Students on the campus of three state universities — GVSU, WMU, and CMU — find a warm welcome and put faith into action at Wesley Foundations of The Michigan Conference.
JOHN E. HARNISH
Michigan Conference Communications
Building community is a significant emphasis for all campus ministries, including the Wesley Foundations in Michigan. It can take the form of living in “Intentional Community” or by bringing students together in study, worship, and service. Sometimes campus ministries discover they can be stronger together.
At Grand Valley State University, the United Methodist Wesley Foundation shares its ministry with the Presbyterian Church USA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Together, they have created the United Campus Christian Fellowship (UCCF).
The mission statement says UCCF offers an opportunity for students to “follow Jesus Christ in a non-judgmental, inclusive, and open environment where they can learn how their faith connects to the rest of their lives, their career choices, and their social justice concerns through Bible study, spiritual formation, and opportunities to put one’s faith into action. Absolutely everyone is welcome.”
After serving as the Wesley Fellowship Director and the Director for True North Campus Ministry since 2008, Nancy Janisch is excited to see the birth of UCCF. She shares the leadership with Rev. Kate Van Valkenburg, who is also pastor of Bread of Life Lutheran Church in Hudsonville, MI.
Janisch says, “It’s messy, but it’s creative.” After her many years in campus ministry, she is finding this time to be particularly challenging. First, they try to reach students on three campuses—Grand Valley, Grand Rapids Community College, and Kendell College of Design. Then, all of the students at GRCC and Kendell are commuter students, so they are not on campus in the traditional sense. Third, because of the cost of college, most students today are working, so their time for additional activities is limited. And finally, there is COVID. Limitations on gatherings, the wearing of masks, and the fact that they went a year and a half without meeting in person have had a major impact on the ministry of UCCF. They are finding that staying in touch via social media and e-mail is one reliable form of communication. “And,” says Janisch, “the exciting thing is we are doing it together.”
Kalamazoo Wesley ministers to students at Western Michigan University by striving to be “an authentic, transforming, Christ-centered community that nourishes the mental, emotional, and spiritual growth of all people. We seek to affirm those marginalized because of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, and culture. Following the example of Jesus, we open our doors and hearts to all.” One of the ways they model the idea of being “stronger together” is by opening their facility to a variety of campus groups, offering genuine Christian hospitality. They have hosted the WMU Gospel Choir, better known as “The Voices,” for over 30 years.
The Rev. Jess Davenport shares the leadership at Wesley with the Rev. Jeremy Simpson. She says, “Part of our relaunch after the COVID year is a small weekly group, monthly larger worship, and a twice a week after-school program for 3rd through 8th grades from the local school to connect with music students and professors from the university.” They also host “Bronco’s Kitchen,” a free meal service for students, and a chapter of Narcotics Anonymous.
Kalamazoo Wesley is one of the Michigan Wesley Foundations which offers a residence for students who seek to live as the Wesley Intentional Community. Both Ferris State and Central Wesley Foundations also provide opportunities for students committed to being “stronger together” by living in intentional community.
In Mt. Pleasant, Wesley at Central Michigan University seeks to be “a young adult Christian community committed to building God’s beloved community on earth.” The hope is that “all people would know themselves as God’s beloved and get to be in love with the world.”
Audra Hudson, Wesley Foundation Director, came into the role in July 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. She says, “It’s been a wild ride! I really didn’t know what worked in ‘normal’ times, but these were not normal times.” As this school year began, they were able to reopen their building, which sits on the busiest corner of campus and began welcoming students in new ways.
The primary focus is on Sunday Night worship and Wednesday noon lunches. In addition, they have been offering small groups that create space for students to explore their faith and take seriously God’s call to love, justice, and mercy. “Given our location,” Audra said, “we have had students drop in for Wednesday lunch who have no religious background and no prior connection with Wesley. It has enabled us to reach out in new ways.”
Recently, Hudson preached a sermon series on “Holy Emotions”—things like doubt, fear, anger, joy, pleasure—which opened the way for students to bring their questions and emotions in an open setting. “We are trying to help students discover resilience in these chaotic times,” Audra said.
Whether through residences programs or meals, worship and small groups, outreach and service, students across the state are discovering they are stronger together through the ministry of the eight Wesley Foundations in Michigan. They relate to the Michigan Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry to coordinate their work and learn from each other. In addition, the Conference Board connects with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, which represents United Methodist-related colleges, universities, and seminaries around the world in their common ministry because across the United Methodist Connection, we believe we are all stronger together.