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Music Ministry Internships
UU Church Offers Music Ministry Internships

Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO, has had a number of ministerial interns over the years. It’s also gone a step further, hiring three music ministry interns.

The first was in 2004, the second in 2009, and the third arrives in July. “With all of the conversation happening now about excellence in ministry, having music ministry interns is an interesting part of that discussion,” says Keith Arnold, Jefferson’s minister of music.

“It raises the question: Where do we find new religious professionals? Do we wait for them to show up, or do we recruit and train them?” He adds that many music schools don’t provide training on how to offer music in church settings.

Arnold says that Jefferson’s interns have not all been Unitarian Universalist (UU). “An internship is a really useful way for them to clarify whether a career in Unitarian Universalist music is a path they want to take.”

He says Jefferson’s music interns begin their year by attending the annual conference in July of the UU Musicians Network (UUMN), an organization of UU musicians from congregations and elsewhere. “From the very beginning our interns are swimming in a world of UU music,” Arnold says. “Having them attend the conference has been absolutely crucial to their success. They come in with a fuller understanding of the potential for UU music. And they meet people they can network with.”

He notes that when he was at his first congregation, the First UU Church of Nashville, Tenn., some years ago, “I felt pretty isolated. I didn’t have connections with UU musicians, and I felt I was working in a vacuum.”

Arnold says Jefferson pays interns around $600 per month for 10 hours a week for 10 months, plus about $1,200 to attend the UUMN conference. The internships are funded by the church's endowment and by a bequest earmarked for internships. He acknowledges that, “If we had to fund this through the regular operating budget it probably would not happen. The priority would be for a ministerial intern.”

Duties of music interns can include conducting the choir, leading congregational hymn-singing, working with children’s music, directing handbell choirs, and learning about collaborative worship planning.

The first Jefferson music intern, Margaret Scharff, had responsibility for the handbell choir and did some conducting of the choir. She later became music director at another UU congregation and currently is pianist at Jefferson. The second intern, Sarah Billerbeck, helped develop the music program for children and youth at Jefferson and then was hired to direct that program.  

Arnold notes that internships are not expected to be an avenue to a full-time job with the congregation.

Interns don’t make his job easier, he says. “It’s not a solution to getting more done. It’s a way to give someone experience.” He says Jefferson has found intern candidates at local universities and in nearby UU and other congregations. “It’s a great way for congregations that have the resources to help in the formation of a young UU musician. They get experience, and we receive their energy and fresh ideas. It’s a win-win for everybody.” He says he doesn’t know of any other UU congregations that hire music interns.

With both internships at Jefferson there were moments to be celebrated, he says. “When Margaret came she had not had a lot of experience in conducting choirs. There was a moment when she made a leap with her conducting and there was a clarity that wasn’t there before. Sarah was an expert with children’s music. It was fun to watch her move fully into a community where she didn’t have to hold back. That gave her, and us, particular joy.”

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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