The benefits and challenges of an international internship

By Wycliffe Communications
Q&A with Gwen Allison

Gwen Allison has finished her first year in the MDiv program at Wycliffe College. She is a candidate for ordination with the Anglican Church of Canada in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land. When a ministry opportunity came for her husband in Vienna, Austria this summer, Gwen seized the chance to find her own internship placement with a church there—Christ Church Vienna. In this Q&A, she shares her experience.


What made you decide that you want to be an Anglican priest?

Years of prayers, asking God what's next. Then the pandemic came, and then more prayers. Then the thought came to me, and I talked to people about it. Before I came to Wycliffe, I was a music teacher.


What have you been doing at Christ Church Vienna during your internship?

It’s been a full immersion experience. I have participated in many worship services: three services on Sundays (one of those stopped in July and August); a midweek morning prayer and a midweek eucharist; two midweek evening prayer services on Zoom. For the size of the congregation, they have a lot of services – also special services for Corpus Christi and Ascension Day, baptisms, and funerals. I’ve prepared an adult for baptism and confirmation. Now I am preparing a child for first communion. I have launched a young adult Bible study and my husband and I hosted it for four weeks in July. My big project is doing research of the chaplaincy. I am writing a report to give them information for their planning. Because of lockdowns due to the coronavirus, they want to assess their situation, have information for their planning. As part of my research, I designed a survey that people filled in online.


It sounds like you've done a lot of work!

It's been very busy and very full.


Tell us a little more about the congregation.

It's really unique. It’s urban and it’s very diverse. Most of the people who attend this church were not born in Austria. There are people from Nigeria and other African countries, and from Britain. There are Americans, and a couple of Canadians. These people, who are from a variety of places like to worship in the Anglican tradtion, in English.

It's a very diverse group. And somehow the chaplaincy holds together people with different theological viewpoints on various things, which is really neat, because usually you see people with one viewpoint grouping together, and they tend to shed off everyone who they disagree with, which is sad.

People here have this rich understanding of being the body of Christ, the church universal. They don't use the language "the body of Christ," but simply, "the Church"—not just this particular expression of the Church, but "the Church."

It’s very liturgical - they use the Church of England BCP (Book of Common Prayer) and Common Worship book and the lectionary. The Canadian Anglican churches I’ve been part of in Canada do not use nearly as much liturgy and may or may not use the lectionary.


What do you think is the value of doing an internship in another country?

I guess it's that full immersion experience. You aren’t relying on your existing network of friends and family and supports because they are all far away. It forces you to really dive in because what else are you going to do? I am here to be involved in the church. I don’t have other meetings that I have to go to, or family obligations.


What’s been the greatest learning through this internship?

One important thing is coming to appreciate the richness of worship that is available right in the structure we already have in Anglicanism. At Christ Church Vienna the service is completely structured. There's no spontaneous prayer. There's no hand raising, clapping, emotional expressions. And I was like, “How do you even have a personal relationship with Jesus in that structure?” But as I was getting to know people, I found out their faith was really deep and personal. They also have a broad understanding of being the Church, as I have mentioned already. And it's really interesting to me. I’ve just come to really appreciate what is there.


What has been the hardest or most challenging lesson?

It's been the realization of the weight of responsibility of being—if I end up getting—ordained. I’ve found that even in my role as intern, people open up to me to talk about God and faith conversations. One time I said something wrong, and I thought, "Oh man, I think I undid something the Holy Spirit was doing there!" My supervisor gave me a book to read about the life and ministry of a priest. The author talks a lot about the weight of responsibility.


How has this experience impacted your faith?

Positively. One day I was reflecting the way these people “are” Church and “do” church. If you could get everyone in the world to go to church and do this, the work would be done. The kingdom would be established.


What would you tell other students who might be thinking about doing an international internship?

I would encourage them, if they have the opportunity, to look into it. I wouldn’t encourage people to do it after their first year. I wasn’t ready to write sermons. I haven’t studied systematic theology. But that didn’t make it unworthwhile. I would do it all over again.