How do you minister in a community where different faiths are practiced, particularly if residents are elderly and many are facing their final days? This is both a challenge and real life experience for Princeton Theological Seminary students who intern at Monroe Village, an interfaith retirement community in Monroe, New Jersey.
With its distinct model of ministry that includes Jews, Protestants, and Catholics, Monroe Village “offers Christian students a unique experience in an environment of incredible cooperation,” says Rev. Terry-Thomas Primer who, as chaplain of Monroe Village-Springpoint Community, leads religious services for all three faiths.
As the initial assignment, a Seminary student starts interning at Monroe Village on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (half of the residents are Jewish) and will help with the service, Primer says.
“This is something they’ve probably never done and may never do again, so to encounter that in a warm and welcoming community is tremendous.”
Joe Phenisee, MDiv ’18, says his most memorable experience as an intern at Monroe involved ministering to a Jewish woman he had befriended who later became ill and passed on.
“Seminary can help prepare you, but there’s nothing like being in the moment comforting someone in that time, especially if they are in a different faith,” Phenisee says.
Phenisee’s parents work in home care for the elderly and he says that growing up, he saw how difficult that can be. He was uncomfortable with that area of ministry, but his field education experience changed his mind.
“It showed me how much the elderly need pastoral care, the importance of putting more resources behind them, and how much we need to intentionally involve them in the life of the church,” he says.
He also learned to be more gracious with himself. “This is a learning experience,” Phenisee says. “Mistakes will be made. Learn from them, and continue to be faithful to the work God has called you to.”