Young Black interns sought to explore pastoral ministry

March 5, 2024 | | Journey of Hope, GNJ News, Next Generation Ministries

A unique Greater New Jersey Conference internship established in 2022 is recruiting and helping youth and young adults of African descent to “discern and clarify their call to ministry.” GNJ’s Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) caucus and Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century (SBC-21) initiative developed the internship with support from the conference’s Connectional Table.

Zachary Holder, of Roselle United Methodist Church, is actively engaged in his internship at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Montclair, where he began in July 2023 and will finish in June. The hope is that a third intern will follow him in July once BMCR leaders receive recommendations to consider.

Monica Grady (with flowers) served as the first BMCR/SBC-21 intern at Haddonfield UMC, with support of pastors and other leaders.

Holder followed Monica Grady, a member of The Church of the Good Shepherd UMC in Willingboro, who served as the first recruited intern at Haddonfield UMC in 2022-2023.

Initially called the Home-Grown Recruitment Internship as a pilot project, the pre-ministerial recruitment and orientation initiative is intended to help young Black participants discover a call to ministry in their lives and possibly become successful pastors in GNJ churches. It is a response to a scarcity of Black clergy in GNJ, as well as in other conferences.

The internship is funded through GNJ’s Journey of Hope Plan, which seeks to help congregations end the sin of racism and make GNJ more inclusive in developing transformational leaders.

Learning the ‘ins and outs’ of church matters

“He came to us really grounded in ministry already at his church; so it’s been easy to work with him,” said the Rev. Karline (Kay) Dubuisson, St. Mark’s pastor. “We try to work with him on things that I know he hasn’t experienced much.”

Holder has held several leadership roles at Roselle UMC, where he is a Certified Lay Servant. But at historic St. Mark he is “learning the ins and outs” of church finances, property management, mission outreach, men’s ministry and strategic planning at St. Mark. He has not only the pastor but a team of lay church leaders who mentor him, a key ingredient of the internship’s design.

He has also preached and helped lead worship. “Every opportunity I get to bring the word, I really want it to be transformational, a word that motivates people to move beyond themselves,” he said. “And so that’s kind of what I’ve tried to bring here.”

What he loves is the church’s new “single board model” of leadership that relies on small teams rather than full committees, and also fewer meetings. “I love this more simplified model,” he said. “I’m trying to really understand it so I can teach it to other congregations. I like that it helps the church to be more about mission.”

Holder planned and wrote curriculum for St. Mark’s Vacation Bible School and works closely with the men’s Community Pantry and Pop-up Community Market that provide neighbors with healthy, free food that locally is in short supply. The project recently received a GNJ Peace with Justice Grant. (Read “Men at the Mark share a bond of service with community” on GNJ’s website.)

Zachary Holder and Rev. Dubuisson pose with St. Mark’s men at their Pop-up Community Market.

He also is helping the church develop two new, local partnership initiatives, each funded by the Children’s Defense Fund: the six-week Freedom School it will start in July for children K-6; and the Welcome Home program it started in 2023 to welcome and engage youth— including those who are LGBTQIA—in the life of the church.

‘I think this is confirming my call to ministry’

Raised in Barbados until age 14, Holder arrived here in 2013 with his ailing, beloved mother, who was seeking urgent medical treatment. They were faithful churchgoers; yet, he was considering careers in engineering and other fields.

“But every time I’ve thought I needed to be in some other space, God has positioned me to come right back here to the church,” he said. “So, I think this is confirming my call to ministry. And now, it’s helping me to figure out what I’m supposed to do next.”

Dubuisson has no doubt what her bright but modest young intern is supposed to do next. “I see him in pastoral ministry and even as a future bishop. I mean, he has a lot of passion for Christ and for people. And that’s what we need in our churches, pastors who love God and love people.”

 Zachary Holder with his mother, Ann Allison. She came to the U.S. with her son in 2013 to receive special treatment for a severe autoimmune disease. He calls her cheerful faith, despite a painful illness, “my motivation. Her experience brought me here, and it’s grown my spiritual life as well.”

While he’s learning much about local church leadership, Holder is already a leader beyond the local church. He chairs GNJ’s Young Adult Ministry Committee and serves on the Connectional Table and the Meadowlands District Superintendency Committee. But it all began with his involvement in 2014 as a youth at IGNITE, GNJ’s annual youth conference, and then as a young adult IGNITE “squad leader.”

Holder wants to help his own church become more mission-minded. And he wants to help St. Mark’s leaders learn to integrate more youth and young adults “into our adult- driven ministries. We need to create more opportunities for them to be involved.”

As the church develops its new ministries with children and youth, those opportunities may emerge. That’s one of many reasons why Dubuisson will hate to see her maturing intern depart. “He’s been so valuable; we wish we could keep him here on staff.”

Recommendations sought from clergy leaders

Now recommendations are being sought from clergy leaders to help identify more youth and young adult prospects, ages 16 to 25, who manifest possible gifts for ministry, as demonstrated by their current work in local churches. The next internship will begin July 1 and end June 30, 2025.

Applicants will undergo a selection process before acceptance into the program. Those accepted will be expected to work in a church–primarily a Black or multiracial church–for 20 hours a week, including Sundays,

Applicants will undergo a selection process before acceptance into the program. Those accepted will be expected to work in a church for 20 hours a week, including Sundays, aided by the pastor, staff and key church leaders. They will earn a $10,000 honorarium for the year.

Interested, eligible persons will need a recommendation from their pastor and written approval from their church’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC). Completed applications and recommendations should be emailed to Rosa Williams at by the May 30 application deadline.

Interns and pastors of participating churches will receive an orientation to the program. Interns may not be assigned to the church that recommends them.

For more information, read the letter requesting pastors’ recommendations on GNJ’s website and share the internship application with prospects. Or contact Rosa Williams of the Internship Program Committee at  or 201-833-0352.