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Kalamazoo Wesley celebrates 100 years

Students showing off their new T-shirts

STEP TWO: The Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo began one hundred years ago and continues to meet the evolving needs of young adult students.

Michigan Conference Communications

Jump in the time machine and go back to 1923. It’s the year movie star Charlton Heston, who played Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, was born. It’s also the birth year of Estelle Getty from The Golden Girls, and Bob Barker of The Price Is Right fame. That same year, inventor Clarence Birdseye developed a process for flash-freezing vegetables for resale.

For Michigan Conference historians, 1923 is also remembered as the year the Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo began. This century of ministry to young adults was recognized recently on Sunday, September 24, at Kalamazoo: First UMC, where it all began. After worship, several past directors were recognized during a luncheon for alums.

Other anniversary celebration events are planned for this fall, including Wesley alumni reunions on November 4 and the annual Friendsgiving Gala fundraiser on November 18. More details about these upcoming events are noted below.

Students at a retreat
Students who live in Kalamazoo Wesley’s Intentional Living Community on campus commit to living in a Christ-centered community with others. Retreats in other locations and hands-on ministry activities are part of their formational life together. ~ photo courtesy Kalamazoo Wesley/Facebook

Begun with prayer and a vision by a lay woman from Kalamazoo: First, who thought feeding college and university students on Sunday evenings would be a good ministry, Kalamazoo Wesley continues to feed young adults — body, mind, and soul. They continue offering life-shaping witness for Christ through community meals and free groceries, and a safe, spiritual home to explore their faith through music, worship, hands-on ministry, and community.

The Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo is an inclusive campus ministry serving college-aged young adults in Kalamazoo, including those at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. The Kalamazoo Wesley Foundation Ministry Center and office is in the heart of the Western Michigan University campus on Ring Road North.

Campus ministers gathering for retreat
On August 16, 2023, Jarell Wilson, the new campus minister at Kalamazoo Wesley, met with other Michigan Conference campus ministry directors at Wesley at Central Michigan University (CMU) in Mt. Pleasant for a retreat. It was a reinvigorating time of collaboration. Left to right, Rev. Carl Gladstone of Motor City Wesley; Rev. Kim Bos of Ferris State University Wesley; Rev. Audra Hudson Stone of Wesley at Central Michigan University; Kate Van Valkenburg, who recently started at United Campus Christian Fellowship in Grand Rapids; Jarell Wilson; Lisa Batten, Michigan Conference Associate Director of Connectional Ministries; and Rev. Tim Kobler of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Michigan (in front). ~ photo courtesy Lisa Batten

This campus ministry, funded partly by committed individuals, covenant congregations, fees for services, and Michigan Conference connectional support, is led by a new director, Jarell Wilson (pronouns: they/them).

Wilson, who moved to Michigan from Texas, is excited to be part of this ministry. Wilson shares some initial impressions as they begin their first year: “I have been here for a couple of months; that being said, one of the main things that separates the Kalamazoo Wesley Foundation from most campus ministries here is the tending to the body and the spirit. We partner with organizations to feed people physically while attending to the spiritual. We also provide a very affordable housing option for students. I believe we’re the only ministry on campus with on-campus housing. We’re also one of the few ministries where LGBTQ+ students are welcome to participate in the full body of Christ.”

Student growing vegetables in garden
Kalamazoo Wesley started a student-run garden as a response to the call to use their spaces to bless others, feed people, help students teach each other to garden, and cook fresh food. ~ photo courtesy Wesley Foundation Kzoo/Facebook

Wilson communicates a clear vision for the future of Kalamazoo Wesley: “Students deal with significant issues like housing insecurity, high levels of depression, social isolation, fear, and an overly healthy suspicion of leadership. As a campus ministry, we invite all these challenges to be brought in and are dedicated to reaching out. A typical ministry model previously said, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ But we are taking it to the streets, going out into the highways and hedges. I plan on being in the highways and popping out of the hedges, offering the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ to anyone who wants it.”

Andrew Stange, chair of the Kalamazoo Wesley Board as well as director of Worship and Technology at Holland: First UMC, is a graduate of Western Michigan University and was an active participant in the campus ministry as a student. Stange values the lasting friendships that formed through Kalamazoo Wesley. His faith has been strengthened through his participation in mission trips sponsored by this campus ministry, which took him to New Orleans, Nicaragua, Washington D.C., and the United Methodist-affiliated Africa University in Zimbabwe. Stange knows the mission of Kalamazoo Wesley “to be an authentic, transforming, Christ-centered community” helps students grow as Christian leaders. Many Kalamazoo Wesley alums currently serve Michigan congregations as pastors and active laity.

Students at gala
The annual Friendsgiving Gala, held each November, is a great opportunity for friends of Kalamazoo Wesley to come together in support of this ministry that has encouraged the faith formation of young adults at Kalamazoo area colleges and universities for one hundred years. ~ photo courtesy Kalamazoo Wesley/Facebook

Kalamazoo Wesley’s centennial celebration continues in November. Alums and friends are welcome to participate:

    • Saturday, November 4, 2023: Wesley alumni reunions will be held at the Wesley Foundation Ministry Center (2350 Ring Road North, Kalamazoo, MI 49006). No reservations are needed, and there is no cost to attend. Snacks will be served.
      • Wesley alumni, when Jeff Williams was director, will gather from 11:00 am to 1:30 pm.
      • Wesley alumni, when Thom Davenport was director, will gather from 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm.
      • Wesley alumni, when Lisa Batten was director, will gather from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm.
    • Saturday, November 18, 2023, 4:30 to 7:00 pm: Kalamazoo Wesley will hold its annual Friendsgiving Gala at the Wesley Foundation Ministry Center. Doors open and appetizers are served at 4:30, with a program from 5:30 to 7:00. The event is semi-formal. Individual tickets are $100, and $750 will reserve a table of eight. Covenant churches supporting the ministry with annual contributions may attend for free; they will be invited individually. Watch for more details on Wesley’s Facebook page.

~ Wesley Foundations are Ministry Partners of EngageMI found in Step 2:Develop Leaders. 

The Michigan Conference