Campus Ministries are Producing Leaders
Wesley Foundations operate as student-led churches on college campuses, with a track record for reaching students and building leaders.
With classes in full swing at universities and colleges throughout the Texas Annual Conference, the Wesley Foundations are geared up to offer fellowship, worship, discipleship, and study, as well as opportunities for service. The TAC has campus ministries at Kilgore College, Prairie View A&M, Stephen F. Austin State, Sam Houston State, Texas A&M, Texas Southern, Tyler Junior College, University of Houston, and UT-Tyler.
“In essence, each Wesley Foundation is set up as a church to be led by students,” says Rev. Max Mertz, campus minister at the Wesley Foundation at Texas A&M. “They are taught to lead all areas of the program and live out their faith while pursuing their education. Wesley becomes their home away from home.”
A 27-year veteran in campus ministry, Max says the Wesley Foundations in the TAC are currently the strongest they have been during his tenure. Rev. Carmen Rickel, chair of the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry agrees. “I have seen huge positive changes in campus ministry in our conference,” she shares. “Just three years ago, the Wesley Foundation at Tyler Junior College was a struggling ministry in an older building that was not functional for their needs. Today the conference has an explosive ministry at TJC through the Wesley House, a Christian based dorm housing 40 students. There’s even a waiting list!”
Outreach at Texas Southern University was non-existent until a few years ago, Carmen adds, but that has changed. “This year the TSU Wesley Foundation is the first in our conference to have an intern from Perkins School of Theology. They also are opening a food bank in order to better help their students in their academic and spiritual lives.”
At Sam Houston State University, the Wesley Foundation has won the “Sammy” for best religious organization on campus for the last three years. The awards are hosted by the university and the Department of Student Activities as the official ceremony that recognizes SHSU's outstanding student leaders and organizations.
“The conference provides a building very near the campus and an ordained clergy person who loves students and wants to share the joy of Christ with young people,” adds Max. “We have a model for reaching students that is really working.”
Although the idea is about 100 years old, campus ministry is vitally alive at TAC colleges and universities – from his perspective. “The Texas Conference enjoys and is filled with the fruit of its Wesley Foundations. The number of clergy who were active in a Wesley Foundation is inspiring, as is the number of wonderful, dedicated lay people within our church who learned to lead at a United Methodist student center.”
At present, 10 former students from the Texas A&M Wesley are attending seminary.
“Three students from the Wesley at SFA are currently serving churches as student pastors,” notes Carmen. “And, we had students from Texas A&M, SFA, TJC and University of Houston attend annual conference in May.” Wesley Foundations are paid for partly by conference apportionments, with the remaining costs covered by gifts from former students, parents, and local churches that give above their apportionments.
Leaders: Then and Now
"The Wesley Foundation set my ministry career in motion by providing pastoral support and lifelong friends! Even my wife!" says Michael McVey, TAC candidate for ministry and master of divinity student at Duke Divinity School in Durham NC. A graduate of Texas A&M, Michael is currently serving as a student pastor in that conference.
Dr. Tony McCollum, senior pastor of Cypress UMC shares, "I received as much or more preparation for ministry through my involvement in the Texas A&M Wesley Foundation as I did through my academic pursuits at the university. I developed a lifelong peer group with others called into ministry and gained practical experience that made my seminary education come to life. It is hard to express the blessing that I received from my campus minister, Wesley Foundation volunteers that mentored my early faith journey, and the Texas Annual Conference for their significant investment in campus ministry.”
“The Texas A&M Wesley Foundation provided me a great venue for growing in faith and nurtured my call into ordained ministry during my college years. Additionally, the friends I made during my time there have lasted well beyond college and have been an ongoing source of strength and support,” adds Rev. John Reasons, senior pastor at A&M UMC in College Station.
Wesley leader Amy Hodge, who was involved with the Stephen F. Austin Wesley group from 1995-98 and Kilgore College Wesley from 2010-2015, is now a deacon in the Texas Conference, and the wife of Rev. Nathan Hodge, First UMC Challsville. Shares Amy, “As a college student the Wesley was home, but it was also like a lab where I experimented with my spiritual gifts in discerning a clearer picture of my call to ministry. I had some great lab partners who are still living out their calls to ministry in our conference and around the world! We encouraged and challenged each other, supported each other through difficult times, and celebrated some of life's greatest moments together. Even today those people are my family.” Adds Amy, “As a campus pastor at the Wesley at Kilgore College, I gained another Wesley family! There I learned more about my call to reach the unchurched as well as the value and power of a ministry that speaks the words of Jesus to people who have never heard them. I felt like the student as God showed me how to love as he loves and invite everyone to call the Wesley their home.”
Rev. Guy M Williams, United Methodist Temple, Port Arthur refers to his years at the Wesley Foundation as “some of the most significant and formative of my life.” Recalls Guy, “During my college years, the Wesley Foundation had such a culture of discipleship and service that the friendships I shared there were knit together by a common pursuit of loving and serving Jesus. Max was a faithful mentor and leader who created an environment that nurtured a growing relationship with Christ and a calling to ordained ministry. This happened both through my relationship with him personally, and through myriad opportunities for ministry participation and leadership. In fact, because so many were receiving calls to ministry, we were able to wrestle with discerning our calling together---what a blessed experience.”
Max adds, “Although apportionments are not paying the whole bill, this great ministry would be impossible without conference support. Our conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry is working hard to do an even better job in the future through the efforts of many people, especially Rev. Rickel and Dr. Elijah Stansell.”
“I encourage adults to tell the university students they know to come by the Wesley at their schools and see what is available,” encourages Max. “We have many dedicated ministers and students seeking to grow together in Christ, influencing the future leaders of our church, our world and the kingdom of God.”