My name is Matthew Wright; I’m a 2007-2008 Johnson Intern Program (now JSC) alum. The program came into my life as a possibility my senior year of undergrad at UNC, when I realized I needed space for discernment before dashing off to “what’s next.” I also wanted an experience that would ground me in “the real world” following four years spent as a full-time student. The intern program offered the perfect space for that work—it was designed to help one discover where their “deep joy” met the world’s “deep need.”
For my internship, I was placed at Club Nova in Carrboro—a psycho-social rehabilitative program structured around a “work-ordered day” for adults living with mental illness (a largely bipolar and schizophrenic population). This work was deeply grounding and deeply relational—a very different experience from that of a head living in ideas and textbooks. There wasn’t much room for the abstract—just for the real person in front of you, and their real, embodied needs—whether for relationship, or a meal, or help finding a job or housing. My time with Club Nova continues to inform the person I am—and I am so much the better, and so grateful, for it.
Living in faith-based community was also a significant part of the program. I came to JIP with a pre-existing interest in monasticism and intentional community models, and was so grateful to share worship, a rhythm of prayer, meal-times, and home-responsibilities (cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning) with what quickly became a family. Clearly, community became an ongoing theme in my life, as I went on to live with a farming community maintained by an order of Episcopal nuns, and now live, with my wife, alongside an Episcopal Benedictine monastery! I thank JIP for introducing me to these rhythms, and specifically to an expression of community centered around the life of the Spirit (understood by our intern community in a variety of ways, but nevertheless central).
When I entered the intern program, I was nervous to not be heading straight from undergrad to seminary. School was all I had known! By the end of the program, when my formal discernment for priesthood had moved forward and I was given permission by my bishop to apply to MDiv programs, I decided instead to wait another year, to continue on as staff at Club Nova for several months, and to spend part of the year traveling. That freedom came from the opening and grounding provided by the program.
I am so grateful for what the Johnson Intern Program offered me—space to ground, discern, and engage the needs of the world out of the life of community. I did go on to become a priest, and now serve a wonderful parish community in Woodstock, NY, while also traveling to lead contemplative retreat programs. Looking back, I see so many threads of JSC present in my life and ministry today. Not to knock seminary, but much of the essential formation that has made me a better person and priest happened at Club Nova, in our intern community, and in the JSC trainings and classroom. For that, I’m eternally grateful.