For many people, growing up means changing one’s mind about prospective vocations. One day the plan is to become a policeman, the next day a doctor, the next year a teacher.
Others know from an early age exactly what work they want to do when they become adults. Caroline Barnett ’15 is such a person. Since she was in her teens she’s set her sights on one goal—becoming a pastor in the Presbyterian Church. In just a few more years she fully expects to be one.
While growing up in Prairie Village, Kansas (near Kansas City), Caroline became active in the church, particularly youth groups, where she spent “every free hour I had.”
When she attended high school her involvement “became more meaningful. I came to really respect our pastors. That’s when I decided I wanted to become one.”
Consistent with that goal, Barnett graduated from K with majors in religion and what she believes is a related field, anthropology and sociology.
Her passion has recently led her Washington D.C., where she has joined the Christian-based Sojourners internship program.
“We publish a magazine once a month and have an active website with articles,” Barnett explains. “I have written some on-line articles, but my position is editorial assistant, mostly as a fact-checker for other articles. I’ve never done much in journalism before, so this is a real learning experience for me.”
Sojourners began during the Vietnam War era. It encourages Christians to put their faith into action in pursuit of social justice, peace and environmental stewardship. The organization engages in advocacy on issues such as hunger, poverty and immigration. It is nondenominational, with a membership that is equal parts Evangelical, mainline Protestant and Catholic.
To assist in its efforts, Sojourners brings in an intern class of about 10 men and women each fall. They remain for a full year and work in one of several departments. The program, now in its 32nd year, offers a holistic integration of life and faith through professional development, spiritual guidance and intentional Christian community.
All of the interns live in a house provided by Sojourners, which also offers meals, healthcare, local transportation and a $100 monthly stipend.
“It’s been challenging, but I’ve enjoyed the experience,” Barnett says. “It’s a little bit like college in that there are always people around, ready to do fun things. But it’s easy to get burned out living with the people you also work with, so we’ve really made efforts to constantly check on how we are all doing. Do people need more time to themselves? Are they having a rough time at work and need to talk about it?”
When her year with Sojourners is complete Barnett intends to take the next step in her quest to become a minister: attending either a seminary or a school of divinity.
“Religious communities can be incredibly special places,” she says. “They can be systems of support during hard times, places of celebration during happy ones. They can act as instruments of change for social justice. Of course, churches can also be messy, full of interpersonal politics and resistant to change. It’s the reality of both of these versions that leads me to wanting to be a pastor.
“For me, the Presbyterian Church is my home. It’s shaped who I am.”
Some of that shaping took place during her time at K.
“My four years there went really well. I came to love the study of religion. All of my professors were fabulous. Carol Anderson was one of my favorites. So was Shreena Gandhi, who was my advisor for my SIP [Senior Individualized Project]. I can’t praise the department highly enough. I really never had a bad class.”
One aspect of campus life that Barnett credits for helping her grow as a person was the diversity of faiths she encountered. In Kansas many of the people she knew were Presbyterian, but at K she interacted with a wide spectrum of beliefs.
“I enjoy talking about religion, so I tend to bring it up in conversation.”
Some of those conversations took place at K’s chapel. “They had a program there that allowed me to interact with people with different beliefs. It helped me understand others, and myself, better.”
She then adds with a smile, “And it was nice that there were usually tea and cookies available.”
One of the persons who guided Caroline’s spiritual path at K was Elizabeth (Hakken) Candido ’00, the College’s chaplain and director of religious life.
“Caroline served as an elder and really helped invigorate our Christian group, which was great because it had sort of fizzled out in the years before she arrived,” Candido recalls.
“She was clearly smart enough to handle the academic challenges, but to pursue actual ordination one has to be a leader and know how to handle the tough issues. I helped her with some of that, such as public speaking. But Caroline is the sort of person who tackles a challenge head on, so she really grew as a person while she was here.
“She is just so kind and thoughtful,” Candido adds. “And she’s incredibly tolerant of other faiths. Some of that probably came from the fact that she’s from a mixed faith family. Her father is Jewish and her mother Presbyterian.
“Many of our students are tolerant; they’re at a point in life where they’re in transition; they’re deciding how much of their parents’ faith they want to stay with. When they hear others talk of their faiths, their reaction might be ‘That’s not at all what I want,’ but it also might be that they feel an attraction.”
Part of Candido’s role on campus is to provide what she describes as “pastoral services” to those in need. “I tell our students that if they see someone who seems to be having a rough time, maybe someone crying, don’t ignore them. Talk to them, or send them to me.”
Candido also helps connect K students to area churches. “We don’t do services at the Chapel, but we have connections with many churches. Some are close enough that the students can walk. If they’re further away the churches are usually able to provide transportation; they’re always thrilled to get a college student to attend.”
While Barnett’s fellow K students exposed her to different religious beliefs, that opportunity paled in comparison to what she experienced during her study abroad experience.
“I went to West Africa, to Dakar, Senegal. It’s 97 percent Muslim. I lived with a host family, which provided me with a wonderful opportunity for conversations about faith.
“I enjoyed my time there. It gave me a chance to improve my French. I liked going to the markets, although sometimes the merchants would raise their prices because they knew I was a visitor. Dakar is a huge city, with over a million people, and I liked exploring it. There were times, though, that I got some place, looked around and wondered, ‘What am I doing here? How is this a good idea?’
“Senegal is certainly the hottest place I’ve ever been. It was a great experience.”
The experience she hopes will be greater still is when she is finally ordained in the Presbyterian Church.
“While there are things about being a pastor that interest me—public speaking, for example, and the opportunity to study things I find interesting—at the core of my desire is to be a part of a community, and to teach and care for it.”