Leaving the Comfort Zone
Exploring a Call to Ministry Outside the Church
Living out an active faith has always been a part of ViaFaith McCullough’s life. The 22-year-old daughter of Revs. Nancy and Victor McCullough said advocacy and social justice have been an important focus for her for many years. A political science senior as Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, ViaFaith McCullough has served in various organizations and advocacy roles.
The internship is her third time participating in a United Methodist program. In 2018, she served as an arts coordinator at Project Transformation, and in 2019 she spoke to young students in Kentucky as a Lina H. McCord intern for the Black College Fund. At Philander Smith, ViaFaith co-founded a food pantry to address food insecurity among students, faculty and staff.
In June, she was announced as one of four participants in the 2020 summer Ethnic Young Adults internship program for the General Board of Church and Society. ViaFaith spoke with our editor about her experience and shared how it helped her see how a call to ministry doesn’t have to mean a call to the pulpit.
What made you want to apply for the EYA internship?
When I was applying, I was interested in it as an opportunity to grow my faith while simultaneously being able to participate with a nonprofit activist organization. It was good training for me in dipping my feet into the nonprofit world, especially anti-poverty advocacy, my role as a United Methodist, why I’m United Methodist, and how the church itself participates in the political system.
How has the internship impacted the way you see yourself and live out your faith?
For one, it changed my perspective on ministry and what that means. At first, I thought you must be doing something as a pastor behind the pulpit to do ministry, but I learned that it’s so much more than that. You can do so many different things. You can go into the ministry as a pastor, or you could use your position where you are in an organization. When I participated in the internship, I was located at RESULTS, which is a policy organization. They lobby Congress and do other things to make sure policies are passed that will help end hunger in the United States. I learned that even as a United Methodist person, I could use my voice to impact change and influence policy.
What did your internship entail?
As interns, we would meet every Wednesday and discuss a devotional, and I had time with my cohort to analyze scripture. It was very inspiring to be with young people of color and see their different experiences of how they embraced scripture. I found it interesting that a lot of ways they did was metaphysical, but also concrete. The way we identify with scripture and embrace it as people of color and as women, I felt that was really good.
We did smaller things as well. We were able to make prayer beads, so it was really good to be able to practice the discipline of prayer. We were provided with a prayer labyrinth so we could practice taking our time to pray for ourselves, our communities, our world leaders and others. We also went through a book called “Tell Me Who You Are” (by Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo). It was really good because it was a compilation of people’s stories and what made them unique, but you see the thread of what makes them one and the same. It was really good connecting with those different things.
At RESULTS, a lot was centered on lobbying for me. What I would do is gather information and make small one-pagers that people could have that as they’re contacting their representatives. I was able to personally speak with my representative in Oklahoma, and because I’m at Philander Smith, I was able to lobby my representative in Arkansas as well.
We did a lot of information gathering about COVID-19, especially on how it affects communities of color. I did a blog post titled “Strange Fruit” to examine how the impact of housing policies is basically causing death to black communities. I always like to make sure I’m tracking the impact of housing policies, not only on a larger scale, but also how they’re impacting communities of color.
How was your internship different than it should have been because of COVID-19?
The main thing is I would have been based in Washington, D. C. during this time. I would have been housed with my peers, so we would’ve been able to connect a little bit more. I would’ve been placed at the RESULTS site, physically there, but instead this summer was mostly Zoom meetings and such.
What did you learn that has surprised or inspired you?
What I learned that inspired me and surprised me was really seeing the work that these anti-hunger poverty organizations do, how vast and complex the whole systems are, and the purposes that they work toward. It’s a whole bunch of different issues, and I think it was really eye opening to see that area. A lot of organizations are in the struggle and engaged with the mission of advocating against systems of oppression.
What knowledge, habits or experience do you hope to take with you in the next stage of your life?
I hope to take with me advocacy, of course. That’s what I want. What I’ve learned, based on the devotionals we had and how it mirrored with my work at RESULTS, lets me know that Jesus was a social activist. That’s a theology I want to keep with me, whether I’m in a church or a nonprofit organization. The work doesn’t have to be detached from the political realm or the nonprofit world. You can use your faith as a Christian in these spaces. If our purpose is to bring the kingdom of God to earth, then there’s a lot of similarities in fighting against systems of oppression.
The other thing I’d like to take with me was the ability and capacity to learn from young people. It’s very good to see that, refreshing really, because sometimes you don’t necessarily see it unless you ‘re in those spaces. To see that there are people in this work with you and committed to it with you, that’s very important. It’s important to build capacity and build spaces where you can come and center.
What would you say to young people who want to make a difference in the world, but aren’t sure where to start, or whether they’re good enough to make a difference?
I would say it doesn’t have to be a grand idea. Do something with the issues you see in your community. If you know kids in a school don’t have enough snacks, get together with a couple people and see how you can donate snacks. If you know of some kids who need some books, find a way to get some books donated. It’s just a way of addressing the issues in the community where you are. That can expand to national issues, but if you want to make a difference, just do what you can with what you have. That’s what a lot of people have done before us.
Recognize that everything that you need, God has already placed in you, and you don’t need to compensate for anything more or less. If God is calling you to do a specific thing, just know that in our biblical tradition, not everyone God called was 100 percent prepared. With that tradition, once again, it’s about using what you have and allowing God to use you.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
The first thing is about imposter syndrome. I think a lot of us have the propensity to feel those feelings of inadequacy, but understand that you are enough. There are areas where you might be challenged or have to grow in, but that doesn’t mean that you yourself don’t have what it takes. That experience just helps you become a better, more rounded, more professional adult.
The second thing is to surround yourself with mentors who will not only surround you and keep you accountable, but also pour into and mentor you. That’s very important to keep you grounded.
When you’re in spaces outside your comfort zone, it forces all those feelings of inadequacy out and forces you to address them. They might have been dormant this whole time. With this internship I definitely had to address those issues.
I think that challenge is sometimes we like to stay in comfort zones, but our calling calls us to go deeper. That means that we have to go into places and sit in rooms and go to meetings that make us feel uncomfortable at first. You might not know people or know what they’re talking about, but it forces you to challenge yourself and grow. Ultimately, you can do nothing but be better and grow from experiences like that.