Gator Wesley gets new leadership from seasoned husband-and-wife team

The Gator Wesley Foundation, the United Methodist Campus Ministry serving the University of Florida (UF) and Santa Fe College in Gainesville, kicked off the fall semester by welcoming two new leaders, Joel and Heather Pancoast, who both served at the Warren Willis United Methodist Camp over the past decade. They have been appointed co-directors of the foundation.

“Heather and Joel are respected leaders of young adults in our annual conference,” Bishop Ken Carter said. “In faithful and fruitful ways they have mentored college students in their roles as staff leaders of the Warren Willis Camp. They have a deep faith, a passion for the journeys that students travel and a maturity and joy that will be a source of strength to the Gator Wesley community.”

At Warren Willis the couple oversaw 400 to 500 campers a week for eight weeks, as well as the 100-plus college students who served as counselors there for 11 weeks.

Joel and Heather Pancoast are described as gifted leaders in the Florida Conference in next generation ministry.

“Joel and Heather have demonstrated that they have great passion and love for working with college students,” said Rev. David Fuquay, former director of the Gator Wesley Foundation. “And the college students are drawn to them as mentors and form great connections that last for years. They are two of the most gifted leaders in the Florida Conference in next generation ministry.”

The Pancoasts are former UF students themselves. Joel graduated in 1999 and served as Youth Minister at First United Methodist Church of Deland and First United Methodist Church of Lakeland before joining Warren Willis as program manager in 2006.There he designed, developed and implemented year-round programming and retreats. For the past three years he has served as the conference youth ministry coordinator—a role he will continue while at Gator Wesley.

Heather graduated in 1997 with a degree in social work from the University of South Florida and a master’s degree from the University of Central Florida. She became certified in United Methodist Camping Ministry through Drew University and served as the assistant director at Warren Willis since 2003. “We prayed a lot about leaving jobs we loved,” Heather said, “but we’re excited about starting this new chapter in our lives.”

The couple recently celebrated their 15th anniversary by cleaning out the building on the UF campus. They met at camp while in college and married there in the chapel. Joel and Heather have two daughters who are 8 and 9 years old. “They really love being around and meeting college students,” Heather said.

“Joel and Heather’s work is widely known and appreciated in the Florida Conference," Sharon Austin, director of Connectional Ministries, said. “They take pride in their leadership."

"Both are products of campus and camping ministries and now have an opportunity to lead in campus ministries," Austin said. "In these two young people, the conference has the opportunity to witness fruits of the investment made at an earlier time in their lives.”

The Pancoasts embrace the challenges and joys of working with college students.

“It’s a pivotal time in their lives,” Joel said. “It’s not their first time claiming faith, but you’re seeing it begin to grow in some of them, and you get to watch them experience different facets of faith.”

“Both Heather and Joel are comfortable with the complexity of leading a large ministry. The chaotic energy of camp is similar to running the programs of a campus ministry,” Fuquay said. “Training and equipping leaders, careful planning and execution of programs and expectation of hard work and excellence in everything are skills that they bring to Gator Wesley from day one.”

Having a husband-and-wife team on board can also be an advantage.

“I loved the idea of them serving as a team at Gator Wesley,” Fuquay said. “First, the students have both a male and a female leader as mentors which can be so helpful to modeling Christian leadership for the students."

“They also can lean on each other for support and encouragement, which is a real blessing because campus ministry can feel isolating when you are on your own,” Fuquay added. “It is hard, if not impossible, to be equally gifted at all the things campus ministers have to do, so sharing the load will allow them to be more effective.” 

The Pancoasts thoroughly enjoyed their time at Warren Willis but are ready for the challenge of their new positions. “It was a leap of faith to leave our camping ministry,” Heather said, “and it was not an easy decision, but it always felt like the right one.”

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