United Methodist campus ministries across the Florida Conference overcame the impact of Hurricane Irma to complete a school year filled with accomplishments and community building.
Students across the state rallied in service to those affected by the storms that battered Florida and Texas. They are reaching out to those on their campuses to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Through technology, they are telling that story in innovative ways, as well as old-fashioned retreats and gatherings.
That has led to growth in tangible and intangible ways. Here are some highlights from Wesley Foundation ministries at five Florida locations. It was a praiseworthy year.
United Wesley of Miami
“It was a powerful weekend, as trust among the students quickly formed and they were able to ask each other very honest questions about their race and ethnicity that they had always wondered, but never in a safe place to ask. My students are still talking about it,” UWM Pastor Katie Lineberger said.
UWM students traveled to Houston over spring break to assist relief work in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, helping with home reconstruction, painting and volunteering at the Houston Food Bank.
“Afterwards, several of them shared how they weren't sure what a mission trip inside the U.S. was going to be like, not knowing of the great needs people have right here in our own country,” Lineberger said.
“They had their eyes opened to the idea that missions are not just something you travel to another country for. (They) can be done not far from home.”
Florida Gulf Coast Wesley
The ministry at Florida Gulf Coast Wesley has resulted in students, many of whom have never attended a traditional church, taking steps toward becoming United Methodists.
“It is typical for us to have some who want to become Christians or to rededicate their lives to Christ; but in this case, they are drawn to our unique way of following Jesus in the world, which has been exciting,” Pastor Christy Holden said.
FGCW also launched Wesley House during this school year. It will serve as a hub for community building, storage and an intentional living and learning community.
At its spring retreat, students participated in the group’s first live podcast recording. Students are adapting using podcasts as part of their online ministry portal.
It is designed as a third space where students can access podcasts, blog posts, devotionals, and news that would normally be provided through an on-campus ministry presence.
In community building, the third place is the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home ("first place") and the workplace ("second place"). Examples of third places would be environments such as churches, cafes, clubs, public libraries or parks
Gator Wesley Foundation
In November, several students from the ministry traveled to Portland, Ore., to attend the “Exploration” event.
This three-day conclave is designed for people ages 18-26 to listen, discern and respond to God’s call to ordained ministry. Participants also explore their gifts for vocational ministry in The United Methodist Church.
Directors Heather and Joel Pancoast said that in the past 18 months, Gator Wesley has experienced a 50 percent growth in worship and 30 percent in small group ministries. They have also seen an increase in attendance each week with new students.
Ten students from Gator Wesley were also part of the FLUMC response to the tragedy in Parkland at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They traveled to Washington to participate in the “March For Our Lives” rally to support safer schools, communities and gun regulation.
Hurricane Irma forced a delay in the “FSU Wesley Beach Retreat” for Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College, but participants made the most of it when they finally got together in late October.
“Our retreat shifted to October 27-29 for the coldest and wettest retreat in recent history. However, there was such a spirit of togetherness and many powerful moments of worship despite less than ideal conditions,” FSU Wesley Pastor Mike Toluba said.
Lent and Easter were wrapped around the theme of restoration, as students raised awareness and support for hurricane relief.
A team of 14 students traveled to Collier County in southwest Florida to serve alongside the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in hurricane-devastated areas. The students raised $2,797 for UMCOR.
The consecration of the new FSU Wesley building was delayed from September until April because of the hurricane, but when the celebration finally happened it was a joyous occasion
“The vision of our new building is to be a community center for the whole university. Wesley will gather for worship, discipleship, and fellowship for United Methodist Campus Ministry in our new student center,” Toluba said.
“However, the current master facilities plan for Florida State University will situate the Wesley Foundation in the very heart of the FSU campus. We envision our Wesley building being a hub of community building and spiritual life for college students for generations to come.”
—John Kazaklis is a freelance writer based in Lakeland.