I can hear Carol Ghere upstairs on this Friday morning, preparing the meal that will feed around 100 college students at the Friday Noon Lunch at the Wesley foundation—so on this day, my perspective is one of appreciation for our church’s on campus ministry, and those throughout the years who have provided an extra personal touch to ensure the ministry reflects our Methodist spirit. Carol volunteered to make this available twice a year, and is helped this morning by Karen Manera and Lana Howard. They don’t know I’m writing this, but I just wanted to shine the “spotlight” on their servanthood. I regularly attend the Friday Noon Lunch and often have fantastic conversations with the students and staff who serve. One of our own church-members, David Glover, is a student council leader at the Wesley, and through the years, we have had others in our church who provide leadership to the Wesley Foundation. In fact, in the beginning years of the Wesley Foundation’s ministry on TU campus, our own church’s associate minister served as the campus minister at the Wesley, and the church gave the land on which the Wesley Foundation was built.
Speaking of that land, the Wesley Foundation faces a new opportunity in the near complete construction of a freshman dorm just across the street from the ministry center. Can’t you imagine the impact the ministry might have in the lives of students in those formative first months of college life? The Wesley board approved an easement on the city streets running in front of it (the corner of 5th and Florence), that facilitates the University closing that street to traffic and building bricked pavers primarily for foot traffic all around the facility. Included in that arrangement are the plans for TU to landscape and maintain a nice grassy area for cookouts or volleyball. Now, auto traffic will end at the alleyway that runs to the West of the Wesley, Newman Center, and Muslim Student Association.
Along with these opportunities come new challenges. The Annual Conference last summer approved a plan to de-fund campus ministries by almost 50% by 2018 in order to create a new pool of funding for a grant program called “New People, New Places.” The first year of recipients of those grants has been announced, and as you can see, of the $630,000 in grants awarded, $55,000 was granted to projects proposed by the OU Wesley Foundation, and $4000 for projects proposed by the OSU Wesley foundation. TU Wesley submitted proposals, but was not awarded. The same is true for the 10-12 or so other campus ministries around the state. Clearly, campus ministries are going to have to re-frame their ministry to appeal for funds for particular engaging projects, or increase funding from other sources in order to carry on in the future. This is a new paradigm—one into which I challenge our church to be thinking creatively along with our set apart campus ministry next-door.
I have worked as a Wesley Foundation assistant director at UCLA Wesley Foundation, and I have been highly present and involved in the ministry and TU Wesley as well. One thing that is remarkable is the number of international students who are welcomed and fed (physically and spiritually) by the programs, especially the Free International Lunch on Thursdays, administered by the International Student Ministry, a partner organization that we house right here in the church, and also at the Friday Noon Lunch targeted to the whole campus and featuring a weekly witness by people ranging from “Professor B-Loony” (Stephen Smith, a minister and balloon artist who is also co-author of the foundational script of the Living Last Supper we’ve used for the past 3 years on Maundy Thursday) to the District Attorney of Tulsa to jazz pianist Baron Ryan to Yours’ Truly. I think it is fitting that we see the meal Carol is presently cooking as a “mission and outreach” of this church. It’s not only feeding college kids in a “continuation of youth group.” Most of the students who will partake are people who’ve never stepped foot in a Methodist church, and a significant number of those are folks who’ve never encountered a Christian speaking about their faith—be they from China, Iran, or Saudi Arabia. I’m looking forward to lunch today, and am so glad for my partners in ministry here at UUMC who are making it possible!