How Sojourners Kept Me in the Church

By Kaitlin Hasseler 5-15-2015
Intern Cycle 30. Image via Sojourners.
Intern Cycle 30. Image via Sojourners.

This week’s headlines regarding the latest Pew report about the changing religious landscape in the US have gotten me thinking about my own journey with religion, especially as the discussion continues to emphasize the growth of the 'Nones' – the religiously unaffiliated who are said to now make up about one-fifth of the population and outnumber Catholics and mainline Protestants.

Almost eight years ago, I showed up to work at Sojourners for the first time as a member of Sojourners’ Intern Cycle 24. It saved my faith and it changed my life.

I had grown up in a suburban Midwest community rooted in the church-going tradition. While I appreciated the opportunity to seed and nurture my personal relationship with Christ and be encouraged by a community of folks sharing similar values, I found myself often frustrated and confused by some of the actions and inactions of my local church. I defied my hometown narrative by going to college out of state, ending up in a place that was progressive, intellectual, and overwhelmingly secular.

It was a real challenge in college to claim my identity and voice — to be a person rooted in my faith and values while also caring deeply about systematic injustices and loving others in radical ways. While many of my peers and faculty modeled what it looked like to become a None — to become so frustrated with the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of the church and organized religion that they walked away or claimed the “spiritual but not religious” title — I found myself struggling to follow suit. I couldn’t just throw in the towel. 

It wasn’t until one of my wise religious studies professors slipped me a Sojourners magazine and told me to look up this organization that I found a sense of relief and found my “tribe.”  

This same wise professor encouraged me to also apply for Sojourners’ yearlong Internship Program, and thus goes the trajectory of my story.

Sojourners’ intern program offered me invaluable opportunities for personal growth, spiritual transformation, intentional community living, and professional development that allowed me to more fully connect my faith with my vocational calling and heart for justice.  It allowed me to discover how to not only deconstruct what I was taught to believe, but also reconstruct it in a healthier and more gospel-oriented way. To become a reformer and reconciler of my faith tradition from the inside, rather than a denouncer from the outside.

The Sojourners Internship Program is much more than its title belies. It is a profoundly transformative, provocative, affirming, and challenging opportunity that gives young leaders the language, resources, tools, and relationships to be able to put their faith into action on countless justice issues.

This program is now entering its 32nd year and currently boasts an impressive alumni base of more than 200 leaders in all types of fields working across the country and the world. In my intern year alone, we have two ordained ministers, two community organizers, one journalist for a national publication, two lawyers, and myself — who, after a few spirit-filled nudges, has returned to where it all began — right down the hall from my original desk here at Sojourners!

While I’d like to think that my intern cohort was a particularly impressive bunch (Cycle 24 pride!), I also know that each year has nurtured and cultivated incredible leaders. You can read more about what a few of those leaders are up to these days herehere, and here (seriously, this is just a glimpse of the phenomenal work and reach of my fellow alum).

The short of it is that Sojourners saved my faith and changed my life. And I’m not alone in that sentiment. 

That's why I’m so happy to do what I do every day at Sojourners — to work with the donors and partners who want to invest in programs that support leaders putting their faith in action and help us reach more young people who are struggling with serious questions about their faith and wondering whether to just give up on God and the church altogether.

I know that I couldn’t have participated in this program without the financial support of our community. None of us could. So I invite you to consider investing in this work by donating today to Sojourners. Your gift can help change the life of another emerging leader looking to find their voice, save their faith, and put their faith into action. 

The ripple effect will be beyond our wildest imagination. 

Kaitlin Hasseler is director of Major Gifts for Sojourners.

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