Churches cook up connections to campus ministries

It was almost time for the free Thursday night dinner at Crosswinds Wesley Foundation at the University of South Florida (USF), and students were in for a treat: turkey, stuffing, yams, green beans, rolls and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

With the campus scheduled to close on Thanksgiving, the Palma Ceia UMC Men’s Group showed up early with heaping helpings of holiday trimmings for the 35 to 50 students who frequent the ministry. 

Erik Seise, campus ministry director at USF, talks to Palma Ceia UMC volunteers
Erik Seise, Crosswinds Wesley campus ministry director, talks to Richard Halsmer, Cliff Allen and Michael Hooper, volunteers from Palma Ceia UMC that provide meals for students active in the ministry at the University of South Florida, Tampa. Photo by Bonnie Dyson.

Florida Conference campus ministers say contributions like that from local churches not only feed the body but nourish the spirit of young adults as they navigate their way through their college years.

“[Students] are passionate and cutting edge. It is a time of defining for them, making things real,” said Erik Seise, Crosswinds campus director. “That is where and why we need the local church.”

Palma Ceia UMC, Tampa, has been providing dinners for students for about five years, said church member Ken Blackman, who is South Central District’s United Methodist Men president.

“We usually do one or two, sometimes three [meals] in a year, and we always like to do Thanksgiving. A lot of students won’t have an opportunity to go home, and we like to give them a little bit of tradition.”

Blackman, who prepared all the food except for the pies, cooked enough for 75, and most of the 40-plus students happily returned for seconds served up by Dennis Steele, Cliff Neuffer, Cliff Allen, Michael Hooper, Richard Halsmer and Blackman.

“We get more out of it than they do,” Blackman said. “It’s really a blessing. It’s not a chore.”

Palma Ceia is one of five local churches that directly support the USF ministry with donations of meals, Seise said. Temple Terrace, Van Dyke, St. James and Lake Magdalene United Methodist churches also provide meals.

In addition, Seminole Heights, Oak Grove, Hyde Park, Lake Magdalene and St. James United Methodist churches provide opportunities for student involvement in mission work.

Students from the campus ministry recently worked alongside St. James UMC members at the Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent. That kind of interaction, along with church-provided meals, connects students back to the church. 

Patrick Gardner, Wesley ministry student, prepares to dive into church-supplied wings
Central Florida Wesley student Patrick Gardner, above, prepares to dive into wings provided by University Carillon UMC volunteers. Below, students enjoy food and fellowship at the local church, which provides meeting space for the campus ministry. Photos from Central Florida Wesley Foundation.
Students at Central Florida Wesley enjoy meal at University Carillon UMC

“If you remember being in college, you were always ready to eat and didn’t have much money to eat, so it’s a great way to have fellowship,” said Bob Douglass, a member of the conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministries who had dinner with the USF students. “They can’t believe older people care.”

Other churches donate funds, Douglass said. “At least 30 to 50 district churches [participate] through apportionment.”

Lake Magdalene and Hyde Park financially support the ministry above apportionments.

USF student Jessica Perry originally came to Crosswinds Wesley for the free food but returned because of her experience.

“I enjoyed the worship experience here,” Perry said. “It is very authentic, very down to earth. It is a more intimate community and the people really do care.”

The original campus ministry at USF started in 1966 as an ecumenical outreach and has taken many forms through the years, said Seise, who came to Crosswinds in July after 10 years with Florida State University’s Wesley Foundation in Tallahassee. USF now serves 36,000 students, and Seise hopes to increase Crosswinds participation.

Other campus ministers agreed that local church support is essential to building a campus ministry.

At the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Rev. Erwin Lopez, Wesley Foundation director, counts on it. About 80 students at Central Florida Wesley attend Tuesday night worship services and up to 125 attend Wesley activities.

The group meets at University Carillon UMC, Oviedo, as there is no dedicated meeting place on campus. Church members take turns providing home-cooked meals on Tuesday nights.

A total of 10 churches in the Orlando area, plus one in Cocoa Beach, also have given money beyond apportionments, Lopez said.

Students raised $10,000 last year through fundraisers, but more is needed to provide typical campus club activities, Lopez said.

Lopez said many Wesley Foundation participants find their calling and enroll in seminary or become active in local churches as a result of their campus ministry experience. 

Central Florida Wesley meets for worship at Universitty Carillon UMC, Oviedo
In addition to food and financial support, University Carillon UMC, Oviedo, provides a place for worship for Central Florida Wesley Foundation, the campus ministry based at the University of Central Florida. Photo from Central Florida Wesley Foundation.

“They fall in love with Wesley, they fall in love with the church … and we send them out to be leaders in the church,” Lopez said.

In Jacksonville, the 3-year-old Campus to City Wesley Foundation (CCW) ministers on the campuses of University of North Florida and Jacksonville University but envisions having a presence on every campus in the district, said Derrick Scott III, the ministry’s executive director.

CCW partners with local United Methodist congregations in various ways to strengthen ties to the next generation, he said.

“Our ministry to college-aged young adults is possible because of the generous support from our local church partnerships,” Scott said.

CrossRoad UMC, Spring Glen UMC, Avondale UMC, Arlington UMC, Mandarin UMC and Mount Moriah UMC have partnered with CCW to support and enhance the church’s ministry to college-aged young adults through funds, meeting venues, residences, office space and meals. The ministry also receives a portion of annual conference apportionments.

“CCW is grateful to be in ministry with the local congregations in Northeast Florida and to represent them on our campuses,” Scott said.

“As we continue to explore how we might reach and minister on the other area campuses, the partnership between our campus ministry and area local churches is critical, both to maintaining a strong organization, as well as creating a holistic strategy of discipleship and mission for our college students.”

-- Bonnie Dyson is a freelance writer based in the Tampa area.


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