2016-07-27
(RNS) Life as a congressional intern is a far cry from serving as leader of the nation's third largest Episcopal diocese. But the Right Rev. M. Thomas Shaw can navigate both duties with ease. In February, Shaw took a break from his position as Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts and traveled to Capitol Hill for a monthlong stint as a congressional intern. "I wanted to explore the role of religion in government, and get an understanding of how Washington works so that the Episcopal church voice could be heard in Washington in a more effective way," said Shaw, who returned to Massachusetts in mid-March. "And I wanted to know something about Episcopalians that are in public service, and how they could experience the support of the church." During his time in Washington, Shaw -- believed to be the first clergyman to work as a congressional intern -- shadowed U.S. Rep. Amory Houghton, a New York Republican with whom he has a decades-old friendship. Shaw was no typical intern -- interviews with television news programs such as CNN and ABC's "Nightline" were the order of the day for him, as were meetings with international leaders and government officials such as Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and retired General Colin Powell. "Every day we were so busy," Shaw recalled. "I spent a lot of time going to committee meetings and interviewing people -- I must have had at least 35 interviews with members of Congress and the Supreme Court and the Clinton administration. I came away with some very positive
feelings about what people in Washington are doing for us and the sacrifices they have to make." He also worked with lobbyists from the Episcopal Church on issues such as hunger and international debt relief, even joining U.S. Secretary of Treasury Lawrence Summers in a news conference calling for debt cancellation for Mozambique and other poor countries. Shaw said he emerged from his internship with a new appreciation for the hardships of political office, and saw a number of parallels between leading a diocese and leading a congressional district. "There are many things that were the same -- they're both demanding positions and the hours are long in both," Shaw said. "And when congressmen went out to talk to their constituents, it reminded me very much of parish visitation -- going out and listening to what people would like and trying to respond to that." Shaw said the experience on Capitol Hill heightened his awareness of the role the church can play in affecting public policy, and he returned to Massachusetts with a few ideas about how his own church can work with the government. He said he hopes the church can find a way to take part in securing health insurance for uninsured children. "The government has a program for medically insuring children," Shaw said, referring to the Children's Health Insurance Program -- a state-federal program to provide affordable medical insurance to children of the working poor. "I want to see what role the church is able to play in getting children medically insured because we're so close to the constituency and the community. I think that's something we can play a part in." Shaw, who kept an online journal of his days as an intern, said he is still "processing" the experience, but has already decided he would like to return to Capitol Hill. "I'm definitely thinking about going back to Washington to do some more investigating next year," he said. "Being there was really a life-changing experience."
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