I mean, of course no one “cold calls” anymore — it’s all done by e-mail. Here is the sort of letter of inquiry I have received many times:
Dear Rev. Dr. PeaceBang,
I am currently seeking an internship for the coming year. Are you hiring?
Here is the sort of thing I write in reply:
Dear Aspirant to the Ministry,
If I could give you a little feedback, it might help you tailor future communications to prospective field ed or internship supervisors.
I genuinely sympathize with the panicked tone of your note, as it sounds like you need to line something up for this year’s field ed. I remember the feeling! It’s a hustle and time and energy consuming.
But it would have helped me to connect with you so much more had you included a brief introduction. Do we know each other? Have we met? Did we have a conversation? Remind me (or your correspondent)! — ministers meet so many people. If you haven’t met, introduce yourself. “Looking for an internship” is too broad. Who are you, in brief? Where are you in your studies and aspirant status? What skills do you bring? What competencies are you looking to get trained in? Parish ministry is a generalized field. Are you a social media minister? A social justice warrior? What is your background? Are you new to UUism, a life-long UU? Give me something to work with and respond to.
Congregations generally set our budgets in the spring for the following program year and set our program goals over the summer. If you expect to be compensated for your work, it will be important to allow time for the congregation to budget for it.
I hope this letter is received in the spirit in which it was meant, which is to encourage you to communicate more clearly and thoroughly with ministers or other professionals you hope might mentor you in a field ed or internship capacity.
I don’t know where you are in your course of study but do keep in touch for future opportunities or just to check in. I know that seminarians need a lot of support and I am here for you — just meet me (and other potential mentors) a little more in the middle and I’m sure great things can happen for you.
All the best as you start your year,
This may seem like a smack down, but it is in fact an important reality check. And let me let seminarians in on a little secret: some ministers see a student looking for an internship and think “FREE LABOR!” Especially when seminarians who seek field education placements can provide work study stipends that let the congregation off the hook financially, ministers are only too happy to snap up and exploit seminarians as slave labor. No one wants to say this, but I will, because it’s true and because too many seminarians have suffered in this system.
To be a good, responsible mentor and supervisor requires planning and discernment. Some schools require that the supervisor attend sessions at the seminary, but many do not, and just let their students loose to find their own placements over which there is no oversight. You do not want to get stuck with a bad internship supervisor who just wants you there to do the things he or she doesn’t want to do, or to use you as supply preaching or as a wedge between themselves and an unhappy congregation. The best way to avoid that is to seek internship supervisors who you really want to work with and learn from in a setting that you feel will best suit your learning objectives, and communicate all of those things in your first correspondence with the prospective mentor. A generic “Hey, I need a job, can you please hire me” does not speak well for your organizational skills, maturity level or respect for the person to whom you are writing.
I can’t wait to read your comments on this!
Kiss of peace!