a cordless drill. I shadowed Ben McKelahan, a Reed alumnus who works as a Lutheran pastor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, serving both a Spanish-speaking immigrant population and Parables, a young adult artistic congregation. Part of his job involves bridging the two communities (who share the space of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church) in a neighborhood that is undergoing gentrification.

This externship gave me the opportunity to develop my understanding of religion in both an academic and a personal sense. At the start, I found church life foreign and abstract, as I did not grow up religious and my understanding of Lutheranism came from a movie and a couple of texts I read before flying to New York. But throughout the week I was able to learn quickly through lengthy conversations with Ben and through working with the various communities that make up the church in Brooklyn. While studying the bible with Lutheran pastors, shaking maracas at a Parables spiritual dance party, and sharing chocolate de maíz with immigrants from the Dominican Republic as they described their favorite psalms, I began to understand what it means to be part of the Lutheran church community, and each day I was struck by the warmth and energy of everyone with whom I interacted. I was curious to see how God becomes present in people’s day-to-day lives, and I think I saw it best in the relationships individuals shared with one another.

Although my future career plans are still hazy at this point, this shadow opportunity unequivocally made me a better student of religion. I have always loved traveling internationally because it gives me the opportunity to grow, explore, and challenge myself in new situations and cultures, and this trip reminded me that I can have these same experiences in my own backyard (so to speak) if I am willing to step outside of my comfort zone. I want to extend a huge thank-you to Ben for allowing me to shadow him and putting up with my endless questions, to Hannah for offering me a bed in her apartment, and to the other communities I spent time with, who welcomed me into their conversations, homes, and lives however briefly – I am very grateful.