The crossroads of calling

Religion | Fellowships train recent college graduates to integrate faith and vocation

Issue: "Broken promises," March 25, 2006

Drinking was not her thing -not until the end of her first week at the University of Colorado, that is.

Having grown up in a Christian home, Kate Harris avoided the party scene throughout high school but didn't know why. With a growing interest in politics and journalism and a driven personality, Ms. Harris delved into student government and political internships once she reached college. With no reason to maintain her moral convictions, she jumped into the party scene.

And yet, she sensed a disconnect between that lifestyle and her goals for the future: "I didn't need more information, but people who could help me live the way I wanted to live. I knew how I wanted to live, but I didn't know how to get there."

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Thirteen years ago, The Falls Church in northern Virginia developed a fellowship to teach young adults, like Ms. Harris, how to integrate faith and career through meaningful mentoring relationships and vocational experiences. Since then, four other churches in Charlottesville, Va., Virginia Beach, Va., Pittsburgh, Pa., and Memphis, Tenn., have started their own fellowships and joined together to become the Fellows Initiative.

By combining mentoring relationships, apologetics education, internship experience, a church home, and community outreach, each of the nine-month programs provides a common foundation for the fellows, whose interests are as diverse as their backgrounds.

Pittsburgh was the last place . . .

. . . Aaron Tainter, a native of Maine and a recent graduate of Eastern University, intended to go after college: "All I wanted to do was move to the South or closer to home. I had a negative stereotype of Pittsburgh. I thought of cold and steel."

With a double major in business management and marketing, Mr. Tainter began applying to MBA programs below the Mason-Dixon line. But during his senior year he heard about the Pittsburgh Fellows Program, a fellowship designed to introduce young adults to corporate, high-tech, and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Although initially hesitant, Mr. Tainter moved to Pittsburgh and found himself with six other fellows in the middle of a church community at St. Stephen's of Sewickly. Its program paired him with a mentor from within the church-the former CEO of Washington Steel Corporation. The two began meeting weekly over breakfast or dinner to discuss business and life.

The fellowship also landed Mr. Tainter an internship as an analyst with Meakem and Becker Venture Capital, which has now offered him a job. During his internship Mr. Tainter observed many start-up companies and developed a clearer picture of the type of company he would like to start someday.

On top of that, Mr. Tainter says that he has gained a deeper understanding of how to defend the Christian faith and initiate conversations with non-Christians, either in the business world or outside.

Shannon Bremer graduated from . . .

. . . William and Mary College with an interest in medicine, education, and children, but didn't know how to piece the three together.

Now a Trinity fellow in Charlottesville, she is interning at the University of Virginia's leadership development center as a program coordinator. Along with the other fellows she volunteers at Abundant Life Ministries, where every week for three hours she tutors Victor, an elementary-school-aged boy from a poor area.

Through these experiences, she has gained a clearer picture of her future, potentially attending medical school or earning a master's degree in public health: "I am dreaming of [working in] health care in a part of town that is underdeveloped. Maybe that dream will turn into some action steps in the coming months."

Near the end of Kate Harris' . . .

. . . senior year, she began to think more critically about her life after attending a church service that challenged her views on dating. Desiring to learn a better way to live, she joined The Falls Church Fellows Program in the fall of 2002.

From the start, she met weekly over coffee or lunch with her mentor, an interior designer who also attended The Falls Church. She noticed that her mentor set aside time every week, apart from interior designing, to hang out with her kids, talk with her husband, co-lead a Bible study, and grab coffee with friends. By observing how this older woman prioritized relationships and tasks, Ms. Harris began to develop convictions about how she would one day balance family, marriage, career, and ministry. As her mentor guided her, she began counseling several junior-high girls she met through The Falls Church's youth group.


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