New Wesley campus ministry at Bethel University embodies conference investment in young people
TOP PHOTO: Wesley campus ministry students at Bethel University in McKenzie, Tennessee, gather to watch football in the fellowship hall at McKenzie First United Methodist Church. (Submitted photo) BOTTOM PHOTO: Rev. Jason W. Jones, right, was thanked by Bishop Bill McAlilly at the 2016 Memphis Annual Conference for the leadership role he played in moving the Bethel University Wesley campus ministry from fellowship to foundation status. Jones previously served McKenzie First United Methodsit Church, but was appointed to Lone Oak United Methodist Church in Paducah, Kentucky, in June 2016. (Photo by Lane Gardner Camp)
By Lane Gardner Camp, Director of Communications, Memphis Conference
“Invest in young people” is not just a catchphrase, but one of the four areas of focus for the Memphis Conference of The United Methodist Church.
That’s what happened in June when delegates to the 2016 Memphis Annual Conference offcially recognized the conference’s newest official Wesley campus ministry (Wesley Foundation) at Bethel University in McKenzie, Tennessee.
Bethel University brings to six the number of Wesley campus ministries of the Memphis Conference, according to Dr. Joe Geary, director of Connectional Ministries for the conference. Other campus ministries are at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky; University of Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee; University of Memphis Lambuth Campus in Jackson, Tennessee; University of Tennessee in Martin, Tennessee; and University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Tennessee.
The Bethel University campus ministry has grown steadily since it launched as a "Wesley Fellowship" in the spring of 2014.
After Bethel University recognized the fellowship as an official student religious organization in January 2016, that paved the way for full campus ministry status with the Memphis Conference in June 2016.
Recognition by Bethel allows the ministry to sponsor and promote events on the Cumberland Presbyterian school’s campus. Bethel will celebrate 175 years of service in 2017.
After receiving endorsement from Bethel University and the Memphis Conference, the next step for the campus ministry was finding a home, which it did over the summer – less than a mile from campus at McKenzie First United Methodist Church (UMC).
When asked how her congregation is receiving and reacting to the students’ presence with the start of the fall semester, Rev. Latricia Trull said, "They love it!" Trull is pastor of the church and serves the college students as their campus minister.
As the church was working this summer to rearrange and better utilize church space, Trull said the membership agreed to reassign an upstairs game room to the campus ministry, giving the students a safe and inviting place to work, study, meet and socialize.
Trull was busting with pride that her congregation voted not only to provide the meeting space, but also to place a copy machine in the room for the students to make free copies while they gather and study. She said this simple gesture is very much appreciated by the students.
With the campus ministry now based in their education wing, Trull said the church is seeing more students in worship. Adults in worship are welcoming, she said, because many of them have been and are parents of college students and know the value of hospitality for college students who are away from home.
Trull said McKenzie First UMC also has many Bethel alumni who enjoy seeing students from their alma mater in the church building and at worship.
Trull was appointed to McKenzie First UMC in June. She followed Rev. Jason W. Jones who had served since June 2013, but was appointed to Lone Oak UMC in Paducah, Kentucky, in June, 2016.
Jones was instrumental in taking what was just a dream in 2013 and working with students, university and conference personnel and others to see it through to official ministry status, said Geary, who worked with Jones in the early stages.
Previously, Geary was superintendent of the former Paris district where McKenzie is located. McKenzie now is part of the Tennessee River District.
Geary praised Jones for “taking seriously” the work that was required to form a campus ministry.
As the Paris District’s mission strategist in 2013, Geary had learned Bethel was one of the fastest growing private universities in Tennessee. With that information, he encouraged Jones and the laity of McKenzie First UMC to find ways to connect with students and younger adults in their community.
Jones was thanked by Bishop William T. (Bill) McAlilly during the 2016 Memphis Annual Conference in June in Jackson, Tennessee, for his critical leadership.
Recently, Jones recounted highlights of the journey from “idea” to “fellowship” to “official campus ministry.”
Jones recalled that a small group of students, at his invitation, began meeting at McKenzie First UMC in the fall of 2013 to talk about what Jones called “pertinent questions surrounding the launch of such a ministry.” It was something none of them had ever done before, he said, and their “most pressing question” was “Why do it?”
The answer, he said, was that God was leading in that direction. “It was the right time, the right place,” Jones said they discerned.
Even though the number of Methodist/Wesleyan students on Bethel’s campus isn’t large, Jones said the feelings among those who were meeting and talking was that Wesleyan students need “a place and opportunity for spiritual formation that (speaks) in ways they (understand).”
Jones added, “We saw the creation of such a ministry as an opportunity to increase community involvement and strengthen connections with the school.”
Initially called the Bethel Wesley Fellowship, the group was first granted use of a room in the university’s student center.
To attract students, Jones said, “We posted flyers. We passed word around Facebook. We contacted nearby United Methodist pastors and asked them to talk it up in their churches. Members of McKenzie First UMC worked diligently to prepare and deliver food.”
At the first gathering in January 2014, Jones said they welcomed two students.
“Disappointed, but not defeated,” Jones next called clergy colleagues to create a list of area churches to prepare and serve meals to the students. To his amazement, he said “the list filled up rather quickly.” Some churches agreed to prepare and serve meals while others wrote checks to fund meals.
“Each act of generosity and care contributed in some way to the ministry as it continued to take shape,” remembered Jones.
As the meal fellowships were taking off, Jones called together key laity and clergy to serve as an advisory board to “help steer the ministry in healthy directions.” That resulted in the creation of a constitution and by-laws, as well as discussion of meeting, promotion and outreach ideas.
But the “real turning point for the ministry came,” said Jones, with the “dedicated participation of three students—all leaders in their own churches—who took the reins and helped to propel the ministry forward.”
Jones said Josh Shaw, Cody Greene and Brooke Cagle believed in the ministry and trusted God to lead:
- Josh Shaw, president, is a member of Alamo First UMC in Alamo, Tennessee, where he also serves as youth director. He organized and presented the students’ request for official recognition by Bethel University.
- Cody Greene, vice president, is a member of Broadway UMC in Paducah, Kentucky. He worked with Shaw to create and promote “Paint, Prayer & Pancakes,” a midnight event that attracted more than 100 students.
- Brooke Cagle, a member of Northside UMC in Jackson, Tennessee, “graciously lent her musical gifts to leading our worship time—an offering which added immeasurable depth,” said Jones.
“And I’m glad to have left the ministry in more-than-capable hands,” a collective reference to the students, Trull, the laity of McKenzie First UMC and other area United Methodists that support the ministry, including Bruceton First UMC in Bruceton, Tennessee; Carter’s Chapel UMC in McLemoresville, Tennessee; Paris First UMC in Paris, Tennessee; Trinity UMC in Paris, Tennessee; and Lakeshore Camp and Retreat Center in Eva, Tennessee.
Keep up with the Bethel Wesley campus ministry on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bethelwesley