Student Immersion Program
Building Better Leaders Since 1991
Student Immersion Program
The Student Immersion Program is one of our featured missions in Central and Eastern Europe.
The Student Immersion Program, organized by our Synod’s International Relations Committee, and part of the Synod’s mission in Central & Eastern Europe, annually hosts students of the Seminary and other current and future leaders of the church for a summer internship in a United States congregation. Over the 20-plus year history of the program, more than 140 to-date exchanges have occurred.
These internships and immersion experiences, which typically span the length of the summer in a United States congregation, give an incredibly insightful and comprehensive perspective to church life and ministry in America, empowering participants with insight and experience that they can take back to their home Churches in Central & Eastern Europe. Many students over the years have expressed how much they value this program, as it has enriched their lives and ministries in countless ways.
Congregations (both SZS congregations as well as other participants in the ELCA) have acclaimed this program for widening their insights into foreign culture and church practices. Parishioners from these participating congregations have cited their participation as being integral in giving their congregations a deeper sense of the value of mutual Christian witness and accompaniment in global ministry and mission which have occurred as a result of this program.
How it works:
A comprehensive overview of the structure of this program
Seminarians (Czech, Polish, Slovak, Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Russian, Romanian) from Lutheran Seminaries in Central Europe apply to the program if they are interested in gaining an immersive ministry experience in a Lutheran Congregation in the United States, thereby broadening their cultural exposure as well as improving their English. The synod conducts an interview process that screens them for eligibility based on their skill and achievements, and then assesses their talents and strengths (interest in liturgy, music, youth work, senior work, etc.), so that the synod may place them in a congregation that is mutually suitable. They provide us with their medical history. Their application is only given final approval when they receive signatory endorsements from their Seminary Dean and their Presiding Bishop. Once all endorsements are received, we begin the placement process.
We seek congregations that will be willing to accept a seminarian for three months, roughly from mid June to mid September—depending on when seminary classes and examinations end for the academic year. The congregation is financially responsible for the airfare of the seminarian, roughly $1000, depending on when the congregation applies and which U.S. airport is the final destination for the seminarian’s travel.
We expect the seminarian to shadow the pastor initially, making visits to hospitals, nursing homes, parishioners, etc. They are also to fully participate in worship services by reading lessons, or conducting the assisting minister potions of the liturgy where practiced, and ultimately preaching at least once during their stay. Someone is usually appointed to help the seminarian with the lessons and liturgy to ensure full understanding, and correct pronunciation, etc. They are expected to assist in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Adult Forums, Soup Kitchens, or any other parish or community outreach events and programs. All of this varies depending on the congregation and the mentor pastor. Some congregations have had their seminarian attend youth gatherings, synod assemblies, confirmation camps, etc. By their own (home) church’s rule, they are not allowed to celebrate/preside over Holy Communion.
Following U.S. State Department rules, the seminarian is required to write weekly about their activities on a blog site we host for them, Seminarian Sentiments. The blogging is casual, not formal, and allows those interested in the program, as well as parishioners of congregations already participating, to stay updated with their seminarian’s activities week to week. At the end of August, an open book exam is administered to the seminarian and is based on the Manual on the Liturgy, available from Augsburg Fortress Press. This ensures their familiarity with the American liturgy.
In addition to the airfare, the congregation also provides the seminarian’s housing and meals (usually with one or more host families) for the duration of their stateside stay, as well as a modest weekly stipend. Parishioners may choose to take their seminarian to visit historical sites or other attractions; however, this cannot take the seminarian away from the church for more than one Sunday. Most visas are for a Single Entry to the United States; therefore, seminarians are not to be taken out of the country (such as the Canadian side of Niagara Falls) unless they possess a Multiple Entry endorsement to their visa. When eligible, a seminarian may receive approval from the synod committee and their seminary to attend a United States college or seminary for one or more semesters, following completion of the basic summer program. When this is arranged, we accordingly work with the State Department to extend their visas as necessary. Congregations have estimated the total cost of the basic program to be between $1500 and $2000.
In addition to thoroughly interviewing and vetting applicants using our proven process, the synod works directly with the U.S. State Department to arrange for the approval of the seminarian’s visa, arrange for their insurance coverage while in the United States, arrange for their air transportation, and serve as consultants and facilitators to the pastor, congregation, and seminarian during the seminarian’s immersion experience in the United States Lutheran Church.
This program has been developed and is administered in cooperation and consultation with Central and Eastern Europe Lutheran Churches and has the endorsement of the national Lutheran Churches in Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Czech Republic, and Poland.
By the end of their stay, the seminarian will return to their home country with near-fluency or complete fluency in English, and have a comprehensive theological understanding and hands-on training in practical ministry in the Lutheran Church. Congregations have experienced a revitalized sense of ministry and mission as a result of participating in this program, while seminarians have returned to their home churches with a new and diverse outlook on church life. Many of our past participating seminarians have gone on to leadership positions within their national churches, and have shown how their experience in the congregation which hosted them has had a lasting influence in shaping their own ministry as well as their national church for the future.
Become a part of something bigger in Global Mission and revitalize your congregation’s sense of ministry
Thank You from Our Students
Some of our summer students that have participated in the Immersion Program over the past several years took some time to say thank you for helping to give them this formative and enriching experience.
Meet some of our past students
Meet just a few of the over 130 to-date students that have participated in this exchange, and hear them reflect on their experiences in American churches. Get your congregation involved, and see for yourself the effect that this experience will have on an upcoming scholar, as well as the ripple effect it will have on the churches they will one day serve.
Apply to host a student
If you wish to apply on behalf of your congregation, we’ll just need to ask a few questions about your congregation and its ministries, so we can match you to a student that fits just right. We will contact you regarding your sponsorship and plans for moving forward.
What can my congregation do?
What will our congregation be responsible for in order to facilitate hosting a seminarian from Central & Eastern Europe this summer?
A. Parish Summer Program for Student Immersion:
The congregation covers the costs of round-trip airfare, provides a host family (or families) for room and board, health insurance (approximately $230 per month), and provides a modest stipend for the student’s personal expenses during this educational experience. On our side of things, we’ll conduct interviews and select an appropriate student, matching the strengths and interests of the student with the gifts of the congregation. We also manage travel arrangements, obtain the necessary endorsement from the student’s Church body and seminary administration, and more (including official visitations, visa(s), communications, etc.). We handle the logistics so that your congregation, as well as the student, can immerse itself in this experience.
B. Parish Summer Program for Student Immersion AND a semester at a seminary:
In addition to the financial obligations in “A”, the parish will financially help seminarians who are requesting to study at an American seminary as well. These negotiations are worked out on a case by case basis between the host congregation/pastor and the International Relations Committee of our Synod; however, variations have included the cost of any or all of the following: health insurance, seminary room and board, board only, the cost of books, a stipend by which the student continues a relationship with the host congregation on weekends, etc. This furthers the scholarly work of some students in many more ways and enriches their lives that much more.