When I was in seminary, most students did their parish-based internships concurrently with two years of school (part-time internship), or else as a year taken between the second and the final year of school (full-time internship).  The part-time option requires that you have an internship opportunity near school, which was true for many students, since we were in the Boston area, where congregations and internships abound.  But failing that–or if, like me, you didn’t want your internship church to be around Boston (I lived in Vermont)–the beauty of the full-time internship before senior year was that you could go before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee before your senior year, begin looking for a position during your senior year, and potentially have a job waiting for you after graduation.

Also, since you were on leave from a degree program, you were still considered a student during that internship year, so that you didn’t have to repay debt during that period.   Since the official guidelines on internship compensation were that it be, I quote, “High enough so that you don’t end up more in debt than when you began the year”–i.e., not by any definition an actual salary–this was important.

Judging from Bay Area students, this is now a rarity.  They do their internship the year after they graduate.   Since one can’t go to the MFC until after the midpoint of one’s internship, they can’t look for a job that year.  So there they are in June, done with school, done with their internships, with their 1 from the MFC (congratulations!), and with over a year to go before they’ll have a position.  What an insane system.  What do they eat?  An M.Div. leaves you with a huge debt and not a lot of qualification to do anything except UU ministry–and of course, it’s very hard to find a job that pays a living wage when potential employers know you’re going to leave in a year.

When I’ve asked individual seminarians about this trend, they’ve looked rather blank, as if they had no idea there was another option.  Has something changed?  Do seminaries, or churches, or the MFC, press for internship after degree?  And if so, how do today’s students pay the rent during that thumb-twiddling year?

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