Partnership Helps Local Church & Students

Posted on August 12th, 2016 by Emily Tomlinson

music_internsWest Main Baptist Church has long been a neighbor of Averett University, and as with most people who live next door to each other, the two organizations have had a neighborly relationship. This past year, that neighborly relationship went one step further when the church began offering paid music internships for students.

“We started the music intern program because we wanted to help a student,” said Mark Gourley, the church’s minister of music. “We also wanted to have additional singers for our choir.”

The internship, which allows students to earn up to 200 hours a semester, provides up to three positions to students who have strong singing voices (a student’s major does not matter). Students are required to sing in the choir, which means participating in practices and the Sunday service. In addition, they develop a project based on their passion.

Allyson Dodson ’17, one of the students who has participated in the internship since its inception, is going into her third semester with the church.

“I was raised in the United Methodist Church,” Dodson said. “Most of my part-time jobs growing up were doing something with the church. I’ve worked as a pianist for the church service and sung in the choir and praise bands. I’ve also worked as a preschool teacher and teacher’s aide in a church-based childcare center. Pairing all of that with a deep love of music, applying for a music internship at West Main Baptist just sounded like the best choice for a part-time job for me while studying here at Averett.

“I feel that I’ve been able to develop my communication and leadership skills through this internship, as well as gained more practice with my musical abilities. As a somewhat socially awkward person I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone and have had to talk to and get to know a lot of new people. This skill will be a great help to me as a working performer. As an actor, your personality is one of your biggest selling points next to your ability. And being able to immediately feel comfortable around new people will be a great skill to have.”

The internship not only benefits Averett students, but the church as well.

“It has benefited the choir because we’ve been able to tackle more difficult music,” said Gourley. “The choir has loved working with (the interns). I think the biggest success we’ve seen is how the interns have related to the congregation and how the congregation has related to them. (The interns) have built a relationship and integrated into the church very well.”

While the internship allows students an opportunity to hone their musical skills, a key part of the internship is the relationships and camaraderie fostered within the church. This means that students are expected to be an integral part of the choral ensembles in which they participate.

“My favorite thing about my internship at West Main Baptist is the people I’ve met and got to work with,” Dodson said. “Everyone at West Main has been so welcoming and loving toward us and I feel like I have a second family that truly cares for me.”

In addition to her work with the choir, Dodson has been involved in two different projects at the church. During Maundy Thursday (the Easter season), she helped organize and put on a production of The Living Last Supper.

“Once I listened to the music and read the monologues in the script I was really interested,” Dodson said. “I’ve always loved the Easter story and have always found all of the events leading up the crucifixion very captivating. Essentially, the process was similar to a regular theatre production. Ja’Corey Jones (another music intern) and I held auditions, casted the show and held rehearsals leading up to the performance.”

Dodson’s second project revolved around the creation of a youth praise band. According to Gourley, she meets with the group weekly and practices with them. So far they have just performed for the youth group but Gourley is hopeful they’ll also perform during the church’s Youth Sunday.

“Creating the praise band gives the youth the same opportunity I had when I joined the praise band at my home church as a young teen. I loved the idea of helping the youth find their connection to Jesus through music and giving them a chance to explore their musical abilities in a relaxed environment.”

The music intern program has been so successful that this fall the church has accepted three interns.

“It’s been a great relationship, and has strengthened our ties with Averett,” Gourley said. “(Allyson and Ja’Corey) have set the bar high for future interns.”

Applications for music interns are accepted in the fall and early spring of each semester. Interested persons should contact Mark Gourley, minister of music at West Main Baptist, by calling 434-792-5960 or emailing