(RNS) Life as a congressional intern is a far cry from servingas leader of the nation's third largest Episcopal diocese. But the RightRev. M. Thomas Shaw can navigate both duties with ease.In February, Shaw took a break from his position as Episcopal Bishopof Massachusetts and traveled to Capitol Hill for a monthlong stint as acongressional intern."I wanted to explore the role of religion in government, and get anunderstanding of how Washington works so that the Episcopal church voicecould be heard in Washington in a more effective way," said Shaw, whoreturned to Massachusetts in mid-March. "And I wanted to know somethingabout Episcopalians that are in public service, and how they couldexperience the support of the church."During his time in Washington, Shaw -- believed to be the firstclergyman to work as a congressional intern -- shadowed U.S. Rep. AmoryHoughton, a New York Republican with whom he has a decades-oldfriendship.Shaw was no typical intern -- interviews with television newsprograms such as CNN and ABC's "Nightline" were the order of the day forhim, as were meetings with international leaders and governmentofficials such as Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala andretired General Colin Powell."Every day we were so busy," Shaw recalled. "I spent a lot of timegoing to committee meetings and interviewing people -- I must have hadat least 35 interviews with members of Congress and the Supreme Courtand the Clinton administration. I came away with some very positivefeelings about what people in Washington are doing for us and thesacrifices they have to make.
"He also worked with lobbyists from the Episcopal Church on issuessuch as hunger and international debt relief, even joining U.S.Secretary of Treasury Lawrence Summers in a news conference calling fordebt cancellation for Mozambique and other poor countries.Shaw said he emerged from his internship with a new appreciation forthe hardships of political office, and saw a number of parallels betweenleading a diocese and leading a congressional district."There are many things that were the same -- they're both demandingpositions and the hours are long in both," Shaw said. "And whencongressmen went out to talk to their constituents, it reminded me verymuch of parish visitation -- going out and listening to what peoplewould like and trying to respond to that."Shaw said the experience on Capitol Hill heightened his awareness ofthe role the church can play in affecting public policy, and he returnedto Massachusetts with a few ideas about how his own church can work withthe government. He said he hopes the church can find a way to take partin securing health insurance for uninsured children."The government has a program for medically insuring children," Shawsaid, referring to the Children's Health Insurance Program -- astate-federal program to provide affordable medical insurance tochildren of the working poor. "I want to see what role the church isable to play in getting children medically insured because we're soclose to the constituency and the community. I think that's something wecan play a part in.
"Shaw, who kept an online journal of his days as an intern, said heis still "processing" the experience, but has already decided he wouldlike to return to Capitol Hill."I'm definitely thinking about going back to Washington to do somemore investigating next year," he said. "Being there was really alife-changing experience."